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Where should a young HR-person look for further challenges?

I have been working with a company supporting SAP for 3 years. My role is supporting the Payroll/HR modules. Over...

time things have become settled, but I am young and eager to be more active. The market is looking for strong consultants with much more experience than I have. At one time HR/Payroll skills were in demand, but now it seems many companies outsource this process. I am happy with my SAP career but I'm looking for more challenges, experiences and promotions. What advice can you propose?


 

HR, and HR-payroll specifically, has been one of the SAP consulting niches with the most staying power the last couple of years. There are two main reasons for that. First, it took SAP a long time to really conquer North American Payroll, so many companies did not pursue HR during their initial "big bang" R/3 implementations. Companies turned their attention to HR right when the rest of the SAP consulting market was starting to slow down. Another factor that has spurred HR work on both the functional and technical sides is that there are some complexities to HR that make it more complicated than some of the other core SAP modules to deal with.

There are signs, however, that the SAP HR landscape is starting to change. We've seen the demand for HR-payroll consultants level off a bit, and you can imagine a time when all SAP clients are either running the latest version of SAP's payroll functionality, or are quite happy with whatever best-of-breed HR solution they have settled on. When you think about it, HR-payroll falls into one of those areas of SAP I call "vanilla." By vanilla, what I mean is that HR-payroll does not directly relate to a company's core competency or competitive advantage. As such, companies are going to expect to spend less of their IT money on payroll solutions. They will expect HR-payroll to basically run by itself and they won't be looking to pay pricey consultants for the privilege of tracking pay stubs. On the other hand, there are more "advanced" HR functions that may have more staying power, as they relate to supporting and managing employees along their career path. So we may see a shift in the HR area, where payroll and benefits skills become vanilla, and consultants with experience in workforce management, career succession planning, and compensation management take center stage. We're already seeing more compensation management job orders in 4.6, and it would make sense that functionality that pertains to attracting and retaining personnel would command attention.

Along these same lines, the "web-enablement" of HR functionality is also a hot topic. Companies can empower their employees and also save a lot of money on redundant phone calls by providing Internet-based Employee Self Service (ESS) functions to help employees manage their own benefits, 401Ks, etc. Of course, it remains to be seen whether SAP will be the HR product of choice when it comes to "advanced human resources functionality." And we know that for now, payroll is still the primary concern and certainly the most universal HR component in use.

You also bring up the subject of HR outsourcing, and that is also a factor to consider going forward. The answer, I think, is to realize that the "SAP HR consultant of the future" will be a Human Resources expert who "can't be outsourced easily" due to their in-depth knowledge of HR "best practices." The HR consultant of the future will combine core strengths configuring payroll and benefits with experience implementing more advanced HR functionality. What this means is that you're facing a decision point: are you interest in being an HR consulting expert, or do you find other business areas more compelling? If you don't really want to commit yourself to being a serious HR consultant, it might be time to start your "exit plan." Either way, you'll probably be working on HR payroll projects until the market picks up and something new comes along. But you're wise to poke your head up and take a look around. I think you do have a future in SAP HR, but you'll need to rededicate yourself to further HR module training if you really want to stand out from the pack. Remember too that you're not a full-fledged "consultant" until you get multiple projects for different companies under your belt. Whether you stay in the HR module or not, if you decide to become a consultant, you'll need to take your skills on the road.


 

This was last published in January 2003

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