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Floor buzz from TechEd 2007

Upgrades, jobs and outsourcing were the most pressing concerns for some of the 6,000 attendees at SAP TechEd 2007.

During the first week of October, some 6,000 SAP professionals traveled to Las Vegas to hone their technical skills and learn about the latest SAP developments at TechEd 2007. We spoke with some of them to get a feel for what drove them here, what their pain points were and which announcements got them excited. For many attendees, upgrades, jobs and outsourcing remained high on the list of concerns, and attendees voiced some hesitation about SAP certification and Web 2.0 promises.

Some user skepticism

For Bud Sloniger, a senior Basis consultant at Itelligence Inc. in Cincinnati, Ohio, integration brought him to TechEd this year. Itelligence is planning a big SAP implementation in January with Enterprise Portal, SAP ERP 6, the new business intelligence (BI) tools and much more. The client plans to ditch most of its legacy systems, meaning there's a lot of back-end work to be done.

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As a Basis consultant, Sloniger isn't directly affected by the new gee-whiz stuff, he said, but he has to keep tabs on it because he's all but certain to get dragged into it eventually. When asked about the new SAP certification program, which offers three tiers to better reflect the experience of more senior SAP professionals, Sloniger wasn't overly enthusiastic.

"They'll have to do a better job of selling it before I'm interested," he said. "With 12 years' experience, I'm not sure how much value even a Master certification would really have for me."

Manish Kapor, a technical manager at Valero Energy Corp. in San Antonio, Texas, runs a team of 10 SAP professionals. His main goal was to figure out where SAP is heading, and the answer was clear to him: Web 2.0 is here to stay.

"In the future, users will help build the applications they need using Web 2.0 tools," Kapor said. "Collaboration is the key to the next level. And from what I've seen, SAP is working at making it happen."

The drag-and-drop solution for creating business processes that generate SAP back-end code automatically in the background and featured in the "Peek into the future" keynote was an interesting concept, Kapor said.

"However, I don't think it'll be that easy in reality," he said. "It's true, you don't have to write business blueprints like you used to, but you still need a basic structure. If this new solution can speed up that process, that's great, but I think you'll still need quite a bit of tweaking before a new app is usable -- and that's where the user-created Web 2.0 aspect comes into play."

Consolidation, outsourcing remain strong themes

The consolidation and upgrade message SAP put forth at Sapphire earlier this year continued at TechEd. Many attendees were preparing to heed the call -- although not necessarily at SAP's preferred pace. Francine Belanger, technology architect at Hydro Québec in Montreal, came to TechEd to prepare for a massive consolidation project.

"We have a very complex situation with over 100 environments, three R/3 cores and so on," she said. "That's why we're going to proceed very carefully with a staggered approach. We'll start with updating BI and Portals in 2008, then move to the ECC 6.0 core in 2009 and gradually roll everything out until we cap things off with CRM in 2011."

Since a big part of the TechEd audience consists of developers, the topic of outsourcing inevitably came up. The good news: Things are less gloomy than they were just a few years ago.

"The threat of outsourcing is still there," said Darrell Speight, an SAP analyst at International Paper in Memphis, Tenn. "However, the big shift is that I see is a lot more locals being used instead of sending the development gigs abroad."

In essence, companies find that hiring local consultants is easier, he said. That means an SAP developer that gets laid off now has much better odds of getting hired by a local consulting firm or, if he has some experience, to become an independent contractor and still have a good chance of finding good projects.

"From what I've seen, quality is not really an issue," Speight said. "But the local guys have the advantage of being easier to communicate and negotiate with compared to some consulting company on the other side of the globe. That makes a lot of sense when you think about it, and it's good news for American SAP workers."

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