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