The more people I meet, the more challenging I find defining what I do for a living in a clear manner. SAP is a highly complex system and the work involved in a deployment can be difficult to explain. It took multiple conversations with my husband for him to understand what I do on a daily basis. I’m still not sure if he understands, but he is smart enough to pretend! Maybe it’s so challenging to explain because technology is intimidating to some. How many people have you heard say ‘He or She does something with computers’?
Here’s the challenge: How do you explain an enterprise system like SAP to a person with little business or IT background? How do you explain your role in a deployment and impact on this process? Finally, how do you articulate the type of work involved in a SAP deployment? This is how I typically tackle these questions in a very simple, comprehensive way.
The way I define an enterprise system like SAP is as a software system that integrates all the parts of a business together. Essentially, all business processes flow through the system and allow the business increased visibility, continuity, and control. In its simplest form, this is the value SAP brings their customers. Money, products, services, and/or documents go in, and money, products, services and/or documents come out. While this explanation doesn’t give credit to the immense complexity of an enterprise system, it easily explains the purpose without delving into technical facts or specific business processes.
I find explaining my role in a deployment to be the most challenging. I usually say something like ‘I work with the FICO module’. Although, the abbreviation FICO doesn’t ring a bell to some people and the term module doesn’t explain what processes are involved. At this point I resort to explaining that FI stands for Financial Accounting: Accounting that is externally reported and regulated by the government (US GAAP) such as companies’ liabilities, assets, taxes, etc. CO stands for Controlling or Management Accounting: Internal Accounting for management like profitability, cost to produce, etc. Try describing the module you work with in terms of how it relates to common business processes that people can relate to.
At this point I’ve covered what the FICO module is, but shed no light on what is involved in a SAP deployment. I would begin by walking the person through the lifecycle of a deployment mentioning the analysis, design, testing, implementation, and support phases. I would continue by elaborating on each phase: In the analysis phase, you evaluate the current system to determine your requirements for the new system. In the design phase, you write functional and technical specifications to outline specifically how the system will function in business process and technical terms. Testing the system involves executing transactions and ensuring that the system works as expected. There are several phases of testing involving different groups of project members and users. Implementation is when you cutover to the new system and take the system live. After implementation, you support the system for a given length of time to troubleshoot issues, give further training, and ensure everything works correctly.
The best analogy I’ve heard for describing the software development lifecycle is comparing each phase to building a house. First you start with your ideas of how you want the house to look. Then you work with an architect to draw a blueprint. Next the builders construct the house and it is inspected to ensure everything matches the blueprints. Finally, you move in to the house and you report issues to your builder.
At this point you’ve probably lost their interest and they’re regretting asking what you do for a living. Remember to avoid using any SAP acronyms or lingo. It can be confusing enough for people that encounter it on a daily basis.
When all else fails, just say, ‘I work with computers’. Usually people are satisfied with that response!