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Podcast: The SAP Business Process Expert in Action – with Jim Link of Forest City

I’m always wary about evangelism in any context because I believe people (and companies) need to ultimately find their own way based on their own experience. In an SAP context, if I can be accused of evangelizing anything, it’s the importance of so-called BPX skills for the future of individual SAP professionals (as well as for the chances of improved project success rates). I would argue that BPX-flavored approaches have impacted a range of SAP roles, but I’d have to admit that there aren’t many pure BPX roles on the functional side of SAP – yet. That’s where this latest podcast with Jim Link of Forest City comes in.

When I met Jim at SAPPHIRE Orlando and he handed me his business card, I was in for a shock. Emblazoned on the card was the job title “SAP Business Process Expert.” After all the years of talking about this skill set and debating the emergence of these roles, here was a guy living the role day in and day out. As part of the ten person Forest City business process expert team, Jim and his colleagues have a great story to tell about how they are impacting the business and the challenges they have overcome along the way.

During this 20 minute podcast, Jim gives me the project-tested scoop on many key BPX topics, including: how does a BPXer justify their value to the business, who do they report to, what role do process modeling tools play, and what SAP technical and functional skills do they need to succeed in the SAP Business Process Expert role. Obviously, there are no universal answers to these questions – they are still being sorted out on a company to company basis. But for those listeners who want to understand how the pure BPX role can fit into the existing SAP personnel structure, and interact with Enterprise Architects, I trust you’ll find this conversation as interesting as I did.

Jim and I would be glad to hear your comments, and there are some related podcasts and videos which flesh out this topic further. Scroll down below the podcast highlights for more on that.

(If for any reason the embedded player doesn’t work, you can download the podcast using the “download media” link on the right hand side).

(Trouble downloading? if for some reason it’s not playing in its entirety for you, check out the version on in the meantime, or on my JonERP iTunes feed).

Podcast Highlights

2:20 Jim’s role on a daily basis

3:00 How Jim evolved into an SAP Business Process Expert: started as Financial Auditor with PWC. Was invited to join the SAP implementation team by his corporate controller.

4:18 Is SAP pushing SAP BPX roles prematurely or do we really need them?

5:18 Give us a sense of your team and who you report to? Jim: We’ve got ten of us in our group, we’ve got collectively 100 years of experience at Forest City, so we’ve got some really seasoned people on the team – we all came from the business side of Forest City, and we were all assigned to the ERP implementation as well as BW. To date, we have been focused on our individual modules we worked in previously, but hopefully in the future we can cross-train so we can get more into the end to end side of things. In the future, we’re headed to a system-wide, end to end process understanding for each person on the team.

6:15 Jon to Jim: That’s always been the challenge of this kind of role – encompassing the process-wide knowledge. Right now, each one of you has a piece of that, but hopefully eventually you all develop the process-wide know-how. Jim: Our business units are kind of in silos, but we should be executing our processes the same way. We’ve spent the last year and a half trying to standardize and centralize some processes. Some of the initiatives we have been involved with and are rolling out are really key to getting the information we need out of the system to make good business decisions. Some of those initiatives have really helped us cut some costs as well, and redeploy our assets to do things that are more meaningful to the business.

8:04 Jon to Jim: Part of what I wanted to understand on our conversation today was how the BPXer justifies their value, and you’ve pushed that to the focal point of our conversation. So how do you do that? In this economy it’s not enough to be an innovative process thinkers, you have to be bottom line folks too, so how do you go back and say, “Here’s how we saved the business money this year”?

9:22 Jon to Jim: There is a human dimension to streamlining processes, so you must have some people on your team who are highly skilled at cultural change management and talking people through the process of adjusting their roles and buying into the new processes.

10:10 What was the challenge of finding the right home within the organization? Jim: When we first went live, we were reporting up through IT, and what we found was that didn’t appear to be the right home for us at first. After some ups and downs, we moved it back into IT, and by that time we had hired an Enterprise Architect. Ever since then, we’ve been reporting up through the Enterprise Architect and it’s been a very good fit.

11:20 When we map the process-driven enterprise, the Enterprise Architect plays an important role. What did the Enterprise Architect bring to the project that resolved your line of reporting issues?

12:45 Jon to Jim: So the Enterprise Architect brought a knowledge of SAP that helped you to map your process flow into SAP? Jim: That’s exactly it. We were able to speak “SAPese” with the Enterprise Architect. Speaking to IT people who had limited background in SAP at that point previously didn’t work.

14:02 Another question: Jon believes BPXers should have a technical knowledge of SAP. What does Jim think?

16:33 Process modeling – it’s often pitched as the heart of the SAP BPX skill set. How important was it to your work? Did you model processes and did you use a particular tool and did it have relevance to what you were trying to do? Jim: we did use modeling of some of our processes, and when we did, we did use Visio. We intend to look at some of these modeling tools that are more comprehensive that link into SAP.

18:20 You’re an SAP Business Process expert now, and these new roles seem to represent another possible skills evolution and career path, which I discussed with the Enterprise Geeks on the Project Roles Puzzler podcast – where do you see the challenges and growth?

19:50 And what are your team’s biggest challenges or goals?

Some additional context for this podcast can be found in the “SAP Project Roles Puzzler” podcast by the Enterprise Geeks I did a guest appearance on earlier this year. The SAP BPX roles – separating truth from hype video I did after that podcast also provides context for this talk.

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