One of the most frequent questions I hear is how SAP's Business Objects acquisition is going to affect job requirements. Whether it's experienced SAP BW/BI consultants who are looking to stay on track, or folks who see the Business Objects (BO) acquisition as an opportunity to move into a new area of SAP, there is plenty of interest in how BI-plus-BO will play out. Along with that interest comes a fair degree of confusion. It's not that easy to put the two together on paper and figure out where the opportunities are going to be.
SAP has issued some helpful roadmaps on BI/BO integration. But for the SAP professional, those roadmaps don't answer all the questions. A roadmap cannot predict which areas within the BO product are going to be in greatest demand, or which skills will be needed next.
NetWeaver BI, the technical foundation that is driving BO product integration, is not a fad, and here's why: BI is at the crossroads of ERP's transition from a transaction-based system to a strategic application that provides intelligent, role-specific reporting at all levels of the enterprise. That trend is not going to go away -- if anything, it will pick up even more momentum.
But what can we say about the skills demand for BI today? Unlike eSOA, which is still picking up momentum on project sites, BI has arrived. There are numerous open BW and BI job requirements, including plenty of upgrade work from BW 3.5 to BI 7.0. Currently, NetWeaver BI is definitely one of the hottest areas of SAP. I recently did a review of 1,000 job orders for a major staffing firm in 2008 -- a year's worth of job requirements. After core upgrade work involving HR/HCM and SAP Financials, NetWeaver BI was probably the most common job type issued by this firm -- another sign of a healthy BI job market.
In the short term, the BO acquisition might have put a slight damper on BI-related hiring, but there is still plenty of demand. The BO purchase did compel many SAP customers to step back from their immediate BI plans and reevaluate the BI/BO roadmap, especially when it comes to reporting. Of course, that's because the BO purchase provides the tantalizing possibility of flexible and more intuitive reports than SAP currently delivers. But the question is: How long until the integrated product offering is complete?
The answer to that question is a bit of a mixed message. SAP will tell you that, in a sense, SAP and BO are already integrated. BO was already serving 4,000 SAP customers when the acquisition went through, so there were plenty of customers already using the two products together. But in terms of a full integration between the two, with features like a seamless Enterprise Performance Management (EPM) suite with the best of both products integrated into one, I have heard dates ranging from this summer to 2010 -- and 2010 sounds about right to me. But that doesn't help us with the question of the skills that are needed in the near term.
One thing to keep in mind is that in the SAP-BO roadmap, there are some areas that are overlapping, where the functionality from both products will be blended into one, and some areas where there is an emphasis on one product over the other. So, as you look to position yourself for the BI/BO job requirements to come, it's good to know which solutions are going to be coming in from the SAP side, which from the BO side, and which are coming in from both sides.
BI/BO Skills Tips:
1. Custom Report Generation -- There will be a shift in reporting emphasis from SAP's BEx tool to the Business Objects reporting environment, centered around Crystal Reports. BEx will continue to be supported in the interim period, but we will see more and more SAP customers looking into BO's reporting capabilities sooner rather than later.
Opportunities for BO Reporting Experts: There are pending opportunities for Crystal and BO reporting experts to break into SAP from the BO side. The long-term SAP-BO roadmap de-emphasizes BEx in favor of BO's best-in-class reporting tools in areas such as Enterprise Reporting (Crystal Reports), Ad hoc Query and Analysis (Webi, Voyager), and Dashboards (Xcelsius). However, it should be noted that this is more likely to be a gradual transition than a huge push, given that SAP has guaranteed support for BEx, as well as Web Application Designer and Report Designer, through 2016. SAP is actually combining the best aspects of BEx with BO Voyager for a product to be rolled out in the next couple of years, currently code-named "Pioneer." We should expect the rate of reporting innovation on the BO side to be a major incentive to move SAP users off BEx, while expanding reporting across the enterprise and user base. Another nifty tool to be on the lookout for is Polestar, BO's new open query tool, which company CEO John Schwarz showed off during his Sapphire '08 keynote (http://www.businessobjects.com/product/catalog/polestar/). I have already run into some SAP customers who are interested in this tool's capabilities.
Opportunities for SAP Reporting Specialists: There will be opportunities for those SAP folks who are skilled in generating custom SAP reports via BW to bridge the gap to BO, especially if they have a mix of Java and ABAP skills and are familiar with SAP's Web-based reporting options as well as customizing SAP Portals.
Opportunities for Functional SAP Specialists: In many companies, the BEx reporting options were embraced by financial users but not as much by users in other departments. Expect the usage of SAP reports to increase significantly as more SAP customers turn to BO reporting tools that are much more flexible for different functional users. This should create opportunities for SAP functional experts to help define and prioritize these expanding reporting needs, ensuring that BO is tapping into the right data sources from the right business processes.
Skills Danger Zone: This BO reporting trend is a bit of a danger zone for the ABAP-based reporting specialist and the ABAP-BW reporting person. SAP has made it clear that its long-term reporting commitment will be with the BO suite, meaning that this is another area of SAP where the ABAP/Java hybrid skill set will be more effective than ABAP-only. Panic is not the right response, however. This will be a gradual transition.
2. Business Objects-SAP Integration Opportunities -- One of the strengths of Business Objects is that it can pull data from just about any system you can think of, legacy or otherwise. It can pull data from BW and BI as well. Therefore, companies will not be forced into integrating SAP and BO in one particular way. Going forward, however, we can count on SAP pushing the NetWeaver platform as the basis for BI/BO integration, using PI (formerly XI) as the integration hub.
Opportunities for BO Integration Specialists: In the short term, we may see some SAP customers go with a BO-specific integration strategy, especially if they don't have NetWeaver PI running yet. In other words, these projects won't yet worry about tying in seamlessly with SAP; they will just pull the data from many systems, including SAP, and handle the integration and reporting on the BO server. Therefore, there should be some opportunities for BO integration experts to get some SAP exposure here, as more data is pulled into the BO mix.
Whether it's worthwhile for SAP experts to dive into BO integration tools right away is hard to say, but what I can say is that the roadmap calls for the combined BI/BO product to utilize much of Business Objects' Enterprise Information Management (EIM) toolkit. If I were an SAP person, I'd be more inclined in the short term to chase XI/PI exposure, but if the opportunity presented itself to get skills on the BO EIM side, I wouldn't turn it down either, given that it will eventually be a part of SAP. If you want to get a head start on learning about BO's best-in-class EIM data integration toolkit, check out this link: http://www.businessobjects.com/product/eim/data_integration.asp. Tools like the Business Objects Data Integrator and Business Objects Rapid Marts may be worth getting experience in.
Opportunities for XI/PI Integration Experts: As noted, we should see more Business Objects-SAP data integration through SAP's XI/PI integration hub. So those of you who are already gaining PI experience should be in the right place at the right time, and those who are looking for another reason to get skills in PI just found one. In the short term, we may also see some work for BW/BO integration (skipping any data flow through XI/PI).
3. SAP Portals and Role-Based Reporting -- It looks as if SAP Portals will remain a point of emphasis in terms of delivering role-based reporting, though SAP-BO users will certainly not be tied to delivering reports through SAP's Portal. Other custom GUI options will include the BlackBerry and other handheld devices.
Opportunities for SAP Portals Experts: There will be project needs for SAP Portals experts who are well versed in designing role-based, user-friendly SAP Portals that pull reporting data from BO or features dashboards with role-specific data and KPIs (key performance indicators).
Opportunities for Visual Composer Skills: Custom GUI design will also call for folks who can work with Visual Composer. For some reason, I have not seen Web Dynpro mentioned as frequently when it comes to Business Objects displays on the SAP side, but we may well see more of that also. Visual Composer has been mentioned frequently in this context.
4. Other BO-driven Opportunities on the SAP Side -- There are other BO-related needs that should create some consulting demand on the SAP side. Just how strong that demand will be remains to be seen. Here are some more areas of SAP to target, in relative order of priority:
a. SAP BI Accelerator-- One reason the BO executives were so excited about being acquired, or so they tell us, is the power of BI Accelerator to help ensure super-fast performance, in particular with some of BO's open query and ad-hoc reporting options. So add one more reason to have BI Accelerator on your resume.
b. SAP Master Data Management (MDM) -- SAP MDM figures prominently on the SAP + Business Objects combined roadmap, and we can expect tight integration between SAP MDM and BO's metadata features.
c. SAP Data Warehousing -- I don't expect BO to replace the need for SAP data warehousing, which in recent years has centered around BW, and now BI. BO may even increase the need for SAP data warehouse experts who understand how to map out a business intelligence architecture that is the best fit with a particular industry. Another way of looking at it: SAP is shifting its reporting emphasis to BO, but its data warehouse and storage capabilities will remain focused on BW/BI.
d. SAP GRC (Governance, Risk and Compliance) -- The SAP-BO roadmap calls for the use of SAP's own GRC product, so folks who have (or can get) exposure to SAP GRC should be in good shape in this area.
e. SAP EPM (Enterprise Performance Management) -- The EPM suite may create casualties on both sides. This is an area where the functionality from both vendors will be combined, and smaller acquisitions galore come into play, such as SAP's OutlookSoft acquisition. SEM (Strategic Enterprise Management), which now resides within BW/BI, may shift into new tools in new locations. However, the fundamentals that drive the need for these tools (better executive-level decision making and strategic planning) will remain the same, so the tool knowledge should be transferable. For those who want the nitty gritty, here's the EPM suite breakdown:
Strategy -- SAP Strategy Management (formerly Pilot Software, an SAP acquisition)
Planning -- SAP Business Planning and Consolidation (formerly OutlookSoft, an SAP acquisition)
Consolidation -- SAP Business Planning and Consolidation (formerly OutlookSoft)
Financial Consolidation -- Business Objects Financial Consolidation (formerly Cartesis)
Profitability -- Business Objects Profitability and Cost Management (formerly ALG Software)
If you noticed some SEM products missing from here, so did I -- such are the casualties of such roadmaps. I would suggest putting aside the confusion of vendor alphabet soup and just focusing on the business know-how that will be needed to implement this emerging EPM product suite.
Whew! Tracking BI/BO opportunities is a full-time job. I'm sure I missed a few items in this skills preview, but hopefully I have provided some useful tips SAP professionals can capitalize on as we feel our way through this exciting but complicated product merger.
Jon Reed is an independent SAP analyst and SAP Mentor 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.