I have had quite a few people ask me “What is it like being a SAP BI consultant” or “How do I get into BI?” Instead of answering individuals, I’ve decided to write an open letter with the hope that other BI consultants out there will also offer a word of advice!
Let me first say that I am honoured that you would ask for my advice when making such an important decision. I can only offer advice based on what I know
Before you do anything, please first assess the reason for wanting to get into BI…I know a lot of people that see it as an area full of opportunities but it is one thing to want to make full use of opportunities but you need to know what it is that you enjoy and what it is that you are passionate about.
The work that we as SAP BI consultants produce might seem glamorous when you talk about the end result of what we deliver (great reports that add value to the organisation and sexy dashboards/scorecards). No one ever tells you about the hours that you have to spend trying to make something work or the frustration of getting something that works in the Development environment, only to find out that it no longer works when you put it in the Production environment.
So the point I’m trying to make is that there is an element of troubleshooting, problem-solving and general geekiness (for the lack of a better word) that is required from someone wanting to pursue this path! If you enjoy this – by all means continue venturing into BI!
I would however suggest that you at least get exposed to some form of Business Warehouse (Data warehousing concepts, Query Design) and Business Objects courses(most clients make use of Webi, Xcelsius and Crystal – so I would focus on these as a start). My first prize would be for you to attend SAP-endorsed courses – I am a big believer in these if you do have the budget as they are quite comprehensive but I cannot lie they are expensive so if budget is an issue, be proactive ask other experienced consultants and look at “how to guides” on the net/SCN. There is a tighter integration between BW and BO so understanding both is critical and will give you an added competitive advantage. Please have a look at http://sap.com/learnbi for great tutorials. You can also look at few websites and blogs(i.e. http://www.mastering-sap-and-businessobjects.com/ and http://everythingxcelsius.com )
The courses that I mentioned will at least equip you with enough skills to understand the BW concepts and at least get you started. A word of caution should you decide to attend the training, I have trained students in BW who are still sitting without work – all of whom thought that they would walk into a job after certifying. The reality is that the market unfortunately does not work that way. I would thus suggest that you approach a few organisations and inform them about your plan and get them to promise that they will allow you to join the BI team upon your return from training. Another word of caution about training- you must make sure that you study to understand if you are going to write the certification! There are too many consultants that I have worked with who have the certification but lack understanding because of not focusing on gaining understanding!
Please also consider the fact that SAP BI is pretty vast as there is an overlap with Enterprise Performance Management. There is also SAP Business Objects Business Planning and Consolidation (BPC) which automates and organisations’ planning activities and financial consolidation or financial reporting. This is an area that is growing and because the tool is quite mature there are more implementations currently underway. If finance is of interest, you might consider branching into this area. There is also SAP Strategy Management – which deals with trying to automate the organisations’ scorecard regardless of the organisational level (corporate right down to department). It allows you to interrogate an organisation’s goals, objectives, KPIs and has various other features. There are two technical courses offered at SAP for this – although the tool is not widely in South Africa the interest is growing as more clients are becoming aware of it.
With SAP investing in HANA – there might be opportunity to understand this technology too! Everyone wants access to real-time info but an organisation obviously needs the technical architecture to support this – HANA is SAP’s answer to this need – so you might want to have a look at this. I have just attended the HANA Implementation and Modelling course and the concepts are really interesting! The world of SAP BI is forever changing so one needs to keep upskilling themselves – some people might consider this as frustrating but I chose to look at it as a constantly evolving “challenge” – it definately keeps us on our toes, out of trouble and excited about learning new toys!
There are quite a few soft skills that you require as you will be interfacing with the business – communication being one of them. Being able to engage with the business while trying to understand their requirements and articulating your solution to them (in a languate that they can understand) is critical. This is a skill often overlooked by a lot of technical consultants so being aware of its value will put you in good stead.
I would like to reiterate that the focus should be on what you are passionate about and ensuring that you’re going into BI for the right reasons. If you are looking for a way to gain quick financial gratification you’ve definitely come to the wrong place! If you are willing to learn, put in the hard work that’s required to deliver solutions that add value to the organisation then you’ve made a decision that you will be smiling about daily!
The BI Community is really just that….a community, meaning that there are so many people out there who are willing to help but you need to take the first step and seek help!
I would like to wish you all the best – perhaps our paths will cross….it does really seem like the BI world is small….literally!