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Capitalizing on SAP consulting, Part 2: Marketing your skills

Career expert Jon Reed talks with two SAP staffing professionals about how to market one's skills and prepare for a possible economic downturn.

Editor's note: In Part 1 of this outlook on the market for SAP job skills in 2008, columnist Jon Reed spoke with...

two executives -- Brad Elster, the vice president of sales, and Ray Kelly, the vice president - B2B Solution Center, both with B2B Workforce, about the demand for SAP job skills. In Part 2, Jon shares Brad and Ray's thoughts on how SAP professionals can market their skills and how they should approach projects.


Tips on keeping your skills marketable

Ray Kelly sees opportunities in the new product introduction (NPI) space, especially in areas where SAP may be tying in third-party acquisitions such as Business Objects. More than ever before, SAP has focused on purchasing best-of-breed products to further its market growth and expand its functionality, and savvy SAP consultants can position themselves nicely in these new "crossover" areas.

"Get a crossover," Ray said. "Not all of SAP's NPIs will be fruitful (some will be duds, others will have small markets), but getting yourself tooled in crossover NPI's should provide substantial earning increases. If you are BI/BW skilled, go learn Business Objects; if you are PS skilled, go learn xRPM; and if you are SEM skilled, go learn OutlookSoft. Those three are, and will be, in high demand by mid-to-late 2008 -- if not sooner. At FKOM [SAP's Field Kick Off Meeting sessions geared toward prepping SAP's sales force and business partners for the coming year], time and time again, we heard increased license sales in this arena are mandatory to support SAP's 2008 growth plans."

Ray also emphasized the value of industry focus: "Learn a specific industry," he said. "The time has long passed when a Consumer Goods client will accept an FI/CO consultant who only worked on manufacturing clients. Restructure your resume to show specific industry experience gained. Our clients are consistently asking us not only to align the SAP function but to bring industry-skilled resources to bear."

Brad Elster had an important piece of advice for consultants of all SAP disciplines: Don't play hardball with rates. "My No. 1 tip to SAP consultants is this: In order to stay current in today's SAP marketplace you have to stay flexible with your rate," he said. "For example, even with an excellent track record, if your most recent experience is on version 4.7, you will have trouble getting work on an ECC 5.0 or 6.0 implementation without some rate flexibility. We are much more successful in placing consultants on implementations of the latest SAP software and helping them get that cutting-edge career growth experience when they have some rate flexibility."

Last but not least, Ray and Brad both noted the importance of Solution Manager. You can't run from this tool; virtually all SAP skill areas now tie into Solution Manager in one way or the other. SAP is positioning Solution Manager as a key component for managing your upgrade, building out your eSOA projects, and optimizing your SAP environment. There are consulting opportunities in all three of these areas for those with Solution Manager exposure.

The market outlook is good -- but economics matter

The SAP consulting outlook for 2008 is fairly promising as of this writing, but Ray advises us to monitor the "macro-economic" factors that can influence SAP project spending. Brad agreed, but he doesn't think the current economic slowdown will significantly affect the level of skills demand noted in this article.

More on SAP consulting
Read Part 1 about the demand for SAP job skills

Find out if SAP consulting can improve your SAP project

Compare SAP consulting versus SAP support for upgrades
In the event of a bigger economic downturn, however, we will see IT budget cutbacks that will, in turn, affect SAP project activity. That's why it's always a good idea to combine a core "bread and butter" skill with an emerging SAP area. The emerging skill will provide the best rates when the market is hot, and the core skill, hopefully located in a mature area of the SAP product line, will provide more security when project managers get a little gun-shy in their spending.

As of this writing, signs point to a strong 2008 consulting market for those who are able to capitalize on the SAP growth areas Brad and Ray have highlighted. While at FKOM, Ray and Brad got the ultimate proof of skills demand: firsthand reports on how the major systems integrators are dealing with the level of work they are getting. As a rule, when the big Tier 1 firms are tearing their hair out over how they are going to staff their projects, that's good news for the market as a whole.

Fortunately, that seems to be the case currently. "The Top three systems integrators all mentioned a heavy pipeline, sold work with unoccupied seats, and a willingness to hire at a capacity that equals demand," Ray Kelly said. "Implementation work typically lags eight to 12 months behind license sales. When you take into account that 2007 SAP license sales were at an all-time high, you know you have a healthy market."

The SAP market is not unlike a Hollywood cliffhanger, and there are plenty of plot twists to come. But with the skills map provided by Ray Kelly and Brad Elster, we should be well prepared for whatever the market brings us in 2008.

Brad Elster is the Vice President of Sales for B2B Workforce. He has been working in the SAP field since 1997.

Ray Kelly is the Vice President - B2B Workforce Solution Center. He has been working in the SAP field since 1995.

Jon Reed is an independent SAP analyst who writes on SAP consulting trends. Jon 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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