Next Wednesday, SAP will peel back more of the curtain surrounding its long-awaited A1S on-demand product for the midmarket. But the question on the minds of many SAP consultants will take longer to answer: What will A1S mean for SAP jobs?
The small and medium-sized business (SMB) market is a different beast than more typical, large-scale SAP projects, according to Jon Reed, SearchSAP.com's careers expert and president of JonERP.com. So the market for consultants and other SAP pros in these SMB installations is very different from the traditional SAP consulting market.
"SAP's SMB [focus] is largely to be out-of-the-box solutions," Reed said. "Even if they aren't out-of-the-box, like some of the larger All-in-One projects, customers are generally looking for the minimum amount of customization possible."
Because of this focus, Business One will probably never drive much of a job market, Reed said. But there is some potential with All-in-One because those implementations tend to be larger projects. He suggests that consultants interested in SAP work with SMBs might want to start with SAP partners that sell the products.
"Aligning yourself with the firms that are licensed to sell to SMBs and getting on board as a full-time consultant with them could be a good entry point," Reed said. "Another entry point, obviously, is working with the companies that are installing these products, but a lot of times they're going to turn to in-house people for those roles."
In the future, any talk of SAP consulting jobs and the midmarket will have to include A1S. Since SAP announced A1S in early 2007, it has invested plenty of time and energy in the product, which is set to debut in the first quarter of 2008. SAP will announce the product's market name, and perhaps other details, next week in New York.
There is a possibility that A1S could actually hurt the SAP consulting jobs market, according to Reed -- if customers choose A1S instead of All-in-One, for example.
"There seems to be at least some SAP customers who have implied that if SAP had a Web-based, hosted solution, they would certainly prefer that," Reed said. "If those customers are Business One customers, that's not a big deal. But if they are traditional All-in-One customers, in a way you are taking away from potential on-site consulting work."
SAP has made it clear that it does not consider A1S as competition for All-in-One or Business One, but only time and customers will tell for sure.
But even if SAP is right, and the bulk of A1S accounts are customers that the company wouldn't have signed otherwise, there is still the question of how much SAP consulting growth it will drive.
"With A1S, you have to put it in the context of any hosted solution," Reed explained. "The dynamics are different, because when you take software off-site, the work can be done anywhere. That brings in the possibility of off-shoring."
It is very possible, according to Reed, that the jobs A1S generates may be in countries such as India and Russia, and others with strong outsourcing economies.
Whether or not A1S will generate jobs, and where and what these jobs might be, will not be known for some time, Reed believes, because there is a lag between a technology's becoming successful and the consequent job growth.
SAP's recent enterprise service-oriented architecture (ESOA) push is a good example, he said. ESOA is a popular term that is generating buzz in the press. In the real world, though, there is much higher demand for more mundane technologies like SAP financials, which is in the middle of an upgrade cycle.
"When you talk about the emergence of a product, a lot of times the job demand for that product isn't going to kick in for a while," Reed explained. "The savvy consultant tries to move ahead of that lag, anticipating these skills trends so when they do hit, you're on the cusp of them."
But how can someone anticipate whether a product will be successful and have the potential to generate jobs? Reed has two "quick and dirty" leading indicators to watch.
The first is how the stock market reacts to A1S news.
For large product and strategy announcements, stock price can be an indication of how stockholders think the announcement will affect company revenue, Reed explained. Of course, investors can be wrong sometimes, he said, but stock price can still be a good indicator of market acceptance.
For A1S, if the stock price doesn't change once the full product is released, that could mean there's no real market acceptance of the hosted model and investors are not taking it seriously, Reed said. If the stock price falls, investors may be taking a more jaundiced view: that A1S is a distraction and could hurt the company in the long run, especially since the hosted SAP CRM product is reportedly not doing well.
If the stock price goes up, investors may feel that SAP is opening up new markets and increasing revenue potential.
"If there's going to be revenues, there's going to be jobs," Reed said.
The other early indicator of a product's future jobs potential is successful customer case studies. At conferences and other events, product demos are always the first things that get presented after a product release, Reed explained.
After a while, if successful case studies increase and SAP highlights them in its marketing and events, this will indicate that the product is gaining traction and is important to the company. Reed cited SAP for Retail as an example. The company highlighted many retail case studies at Sapphire 2007, and now the market for SAP for Retail consultants is booming.
"If A1S comes out and you don't see the case studies and you don't see the positioning within SAP, then that means they're changing their emphasis [away from the product]," Reed said.
If both the stock price and emphasis indicators kick in, there's a good chance that at least some jobs will follow eventually, he said, keeping in mind that A1S jobs will be different from traditional SAP gigs.
Just don't expect much help from SAP when trying to determine whether consulting jobs will be in demand for its products.
"SAP is pretty careful about how much they talk about skills deficits [for SAP products]," Reed said, "because they don't want customers to get freaked out and have it affect their purchasing."