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Veteran mainframe professional switching to SAP

I am an IBM mainframe professional (7 years) with overall IT experience of approx. 20 years. I don't have functional experience, but I do have substantial commercial systems development experience in the the area of materials management and purchasing, financial systems, sales order processing and management, production planning, customer service etc. in pharma, automobile and consumer electronics companies. I do not want to do ABAP programming. I would like to specialize in an appropriate SAP functional area. I hold a B.S. in electrical engineering (vintage). Appreciate if you could suggest me whether on doing appropriate SAP functional module/s course, can I get assignment as a SAP functional consultant. Also looking at my background, which SAP functional modules should I do? I am 51.
I admire your determination to define exactly what you would like to do within SAP. Your challenge is to balance your desires with the needs of the market. Right now, the SAP market is not a good one for those with functional certification and no hands-on SAP experience. Almost all the functional positions require at least five years of hands-on SAP skills. I see that while you are a technical person, you have a good deal of functional business experience in a wide range of areas that are relevant to SAP, including procurement, materials management, finance, etc. There is no one functional area of SAP that is so dominant that you should pursue only that one, so I could see you choosing a number of training options, including SRM (Supplier Relationship Management), EBP (Enterprise Buyer Professional), or even APO/supply chain planning. SAP CRM would be another option - we have seen a real uptick in SAP CRM projects lately. But whatever certification you get, you will be hard-pressed to find a hands-on SAP position waiting for you on the other side. I would like your chances better if you were willing to leverage your deep technical skills in order to break into SAP technical environments, perhaps at the project management level. This kind of permanent, technical lead position would put you in a position to draw on your current skills while gaining SAP know-how.

In reality, you are really trying to make two career transitions at once: from technical to functional, and from non-SAP to SAP. It's hard enough to pull off one of these two. Taking on both at once is a major challenge. Of course, don't take my word for it. Go out and prove me wrong and you'll inspire a lot of readers and I'll alter my future advice accordingly. I realize, of course, that you already have acquired a lot of functional business knowledge. You are not a purely technical person. But your most marketable skills are your commercial systems/mainframe experience. I would think twice about abandoning those skills when they could be the key to your SAP transition. I could see you landing a permanent job on a large SAP project that is still running a lot of mainframe systems, and perhaps wants to open up access to those systems to customers and suppliers over the web. Perhaps there would be a team lead role for you facilitating that process. More than likely, this would be a largely technical role that emphasized your current IT systems skills, but at least you'd be over the first hurdle: getting hands-on SAP experience. From there, you could work on moving from technical to functional, and arrive at your ultimate objective.
This was last published in November 2003

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