In this three-part series, SearchSAP.com site expert Jon Reed analyzes the news from Sapphire to determine the state of the popular SAP skills. In part 1, he looked at skills that will be in demand in the future, and in part 2 he revealed which skills are hot right now.
In the final installment, Reed looks at the SAP skills that have seen their best days and are not looking good for future consulting opportunities.
SAP skills of the past
Bread-and-butter ABAP is on the way out. Bread-and-butter batch data conversion/report generation ABAP is on the way out. Object-oriented ABAP, mixed with Java-flavored tools, is the SAP development skill set of the future.
"Goodbye to Basis." Basis is giving way to NetWeaver. The skills transition from Basis to NetWeaver is not as difficult as on the development side.
EDI is out, XML is in. There's still some EDI (electronic data interface) work to be done for companies entrenched in the infrastructure, but for everyone else it's about SOA/XML/Internet-based B2B transactions. EDI skills are no longer a coveted part of the technical skill set for most consultants.
Business Suite products have a questionable future, especially APO. This may be the most controversial statement in this piece, given that the Business Suite is still a major part of what SAP is pushing. And we won't know the ultimate fate of the Business Suite for a few more years -- when the bulk of the core upgrades are done and companies look more closely at how they might want to "extend" their functionality.
What is the ultimate enterprise software goal? To achieve a fully transparent, demand-driven supply chain that connects the enterprise to all customers and partners. SAP would tell you that the Business Suite is needed to achieve this goal. The question, however, is whether these add-on products will prove to be the key. I think it's possible that companies will avoid the costs of implementing large add-on suites, instead opting for focused xApps they can tack onto particular business processes that they are looking to extend.
I also expect SAP to pull more and more of the so-called "Business Suite" functionality into the core. This has already happened to BW (business warehouse) and SEM (strategic enterprise management), two products entirely pulled into the core. In SAP ERP 2005, SAP seems to be pulling some of the CRM (customer relationship management) and SRM (supplier relationship management) functionality back into the core as well.
This is a good time to acknowledge that APO (advanced planner and optimizer) is not technically the fourth Business Suite product. The formal name for the fourth product is SCM, and, again, many SCM functions are already embedded into the enterprise core. APO remains the flagship product in the SCM suite, even if SAP rarely mentions it by name. The functionality in these products is important, but I wonder whether we will ever see robust consulting markets based on these applications. I see enterprise services and xApps having a major impact on the market for these products.
Best-of-breed solutions and third-party add-ons must prove their value or they are part of history. Some third-party software solutions are doing very well in the "SAP ecosystem." But especially in larger functional areas, best-of-breed is struggling. Best-of-breed HR (human resources) is long gone, and best-of-breed CRM is rapidly giving way. Going with one ERP vendor for major enterprise functions makes too much economic sense.
This is good news for "niche" SAP consultants in such areas as Plant Maintenance and Warehouse Management. Increasingly, I expect companies to standardize these key logistical components on SAP systems. So, while best-of-breed software is struggling to stay in the present tense, the more SAP captures the bulk of the enterprise, the easier it will be for consultants who have skills in these supplemental SAP areas.
I left out some areas where the verdict in still unclear, such as on-demand solutions, which may or may not take off for SAP. SMBs are now being served by three SAP products: Business One, All-in-One, and A1S (SAP's new SMB on demand offering). At this point, only the All-in-One product seems as if it may have some consulting potential -- the other solutions are too "out of the box."
Web 2.0 and Duet also got a lot of attention at Sapphire, and though they will influence SAP greatly, how they will affect SAP skills is not yet clear.
Another wild card is RFID (radio-frequency identification). RFID looks to be a key technology, but adoption is gradual enough at this point that there may not be much of a skills gap. Finally, with the upgrade wave, Unicode may be something to consider in terms of multilingual SAP installations. The factors affecting Unicode are complex, but if your skills touch on it, it's another tool to keep an eye on.
SAP consultants have to be careful about getting caught up in SAP's grand vision and investing in SOA training, when learning the new General Ledger might be more immediately helpful. At the same time, keeping SAP's future clearly in mind is crucial to making the right project choices in the present -- SAP almost always gets where it says it's going to go; the timing is the hard part.
The best way to handle SAP's frank admissions of skills shortages is to take them as good news but not to assume that "everything is going to be OK." The market changes quickly, and companies are cautious and budget-conscious adopters of new technology. Most projects are smaller in scope and take longer to greenlight, which keeps the skills demand from peaking as high as it used to go. Therefore, we should continue with the same thoughtful integration of current and emerging skills that got us to this point.
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.