SAP career expert Jon Reed looks at the hot skills required to find a profitable niche in SAP consulting as part of this consulting trends report. Make sure to check out part one for a basic overview of key trends and part two for more information on how NetWeaver changes the consulting landscape.
Hot SAP skills to pursue
I'm not a big fan of recommending "hot" SAP areas. The skills chase often leaves a crazy career path behind it. What makes sense is not to chase what's hot but to add a new skill that logically builds on core experience. There's a big difference between a natural extension of skills (which looks good on a resume) and the mad pursuit of something new (which tends to look frantic). With that disclaimer in mind, here are some hot (and not so hot) areas that the folks I talked to singled out. Keep in mind that when we say "hot," we don't mean that these skills were mentioned in a PowerPoint at a trade show. For our purposes, "hot" means that we've seen these skills on actual job orders and placed people with these skills.
- Core Financials, HR, and to a lesser extent SD/MM on the ECC 5.0 and ECC 6.0 versions of SAP in particular. On the mySAP Financials side, the ECC FI New General Ledger is "very hot." On the mySAP HCM side, beyond the core HR functions like Payroll and Benefits, advanced HR functionalities like Performance Management and LSO (Learning Solution, e-Learning, etc.) are also in demand.
- NetWeaver and BI: XI/PI installation, ECC systems upgrade from R/3, BW upgrade from 3.5 to BI 7.0, MDM 5.5.
- mySAP Business Suite (SRM, CRM, PLM)
- Some industry verticals, in particular the retail solutions (IS-Retail and IS-AFS)
- ABAP/Legacy Skills and Supply Chain Planning (APO component of mySAP SCM)
Surprising trend: Has the power of certification returned?
One thing that comes as a bit of a surprise: For the first time in years, I'm hearing firsthand stories about folks who managed to break into SAP armed only with a certification. Recently, I heard from two lucky people who have done it: one on the Financials side and one on the CRM side.
At this point, I haven't seen enough broad confirmation on this point to recommend certifications again as a way of breaking into SAP, but we can say this much: When folks with only certification are getting consulting jobs, that means the demand for SAP skills is as high as it's been in years. Just remember that it's still a "winners and losers" market and that the demand for skills is most likely focused on particular niches, most of them on the functional side of SAP. "Research before you leap" still applies.
The influx of "perm" SAP positions - another sign of a healthy market
A final sign that the SAP market is on the move is the number of companies that are looking to bring in more permanent employees for their in-house SAP teams.
"I'm seeing a lot more demand on the direct placement side than I've seen before," Jerry Walter says. "SAP customers really want to bring quality SAP folks in-house that they can rely on, and this way, the costs aren't constantly eating up their budget."
Walter does find that companies are having trouble finding this kind of person – another sign that SAP professionals are faced with more appealing options than they've had in recent years.
"Going perm" can be a great way to get access to new SAP skills. I've seen this approach used by experienced consultants who needed exposure to the latest SAP tools and weren't able to land the right contract. Some companies, though not all, will offer more skills perks to those who are willing to take a salaried position.
Conclusion: When in doubt, choose skills over rates
It's hard to write a "one size fits all" article on SAP consulting because the market no longer fits all. But I hope this piece can serve as a foundation, and I'll expand on these themes in my SearchSAP career-questions-and-answers column in the Ask the Expert section of this Web site.
For a closing piece of advice, I asked Michael Doane to give us one proven tactic for SAP professionals. Without hesitating, he said: "Choose skills before rates."
Citing the increasing impact of global outsourcing and success of the onshore/offshore mix, Doane feels strongly that consultants have to stay on the cutting edge to stay marketable. "While it's a hot market out there, if you want to survive in it, you're going to have to have the skills. Only with the skills will the rates sustain themselves."
It may sound like simple advice to follow, but it's not so easy when offers are on the table. It's a tough call to travel farther and earn less for better skills, but in the global SAP labor pool, skills translate to career security. The SAP market may shift again, but "skills over rates" will never let you down.
Jon Reed is an independent SAP analyst who writes on SAP consulting trends. Most recently, he served as the vice president and founding editor of SAPtips. He is the author of the SAP Consultant Handbook. Jon has been publishing SAP career and market analysis for more than a decade. He is the career expert for SearchSAP.com's Ask The Expert panel.