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Looking to break into SAP with either functional or technical angle

I'm planning to take a SAP course and came across a lot being offered. I would like to get your expert advice on...

which course to select. My background is that I have a college degree with double majors in Accounting and Management Information Systems. My knowledge of accounting is very solid. However, I've ended up working as a programmer in Cobol and Mainframe environment for 6 years. The SAP FI functional module seems to be very attractive to me but I really don't know what to choose. I hope you will be able to help me out after knowing my background specifically. Your advice/input is most appreciated. Thank you and hope to hear from you!


We've gotten several questions recently from folks with a combination of financial and IT experience who are trying to break into SAP. At first glance, that would seem like the perfect background for SAP, since successful SAP implementations require both heavy technical skills and strong business process knowledge. However, there are very few successful consultants out there who are 50% functional and 50% technical. We have seen that type of hybrid consultant succeed on smaller SAP projects, where everyone on the project wears many hats, but the bottom line is that there's just too much ground to cover to stay current in both technical and functional areas at the same time. The ideal mix is something like 80/20 on either side, giving you just enough exposure to be able to interface with the other project teams. Your question seems to indicate that you are aware of this, and you're trying to choose between functional and technical SAP work. Specifically, you want to either break into technical SAP work or the FI module.

It seems like you're drawn to the FI work, but you're not sure if you can pull off the transition from legacy programmer to FI specialist. In fact, this would have been a challenging transition even in the heyday of the SAP market. Right now, in such tight market conditions, that's not going to easy to pull off. If you decide to try, you shouldn't think of it as "breaking into FI," you should think of it as "making a career transition from IT programmer to financial software specialist." You should look at it as a five to ten year plan, and approach your transition as a long-term strategy with short-term benchmarks. If you look at it this way, you'll see that SAP FI is only one way forward. There may be other ways of moving towards that same long term goal - for example, perhaps Microsoft's Great Plains financial software acquisition is opening up new consulting opportunities you hadn't considered.

But if we assume that you have your sights set on breaking into SAP, your best bet might be to stay technical, and get a perm mainframe programming job working for a major SAP client that is running a hybrid legacy/client-server/web-based IT infrastructure. In that case, you might be able to leverage your legacy expertise and get experience with real-time data integration over the web. This might lead you into Java and XML-related skills, and even if you never got specific SAP exposure, your new "hybrid" IT skills would position you better for the future. Over time, if you win the trust of your employer and make a major contribution to the project on the technical side, you might be able to get them to support a major career transition into the financials side of SAP. Just keep in mind, however, that as I've noted in another question this week, core SAP FI experience is also becoming less marketable, as FI becomes more of a back office commodity and less of an innovation. SAP is a moving target - often the best way to get involved is to anticipate where SAP is going next and meet it there. Don't assume that what used to be hot will continue to be so.

Of course, I am not trying to imply that your previous accounting knowledge and degree is irrelevant. In the long run, it will give you an edge. I am only saying that in a tight market, hands-on project experience is the key to moving ahead. When the economy moves into more of a growth cycle, then more opportunities will open up and there will be more ways forward. Based on this outlook, before you make any serious moves you might want to have a talk with your current employer about your long term skills and career aspirations. It's always good to try to get help from a company that already appreciates your contributions to date. Good luck!


This was last published in July 2002

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