In this two-part series, SearchSAP.com jobs expert Jon Reed looks at the SAP skills that will be important for SAP consultants in 2008. Part 1 looks at SAP offerings that are already available. Part 2 will examine skills that are not SAP specific and technologies that are not quite mainstream yet.
We've heard the keynotes and read the clippings: We're entering the eSOA and NetWeaver era of SAP. But what does that mean for SAP professionals?
eSOA (enterprise service-oriented architecture) is a vast umbrella of emerging technologies, and NetWeaver is a broad technical landscape with a number of different components. When it all comes together someday, it should bring an unprecedented level of integration and business adaptability to SAP customers -- ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) as we know it won't be the same.
But today's SAP professional faces a much more immediate challenge: How do you make the right project choices and obtain the skills you need to stay marketable?
One goal in creating this list was to avoid generalities. For example, we know that it's important to get SAP upgrade experience, so it's useless to list that. But are there tools commonly used in upgrades we can get exposure to? That's where this list can help.
SAP skills for 2008 and beyond
Solution Manager -- In the NetWeaver and eSOA era, there are all kinds of nifty SAP tools to add to your skill set, but one tool stands out above the others: Solution Manager. The reason I like Solution Manager so much is that it applies to many different SAP contexts. It's one of the few bridges between pre-NetWeaver SAP, NetWeaver SAP, and the eSOA and analytics era -- you don't have to be on the latest version of SAP to get access to this tool.
You can use Solution Manager to manage your SAP upgrade, and then for performance management and optimization afterward. Solution Manager even contains a comprehensive change management program for handling the cultural and role changes involved in new SAP rollouts.
Solution Manager also positions you to get involved with cutting-edge eSOA projects. You can generate "process objects" with Solution Manager, allowing you to start down the road toward composite application development. You can also port data from Solution Manager into Master Data Management (MDM) for number-crunching. As SAP continues its push toward a "business process platform," it is also making an effort to automate routine processes and provide a central spot for managing system performance and business processes. More and more, it looks as if Solution Manager will be integral to this vision.
BI/BW MDX (Multi-Dimensional Expression Language) -- We can all agree that the core ERP functional areas are hot, because core upgrades are driving demand for those skills. We also know that BI/BW (Business Intelligence/Business Warehouse) is a major area of consulting growth -- all the reader polls I've done put BI/BW skills well ahead of xApps or eSOA.
A lot of SAP folks haven't heard of BW MDX, but it's a key to creating SOA-driven "mashups" that leverage the BW environment. And the best thing? You don't have to be running on BI 7.0 to use MDX. Any BW application from 3.x onward that runs on some flavor on NetWeaver can "express an MDX."
There is a general trend toward using BI-driven mashups, and MDX allows you to take advantage of third-party best-of-breed content and "mash" it with your internal data. This might be the easiest way to get involved in SOA and generate instant value that can be used to build momentum for more eSOA projects.
If you can't get access to MDX right away and you're an SAP technical type, you can still gear up for eventual MDX work by getting more involved with XML and XML/A, an XML for Analysis tool.
NetWeaver Composition Environment (CE) -- The NetWeaver CE is SAP's versatile Java-based environment that now ships with NetWeaver 7.1. Just because CE is a Java EE 5 platform doesn't mean that SAP is abandoning ABAP, but skills in the CE toolkit are going to be valuable.
Why include a product as vast as CE? Because unlike most SAP products, you can test drive CE on your own, right from the SAP Developer Network.
CE has many different components. I strongly recommend spending time with the Enterprise Service Repository, the NetWeaver Application Studio, and of course Web Dynpro. Also make sure to check out the SAP NetWeaver Developer Studio, which is now based on Eclipse 3.3. I would suggest that even functional types spend a bit of time with the modeling environments within CE, especially Visual Composer.
Visual Composer -- Visual Composer has gotten a bit lost in the skills shuffle due to the emphasis on more glamorous BPM (business process management) tools. But make no mistake, it is very powerful for both functional and technical consultants. I had one of the foremost experts in mashups practically whisper to me at TechEd about how potent Visual Composer was, as if he couldn't believe more people hadn't caught on.
Visual Composer is not just for building slick GUIs, it's great for taking advantage of the mashup power of SAP Analytics. A technical expert may be needed to drive these model designs home, but there is a lot that a functional (or technical) person can do within the Visual Composer environment.
Admittedly, Visual Composer is not as easy to get your hands on as some SAP tools. There are currently two versions: Visual Composer 6.0 was made available as part of NetWeaver 7.0, and with NetWeaver 7.1, Visual Composer ships as part of the NetWeaver Composition Environment.
Jon Reed is an independent SAP analyst who writes on SAP consulting trends. He is the president of JonERP.com, an interactive website that features his take on SAP career trends. Jon is also the author of the SAP Consultant Handbook, and he serves as the career expert for SearchSAP's "Ask the Expert" panel.