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More SAP skills to have for 2008 and beyond

Which SAP skills are going to be important for consultants in 2008 and beyond? SearchSAP.com jobs expert Jon Reed reveals more of his list.

In this two-part series, SearchSAP.com jobs expert Jon Reed looks at the SAP skills that will be important for SAP consultants in 2008. Part 2 identifies skills outside of specific SAP products and one SAP offering not yet readily available.

Historically, there has been a big difference between the skills SAP folks need to pursue, depending on whether their focus was functional or technical. That's starting to change as we move into the era of the "Business Process Expert."

Many of these new "must have" skills represent the convergence of the IT and business skill sets, but this is a gradual evolution, so I recommend pursuing the areas most relevant to you.

Web 2.0 skills -- I can see the functional folks getting restless with all the techie tools in Part 1 of this series. So let's go back to a basic piece of professional knowledge we all need -- how Web 2.0 tools are affecting business at the enterprise level.

More on SAP skills
Learn what it takes to become a Business Process Expert in this SearchSAP.com podcast with Marco ten Vaanholt, the Global Director of SAP BPX

Read more about important ABAP skills to have
Many companies have not figured out how to turn Web 2.0 projects into profitable aspects of their business, but they will get there. Just look at SAP. Through its SDN (SAP Developers' Network) and BPX (Business Process Expert) online communities, SAP has changed its whole development model, bringing the company in much closer contact with customers throughout the software lifecycle. With more than one million members between them, these two communities have made a huge impact on the SAP product line.

So what does an SAP professional do about this?

The problem is that SAP has yet to build a Web 2.0 tool set for its own customers that is fully integrated into SAP. In my opinion, this is one of the few areas where Oracle, with its WebCenter 2.0 toolkit, is well ahead of SAP.

But SAP will get there. In the meantime, there are many things we can learn about Web 2.0 on our own, even if it's helping to build and contributing to a wiki-based tech support system or helping a customer integrate a blog into its customer-facing Web applications.

"Business Process Expert" skills -- SAP roles are changing on both the functional and technical side. Some would say they are merging. What we do know is that all SAP professionals need to acquaint themselves with the skills of the Business Process Expert (BPE, or as the SAP BPX community calls them, BPXers).

SAP's BPX Community has great resources for getting a better feel for the BPE skill set, and better yet, you can interact with other BPX members and build your skill set profile together.

Earlier this fall, Marco ten Vaanholt, the Global Director of SAP BPX, was part of a well-attended webcast on the role of the Business Process Expert. Based on ten Vaanholt's comments, I picked up on six important aspects of the "BPE skill set of the future":

  • 1. End-to-end business process know-how will be more important than "silo" functional knowledge in just one area.
  • 2. BPM tool expertise
  • 3. "Soft Skills" -- the ability to be a customer-facing SAP professional who understands business strategy, rather than a "cubicle coder." Soft skills are about having the savvy to be a "marriage counselor" between IT and the business user community, according to ten Vaanholt.
  • 4. Industry knowledge -- SAP professionals need to cultivate more industry focus, rather than jumping around from project to project across many industries.
  • 5. Web 2.0 skills
  • 6. SAP product knowledge -- traditional SAP product knowledge, with a good understanding of the NetWeaver architecture and the delivery of future upgrades via "enhancement packages."

For most of the '90s, all you needed to rake in some great SAP rates was SAP product knowledge, and this is still an important part of the SAP skill set. But more balanced consulting skills are now required. Note that all six of the BPE skills above can be developed online via free online resources, as well as the various training programs and advanced degrees available out there.

SAP Enterprise Modeling -- "Enterprise Modeling" is the new name for the IDS Scheer tool formerly called Aris for NetWeaver, and it is going to be a big deal for SAP.

The product is billed as "a joint application which provides essential elements of a closed-loop BPM [Business Process Management] solution, from design and configuration, to implementation and execution, to evaluation of the overall process." In plain English, what we're really talking about is empowering IT managers and business process experts to participate in application development through visual modeling tools.

Programmers should not panic -- it is still a pretty long way from generating perfectly customized code from BPM software. But the idea of being able to model business processes visually and then create a development environment based on those models is very appealing, and cost-effective. I would argue that all SAP professionals, functional and technical, need to get a handle on these kinds of tools to stay ahead of the skills curve.

Why recommend a tool that is not readily available? The answer is that there are all kinds of Aris-type modeling tools out there. I spoke with one manager on a major SAP retail project who failed to get SAP Enterprise Modeling in his operating budget -- his superiors weren't biting yet. Instead, he's asking his team to learn about these modeling tools proactively by trying out similar open source tools. Others can do the same.

Aris itself has been around for quite a while, and there are also open source variations on Aris. So there are plenty of ways to learn more about BPM inside (or outside) an SAP environment, even if your company is not running Aris for NetWeaver. For more info on where this tool is headed, check out the SDN "Aris for NetWeaver" page.

Click here to read Part 1, which looks at important skills for SAP offerings that are already available.

Jon Reed is an independent SAP analyst who writes on SAP consulting trends. He is the president of JonERP.com, an interactive website that features his take on SAP career trends. Jon is also the author of the SAP Consultant Handbook, and he serves as the career expert for SearchSAP's "Ask the Expert" panel.

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