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You are going to buy BASIS resources, hire someone or contract them, what exactly are you looking for?


lifeCycle.jpgOver the years I have hired, fired, mentored, rubbed-shoulders-with, contracted and promoted a fair number of BASIS administrators and I have to say that this group of career technologists are probably the most interesting group that I have had to deal with.

Very few start out from college and decide, I am going to be an SAP BASIS administrator, more invariably they are people who have come from either a systems administrator, developer or a support role and embraced BASIS because they have found that it carries a balance of technical challenges that span the full spectrum of IT.

Like race car drivers, there are some that are really good and some that are mediocre and some that really should just go back to the pits and hand in their car keys. You want someone who knows when to drive flat-out, brake, turn into the curve, overtake and be first to the checkered flag.

Your SAP BASIS resource may be the most important champion on your team!

Your BASIS environment is a fundamental building block in the building and running of your SAP system and as the name suggests, it is the BASIS on which all the ABAP, JAVA and other objects you have in your environment depend. You should choose well. While this doesn’t pretend to be an exhaustive guide. Consider some different roles and more importantly, consider some traits that are important depending on what you are doing.

Installations

A review of some job descriptions out on the web will reveal that the expectations for the role are actually quite vast.   Responsibility for the installation, upgrade, and maintenance of SAP systems is a common requirement.  Installation alone is a whole topic for discussion that I will touch on, after-all what does that really mean? It starts with understanding what it is exactly that you are going to install. Is it ERP, is it ERP with additional components like APO or CRM? It could also mean ERP with web components like Portal. If you’re a completely green field implementation of SAP, it is about understanding what version you are going to install; whether this includes certain industry solutions, support packages or enhancement packs. Installation is not simply sticking a disc in a CD drive and clicking on the setup icon.

Installation also includes understanding things about sizing your SAP system; understanding what tools are provided by SAP and vendors to perform intelligent sizing and understanding which areas of your system sizing are important to take baselines for in determining sizing metrics. While there are many BASIS administrators out there, not all BASIS admins are good resources for doing whole system installation preparation.

Installing a sandbox or an IDES system is just a starting point for system installation for a project; you still need to stitch together all the connections to up and downstream systems and most importantly document them.  BASIS administrators for installations therefore have an element of systems architect to their role. There is a need to have a good understanding of operating systems, databases, networking and the building blocks of the BASIS layer in order to excel in this area. As you can imagine, there are battalions of consultants whose specialty is architecting, designing and installing SAP environments for projects. Again, you will find some awesome ones and some that are really just proxies for the real architects. You need foot soldiers for some of this work and these guys may be required too. Look for resources who have a comprehensive portfolio of projects that they have been actively involved in. Understand what they did on those projects and what methods they use to assess your environment.

Upgrades

Upgrading may seem to be relatively unimpressive activity but consider that this activity can carry many facets to it. Are you upgrading within the same generation or are you upgrading to a completely new release?

A BASIS resource that has only ever worked on a 4.6 system may not be adequate if you are planning an upgrade to ECC6 with all the latest components. For such activities you may need to bridge the knowledge gap with resources that have done this before and can do some of the heavy lifting and bring your existing resource up to speed on the newer elements in the technology stack. If you have a particularly large installation (many Tb of data) then familiarity with the underlying database as well as some understanding of the hardware infrastructure itself (eg: storage) may be indispensible.

When your SAP system refuses to come up, pressing the reset button or trying the three finger salute is unlikely to miraculously make the underlying problem go away. So upgrade BASIS administrators potentially bring a completely different set of skills to the table  too. Many consulting organizations, SAP consulting included, bring skills to the table here that are different to those you have with your operations BASIS resource. Look for resources that don’t claim to be able to do everything. Look for reources who have specific experience with taking you from where you are, to where you want to go. Ideally they will have had sustainment experience in your target environment and at least have taken a few installations through the upgrade lifecycle from where you currently are to where you want to go. Certifications help, but a lot of certification knowledge hinges on project management – this is important too, but not as important as knowing and understanding all the gotchas associated with upgrading specific components.

/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/watering_plant_337420.jpgSustainment

Maintenance BASIS administrators are a special breed in and of themselves. A lot in my opinion depends on what the relative stability of your SAP environment is like. If you are running older systems and not doing a lot of changes in your system then a more sedentary approach to administration is probably ok however if you have a very dynamic environment with change being undertaken on a regular basis them you need solid dependable resources that really understand your environment incredibly well and can see the implications of changes or adjustments to your operational environment in advance.

Such  individuals need to know your business model; they need to know what is important to the business, which processes are critical and they have a stake in the change management process. When things fail or fail to work, they will be in the trenches with the business people and the support personnel trying to resolve the issues. As such, maintenance and operations BASIS personnel have more to do with the concept of sustainment than they are often given credit for. Checking system dumps, setting up and configuring system monitoring and responding to alarms and alerts are all part of the staple work for operational BASIS resources, more so than for the people who do installations or upgrades.

Operational maintenance BASIS resources will often be involved in upgrade planning for example, they may well be involved in the upgrade ‘on the day’ but their hands are often fullwith daily operations work for them to be able to commit all their efforts to upgrade work when their plates are already full with triaging the daily/weekly transports; checking on system backups, spool administration, optimizing system performance and killing runaway processes or beating up ABAPers for badly written code.

While this last group are often employed as full-time staff or contracted through a third party application management service  they are often the lowest paid of the three different kinds of BASIS administrator that I have described above. Those who are engaged for new install or upgrade projects are subject to the relative health of the economy as a whole but they are often contractors and paid contractor rates.

Spending money in the right places?

Sometimes you have to consider whether you’re spending your money in the right places. My experience is that people who have grown through the ranks of your IT organization often make the best fit in this realm. They know the culture of the organization; they know the characters, the processes and the procedures. Newcomers into this realm always have the steepest cultural learning curve even if they are technically sound.

What you spend on a contract BASIS resource for an upgrade project for three or four months could be what you spend on a BASIS resource for sustainment for an entire year. When choosing that contractor, build some KT budget into the project plan and  be sure to get them to commit to a comprehensive knowledge transfer program with your sustainment BASIS  resources. Get the latter to sign off that that KT was done before the contractor rolls off to minimize risk; sometimes this kind of expenditure is just as valuable if not more valuable than sending your BASIS resources to formal training with re-skilling for new system features etc.

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22 Comments

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  1. Bala Prabahar
    Clinton,

    Nice job. People(Basis Administrators) who came to SAP from other technologies appear to be doing better than ones who started their IT career with SAP as Basis Administrators(Note: there is a time and a place for everyone). Twenty+ years ago, anyone working in IT used to do almost everything – Analysis, Design, Development, DBA, System Administration, Implementation and Production Support. As a result, they have acquired skills in almost all areas of S/W development. That set of skills help troubleshoot issues easily by wearing hat of the person who developed it. Similarly anyone who worked in DW world will most likely do well in SAP-BW world because of DW knowledge which normally is scarce commodity within SAP-BW world. This knowledge again is very helpful while installing or upgrading BW systems.
    Unfortunately hiring managers don’t appear to see the advantages of those skills(non-SAP). Anytime someone with those skills fix an issue, they assume it was an easy fix. I don’t believe they understand the logic or knowledge used to solve the issue. This is why I guess Basis is a “thankless job”. At any rate, we now have a spokesperson for Basis community – YOU.

    Thanks,
    Bala

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    1. Clinton Jones Post author
      Bala
      you make a great point, that 20+ years ago you had to have a bit of knowledge about everything. hopefully as I explore the role a little more we can get to a collective understanding of the real traits that make good BASIS administrators vs. ok ones. My mindset is that, yes it is a thankless job for the most part; many BASIS resources are unsung heroes but this is sometimes because it is more expedient to NOT explain the complexity of the problem than to take the time to elaborate on the complexity of the solution or the nuances of why a problem occurred, is going to be avoided or was solved.

      When I deal with customers I am torn between wanting a BASIS resource at hand and not having one. If I have one at hand, I want a broad-thinking experienced one, one that I can rely upon to not bring narrow minded prejudices or unnecessary fears to the table when evaluating a problem. As as I said, there are many kinds out there and as you point out, just a glance at the BW space demonstrates that there is some specialization even in just this sub-area.

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      1. Julius von dem Bussche
        Well, you are someone wanting to sell a client side tool to the company and the PowerPoint presentation did the trick with the folks who have budget and want to throw it at tools.

        Now the basis guy gets to take a deeper look into it and it is very unfair on them to have to make some of the technical decisions which were not included in the .ppt file but have a big impact.

        Very usefull here is a corporate baseline architecture (and security…) document for the basis folks to refer to.

        If it is well written and thoughtfull, then it also helps vendors to remove design errors in their applications.

        The most famous of these is monitoring the spooler via the application server gateway from external RFC server program. How can a basis guy make the decision to open the server operating system to client PC’s because of an external tool which is designed this way?

        It stinks!

        Cheers,
        Julius

        ps: Great rant from Markus!

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        1. Clinton Jones Post author
          I empathize, of course vendors have a role to play in all this over and above the wetware that all have their hands in the baking of the cake.

          I guess part of the challenge is consistency. As you and I are both aware, the level of diligence that we would hope exists in all environments simply isn’t there. The fundamental SAP architecture and all the components also doesn’t always lend itself to classic implementation approaches – there are simply too many disparate moving parts – and then of course there is the fear… difficult to neutralize.

          We’re all striving to make nice and happy and play together harmoniously in this environment but it requires give and take on both sides. The important thing for leaders and those wanting to be leaders is to apply the best tools, resources and intellectual capital to all the business problems in so far as they can afford to.

          There isn’t much patience these days for naive assumptions and such people need to wise up or defer to good people that they have invested in and that they have available and leverage them to choose wisely.

          Rather than viewing BASIS and Security in an adversarial way, I’d prefer them to be seen as technology leaders in their own right with a great deal of knowledge and useful opinion to bring to the table.

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    2. Tom Cenens
      @Clinton

      Interesting blog, nice to read up on opinions how other people see Basis administrators or administration.

      For me personally a good Basis Administrator has to be able to handle very diverse tasks (all roles you described), have strong troubleshooting skills (logical thinking), has to be able to find and interpret information and has to be able to understand the business side.

      One of the things I thrive on is bringing improvements and sharing knowledge to the customer for who I work.

      As a consultant for me it’s important that I can view things from the customer point of view. For me the difference between internal/external employees is very small. As such I won’t recommend implementing something in which I don’t believe. If they still want to implement from business side I will give my all to make it work and get into it.

      @Bala

      I jumped into SAP Basis Administration straight out of school without any SAP knowledge so I have to disagree on your statement that people who came from other technologies vs school leavers do better. I have very good conditions for my young age and very good feedback from my customers.

      The courses like Cisco network administration, Linux, XML, programming and so on that I followed in school were definitely useful. I didn’t encounter any issues picking up SAP system administration. I did work a lot of hours and I did self study lying in the sun in Tunis while on vacation but it was worth it.

      Dedication, will and time can mold a school leaver into a SAP Basis Administrator. I don’t see many companies who hire school leaver for SAP Basis Administration. It is very hard to get a spot.

      Kind regards

      Tom

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      1. Clinton Jones Post author
        Thanks for reading, and the comment Tom, I suspect you are of a rare breed though – straight to BASIS from school; however I may well be wrong. Perhaps some other SCN readers will weigh in with their thoughts on this too!
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  2. Martin English
    You forgot to mention the days that seem to be 90% spent on gettin remote printers to work, or those days where all you’ve done is fail to convince a PM that you need to implement SSL on the external Portal (so you do it / plan to do it anyway).
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    1. Clinton Jones Post author
      Funny you mention that Martin, this is EXACTLY the comment I got from a BASIS guy the other day. All I seem to be doing is configuring printers these days and they want them like… immediately!!!
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  3. Kumud Singh
    Good blog to be read first thing in the morning.
    But believe me similar situations arise in the life of ABAPERS as well. One point that I specially liked is UNNECESSARY FEAR. If something doesn’t work in Production, things at times go upside down with everyone dancing on head rather than trying to ease the situation. At times even a silly issue gets elongated because of such situations.

    Anyways, I opine that ABAPERS turned into BASIS administrators can experience a full round of development.What do you say?

    Thanks,

    Kumud

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    1. Clinton Jones Post author
      well…funny you should mention that. I have some good war stories from the trenches around ABAP too but that’s for another story thread.
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  4. Michelle Crapo
    I’m a non-basis type person.  A developer in fact. 

    Our Basis team is incredible.  You missed the fact that these unsung heroes work hours that are not fit for a normal person.  They have to work off-shift to do upgrades, Kernel upgrades, maintenance, copy of production, etc.

    They have to constantly learn new techniques – including the JAVA stack.

    Amazing, amazing people.   You better be trying to get the best.  Without them, well, your system would die a horrible death.

    My 10 cents of being thankful,

    Michelle

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    1. Michelle Crapo
      By the way – I have been beaten for run away ABAP code.  I think we all have.  (I’m better now, but can be a bad influence.  I forgot to let them know we were implementing Webdynpro.  Oops!)

      Again – a thank you for that as well!

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    2. Clinton Jones Post author
      all creds to you Michellw for bringing that acknowledgment home, I alluded to this in my previous blog. These guys do work some incredible hours and if you want to retain them you need to be smart about how you treat them.
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  5. Shivaji Chowdhury
    I’m sorry.

    Failed to understand the real point in the blog.  All are generalized statements.

    These are well known traits of a BASIS Consultant. Many blogs are already written on this.

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  6. Markus Doehr
    I work in SAP Basis since 1994, it was a “green start” at that time with SAP R/3 2.1C.

    At that time only “certified basis consultants” were allowed to install and upgrade SAP systems. If the support found out, that a system was not set up according to the standards they asked who installed the system. If this person was not internally listed as certified for the installation/upgrade you were as customer more or less on your own.

    Someone ever done an upgrade in SCROLL mode on a telnet connection? 🙂

    One big issue of nowadays installations and upgrades is the pretended “easyness” with how they are propagated. Fancy GUIs have been written, wizard-driven configurations all over but the underlying method (talking about ABAP) is still the same as 15 years before – more or less.

    This is all fine as long as all buttons are ‘green’ when you press the ‘finish’ button. But what if not? Where to start to search? Documentation on what is going on behind the scenes is often lacking/unavailable to customers and eventually leads to tons of (for me) basic questions in the forums.

    This whole “easy”-thing is driven in my understanding ad-absurdum when you have to patch an environment to be able to patch the patch-installation-tool to install the patches that are about to solve a business problem, together with all dependencies to other systems. To solve that, an even more complicated tool called “Solution Manager” was invented, that needs a full-time person and/or payed “expert sessions” to be configured and maintained in itself.

    What’s my point? I just want to express that I believe, that there is too less knowledge out in the field about the real BASICS of a computer and about operating systems. Digitally natives grow up with iPhones (yuck), a mouse pointer and an explorer but they have no knowledge whatsoever about how “a computer” works, what actually happens, when you doubleclick an icon; concepts of an operating system – no matter which one – are not taught any more.

    Do an experiment: Remove Powerpoint and Microsoft Project from a Basis consultants laptop, give him a flipchart and a few different colored pens and tell him to express what has to be done in your current project 🙂


    Markus

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    1. Clinton Jones Post author
      Thanks for the comment Markus, yes I think there are not that many of us who can relate to installing SAP via a telnet only session!

      I think your view is well articulated, the apparent simplification of the installation or upgrade process via graphical installers makes it appear that people know what they are doing when perhaps they don’t know anything about the fundamentals at all. A good understanding of the underlying hardware, operating system, ABAP, BASIS and connected parts is key to a good BASIS resource but still doesn’t make them necessarily a great one.

      When things go wrong in installations and upgrades that’s when one tends to see a separation between the  good from the great. I have met many good ones, but only a few great ones!

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      1. Julius von dem Bussche
        I like the knowledge transfer and sustainability aspect.

        The “acid test” for this is basis admins (and end users for that matter…) who immortalize themselves in background job steps.

        Unfortunately, some of the config wizards do this for you 🙁  The hardcoding of DDIC has however been removed as of 7.00 Ehp 1 but I guess it will take a decade or so to reach all the far corners of the basis areas… 🙂

        Cheers,
        Julius

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        1. Clinton Jones Post author
          aaah background jobs, a whole topic by itself and very rantworthy, remember those jobs that run under the credentials of some long gone system administrator or functional person? What does that job do anyway? No idea, all I know is if it fails we’re in deep ….. so we always just check it is ok, and then restart it if it fails…we usually get some BASIS guy check on it and work out why it’s failing but somehow… miraculously… they always seem to be able to revive it… Sound familiar?
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        2. Markus Doehr
          Actually I *do like* config wizards, as long as they reveal, what exactly they are doing. The problem is if they fail. You never know whether it’s just them failing or whether it’s a different problem. If it turns out that I have to apply a patch to a wizard then I just give up and do it “manually”, if I can find what’s needed to be done.

          Nowadays admins – the ones I know – spend IMHO way too much time fixing tools (Solman, CTC etc.) instead of caring about the actual business problems/issues.

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  7. Kevin Grove
    Clinton:

    I feel that the Basis person or team is most effective when they are “invisible” to the business users. However, to be invisible that group has to work tirelessly and proactively to keep the systems running well.
    I agree with some of the other comments that a well rounded, experienced IT professional can be more effective than one who focused only on SAP Basis.
    Finally in the words of Waylon Jennings: “You may think I’m crazy, but it’s kept me from going insane”. Flexibility, a sense of humor and sense of perspective and balance are great traits for the Basis staff.

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