Outsourcing SAP Basis provides reskilling opportunity

When day-to-day SAP Basis support becomes the purview of a third party, companies can redeploy skilled labor to a host of new value-added IT initiatives.

Outsourcing SAP Basis support raises an important issue: what to do with Basis professionals once a third-party firm takes over day-to-day administration.

For many, the decision to outsource this critical SAP function has everything to do with cost cutting or tapping into a talent pool that is lacking in their companies or even in their geographic areas. These companies, therefore, typically don’t have -- or don’t want to pay to have -- Basis expertise on staff, thus the outsourcing move doesn’t give them an opportunity to redeploy expertise to higher-value IT initiatives.

For others, however, offloading the day-to-day administration tasks of Basis support gives IT groups the chance to reassess internal resources and the option of shifting internal, oftentimes highly skilled and highly paid SAP talent, to new initiatives that can give the company a competitive edge.

“Outsourcing creates the opportunity to re-evaluate which people are invaluable,” said Jon Reed, an independent SAP analyst and SAP Mentor. “It ties into the principle of seeking out people who understand the business and who have a passion for bridging the gap between technology, business culture and communities.”

SAP Basis professionals, in particular, are highly versatile and their skill sets typically go far beyond maintenance work like applying bug fixes and patches. Typically, most Basis experts know more than one language surrounding SAP and have skills in other areas outside of the ERP system, including database administration, business intelligence, Java, and even system security.  Furthermore, many SAP Basis professionals have a keen understanding of how the business operates, so once unencumbered by the day-to-day care and feeding of SAP applications, they can be useful in more strategic roles, from project management to business process re-engineering, experts say.

“It’s a natural [move] to reskill a Basis person in areas like vendor management to function as a liaison between the business and IT, even address other skills relevant for outsourcing arrangements like contract negotiation or figuring out system requirements with business people,” said Liz Herbert, principal analyst at Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research Inc.

Building the softer skills

Basis professionals looking to grab new opportunities need to do their part to keep their skills current and find a match for these types of roles. Augmenting their technical Basis domain expertise with softer skills in areas like change management, project management, requirements gathering, coalition building and leadership are critical to making the transition to more strategic roles. Oftentimes, SAP Basis professionals are strong on the technical and configuration side, but lack the training to communicate their knowledge in terms the business can understand.

“They can talk about configuration and features, but in a way that’s SAP-centric,” Reed said. “To really have an impact, you have to talk about value, and value is subjective in eyes of beholder.”

To achieve a more consulting-and-business focus, therefore, SAP Basis professionals need to translate system features into business value, and that calls for asking questions and listening, Reed explained.

While cultivating soft management skills, SAP Basis professionals shouldn’t ignore continued enhancement on the technical side of Basis. Knowledge of SAP Solution Manager is now critical for any kind of advancement, and rounding out basic Basis domain expertise with skills in emerging areas, as well as in one or two core skill areas, can help differentiate and establish a specialty area, according to Tony de Thomasis, an SAP Mentor, Solution Manager specialist and NetWeaver Practice Lead with consulting company Acclimation.

Core skills, as defined by de Thomasis, would be bread-and-butter areas like CRM, ERP, Enterprise Portal and others. Linked to those core skills should be a new set of emerging capabilities, related to areas of interest, that can help establish specialization. Examples of emerging capabilities might be governance, risk and compliance, environmental compliance, performance and capacity management, and Java 2 Platform, Enterprise Edition administration, with each emerging area having some relationship to the individual’s core SAP skill set.

“Pick things that solidify you with a specialty area,” said de Thomasis, who maintains that market is no longer looking for SAP generalists. “There’s nothing worse than having two skill sets that are not complementary.”

In the end, de Thomasis advises companies to pursue reskilling as opposed to using outsourcing as a way to downsize and abdicate responsibility for SAP Basis.

“When people scale back and outsource Basis in order to save costs, what they’re creating is a debt for the future,” he said. “What leaves with all the good Basis team is all of the innovation that drives cost savings in an organization.”

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