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Is the ABAP market ripe for consultants?

I have been a Basis administrator for eight and a half years in a non-consulting position at a very large organization now running R/3 4.7, BW 3.5 on Oracle 9i. Noticing that no one was filling the need for performance tuning, I took this task upon myself about six years ago. I was a DBA prior to this job, so I knew a fair bit about SQL tuning. As my knowledge has grown quite a bit, I have come to recently realize (to my astonishment) that I know much more about R/3 and BW tuning than any SAP or independent consultant we have hired and far more than anyone working in my organization. If our organization is typical (ABAP and query developers cranking out huge amounts of poorly designed code with neither a care of how bad it is, nor the ability to correct it), I presume that there may be a very lucrative market for someone with my skills. Is this the case? How should I proceed, if I wished to pursue an independent consulting career in this niche?

I have been a Basis administrator for eight and a half years in a non-consulting position at a very large organization now running R/3 4.7, BW 3.5 on Oracle 9i. Noticing that no one was filling the need for performance tuning, I took this task upon myself about six years ago. I was a DBA prior to this job, so I knew a fair bit about SQL tuning. As my knowledge has grown quite a bit, I have come to recently realize (to my astonishment) that I know much more about R/3 and BW tuning than any SAP or independent consultant we have hired and far more than anyone working in my organization. If our organization is typical (ABAP and query developers cranking out huge amounts of poorly designed code with neither a care of how bad it is, nor the ability to correct it), I presume that there may be a very lucrative market for someone with my skills. Is this the case? How should I proceed, if I wished to pursue an independent consulting career in this niche?
There is only one way to know how much demand there is for a particular set of skills: Post your resume somewhere and see what kinds of responses you get. You can do your best to assess your own marketability, and I'll offer my own opinion, but demand for skills fluctuates and the only way to know for sure is to test the market firsthand.

Having said that, with nine years of Basis experience, including 4.7 skills, you would likely be in a position...

to get some consulting work. The only downside is that you have only been inside of one SAP environment. So you have a lot of expertise in one kind of SAP system, but you haven't gotten as good a feel for the variations that can occur as someone who has worked on multiple projects gets. This makes you a bit less marketable from the get-go, but I would think you could still get some consulting opportunities.

I think that you may overestimate how lucrative consulting is, though. I haven't seen really good rates for SAP technical consultants in a while. There are some functional experts that still get close to $150 an hour, but even most functional consultants seem to come in around $110 an hour, though the market is heating up lately. I'm not sure what you would be offered per hour, but I would think it would be between $70 and $100, depending on the company and length of project.

One thing to keep in mind is that as an independent contractor, you may run into some downtime between projects here and there. That downtime can start to add up and take away from the total revenues you can bring in. My personal belief is that the best reason to become an independent SAP consultant is not for the money, but for the challenge. If you want to truly excel in the SAP field, and you are drawn to the lifestyle of the consultant, then I would say "go for it." If it's just about the money, I'd be careful. I know a lot of consultants who wish they were off the road like you. The grass is often greener.

Finally, the other reason to become a consultant is if your company is not planning to upgrade beyond 4.7 for a while. The main thing you need to do know is to get experience administering the Netweaver technical architecture that ships with mySAP ERP, or 5.0, as some call it. You will not remain a successful SAP consultant on the technical side unless you make a move into Netweaver. So, technology exposure is really your driving consideration. If you have a chance to go through a 5.0 upgrade with your company in the near future, I would do that first. Then you'll be in a better position to get the best projects at better rates on your own. Good luck!

This was last published in May 2006

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