In this three-part series, SearchSAP.com site expert Jon Reed analyzes the news from Sapphire to determine the state of some popular SAP skills. In Part 1, he looked at skills that will be in demand in the future, and Part 3 will reveal which skills may have already seen their best days.
NetWeaver is for real. There was a time when NetWeaver sounded like a name bought at a post-Y2K dotcom fire sale. But now NetWeaver is serious business, with a host of products under its umbrella generating consulting demand right now. NetWeaver 7.1 is due in the third quarter (NetWeaver 2004s, the NetWeaver engine that drives the SAP ERP 2005 foundation release, is also referred to as 7.0) and will have even more enterprise service-oriented architecture (SOA) capabilities, including the full runtime version of the Enterprise Services Repository (ESR).
Companies must have a strong NetWeaver platform in place before they can begin to move on SOA initiatives. And while there are some flagship SOA projects under way, the adoption of NetWeaver is much more widespread, especially when you consider that Portals and Business Warehouse (BW) have now been pulled into NetWeaver, albeit with adjusted product names -- NetWeaver Portals and NetWeaver BI.
The problem is that NetWeaver is now composed of numerous products and toolkits, not all of which are equally marketable. So not all NetWeaver products have the same demand. Business Intelligence/Business Warehouse (BI/BW) probably has the highest, but just about all NetWeaver products are experiencing some uptick in consulting needs. If SOA is coming up tomorrow, then NetWeaver is happening today. Development tools that tie into NetWeaver, including Java Server Pages (JSP), Web Dynpro, and XML-based standards like XMI, are also in demand.
BW by any name is rocking. As discussed in the Sapphire 2007 terminology piece, whether you're talking about BW or BI, the demand is there. The upgrades from BW 3.5 to BI 7.0 -- which is part of NetWeaver 2004s -- are definitely creating project requirements, and there aren't yet enough consultants who have been through this type of upgrade.
Business Intelligence is here to stay, and I think we can foresee a time when just about all SAP professionals will have some piece of BI or Web-based analytics in their skill set.
Some industry solutions are picking up steam (retail, public sector). SAP's vertical industry focus is starting to generate increased job demand. The public sector has been building momentum for years and is looking as strong as ever. Since some public sector projects require U.S. citizenship, active passports and even security clearances, these are areas where consultants can enjoy a bit more insulation from the offshoring that affects most other SAP areas. The catch is that not all public sector projects are well financed, so both full-time and consulting positions in the public sector can be leaner paywise.
SAP is also determined to hit retail hard, as it is perhaps the only vertical left that has Fortune 500-size companies that haven't fully committed to a large-scale ERP solution. SAP has been aggressive in beefing up its retail functionality -- illustrated by its purchase of Khimetrics, the analytical pricing and forecasting software product for retail environments. SAP pushed many retail announcements at Sapphire, and its needs are clearly "right now."
Upgrades are driving work to the core. Only a small percentage of companies are running SAP's ECC 6.0 core release, which means plenty of upgrades in the next few years. With extended maintenance for 4.6C bumping up from 2% to 4% at the end of this year, the carrot (SOA) and stick (increased fees) combination is pushing folks to upgrade.
"Carrot and stick" markets are typically the most active -- reference the last SAP carrot-and-stick market of pre-Y2K and the strong demand for SAP skills at that time. Consultants in the core releases are poised to benefit, especially if they are ahead of the curve with their project experience around the new releases. Even those who lack experience, but have training, in the new releases may be in a position to land some good opportunities thanks to current demand levels.
Financial Accounting (FI) folks, who have a grip on the new General Ledger, and -- on the HR side -- Human Capital Management (HCM) folks, who have already gained skills in Performance Management, E-Recruiting and LSO (Learning Solution, e-learning), are in particularly high demand. All in all, there are more than 300 new and enhanced features in every functional area compared to 4.6C, so there are plenty of new areas to study in an effort to gain the inside track.
The technical core is also experiencing a decent level of demand on the Basis side, though many of those tools have been mastered by in-house employees. One tool that stands out in SAP's present and future emphasis is the Solution Manager. Since the Solution Manager can be implemented as early as 4.6C and is crucial to future upgrades -- it is required for support and enhancement packages for SAP ERP 2005 -- it's a great piece to add to the skill set now.
CRM is the most active "Business Suite" product. Overall, the Business Suite products are not driving the bulk of the skills demand, but we do continue to see a fair amount of action on the customer relationship management (CRM) side. In particular, projects pertaining to mobile devices and mobile development seem to be active, as companies look to "extend" SAP to representatives in the field that deal directly with the customer base.
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.