Recently, I published an article on "SAP Skills to Have for 2008 and Beyond." We received some interesting responses, and I wanted to share the highlights with SearchSAP.com readers.
It's important to note that the focus of the original piece was not "what's hot" in SAP. That's a slightly different question. The focus of "SAP Skills to Have for 2008 and Beyond" is a bit more forward-thinking -- it's a look ahead to the kinds of skills that may or may not be on the top of the list today but should be important in the years to come. I also tried to emphasize the skills that could be easily acquired on project sites or through late-night (or early morning) self-education online. Think of it as a list of SAP skills that should have staying power.
The responses I received made some important distinctions in terms of the modeling tools you might want to master. I also received some interesting comments about automated configuration tools and how close (or far away) we are from process modeling tools that literally generate preconfigured tables or custom code.
The feedback I received on modeling comes down to this: Modeling tools of various flavors are definitely going to be important on SAP projects, but the tool set by IDS Scheer that I mentioned as one prominent example may not turn out to be the one that ultimately gains traction with SAP customers.
First, I heard from Michael Doane, of Doane Associates, who is the author of The New SAP Blue Book: A Concise Business Guide to the World of SAP.
Here's what Michael had to say: "I agree royally that Solution Manager is the No. 1 thing to master going forward, so much so that I'm considering taking a Solution Manager course myself.
"As for 'Aris for NetWeaver' from IDS Scheer, Aris has always been a very powerful tool that has never been widely used in the SAP community outside of IDS.
"My first week in SAP-land, in late 1995, I read some IDS Scheer literature that said their business modeler would be upgraded within a year to include not only modeling but configuration.
"That was 12 years ago! So the prospect of 'automated configuration' tools has been on the horizon for a good while, and yet we're all still waiting. Sometimes we hear rumors of these tools in the works, and if one of them ever hits the market and lives up to the hype, that will certainly change the skill set SAP managers are looking for. For now, though, custom configuration is still largely a manual process.
"As for modeling tools, my favorite project managers tell me they prefer doing their business modeling with tools that the clients can get familiar with without a big upfront cost, like Visio for SAP. I do believe that the Aris tool set is very powerful, but the learning curve is powerful as well."
Michael's comments were echoed by Kent Sanders, Chief Innovation Architect for innovateITnow, who had some interesting comments about the modeling tools on the horizon:
"You were spot on [noting] that SAP doesn't currently offer much by way of Web 2.0 features. That may change with NetWeaver 7.1.
"NetWeaver 7.1 Portal is supposed to have many Web 2.0 features. I think it's due for release in the second quarter of 2008. Also, you might want to tell people to look at Business Process Modeling Notation (BPMN) for process modeling since SAP is introducing BPMN in the next release of the Composition Environment (CE) with Collaborative Business Processes (CBP). I don't know how that will affect the relationship with Aris. In its first release, BPMN will not support execution or process orchestration, though that will likely change as the product evolves.
"In my opinion, Aris' BPMN tools are not that impressive and I'll be surprised if they become the de facto SAP standard. Also, I know of at least one major SAP project that is running IntelliCorp's LiveModel, which does the same things as Aris for NetWeaver, including Solution Manager integration.
"My current recommendation for modeling tools, if you are modeling processes for composite apps, would be to use a BPMN tool such as Intalio until SAP releases a version of CBP that supports process orchestration. If you need to do process simulation or import processes from Solution Manager, then tools like Aris or LiveModel are good."
The comments from Michael and Kent are appreciated. They don't change my overall take, but I think their thoughts are worth considering. IDS Scheer's suite of SAP tools certainly has a marketing advantage with SAP's increasing emphasis on their product line, but that doesn't mean that other tools deemed by SAP users to be more affordable or effective won't fare better than IDS in the long run. And we can certainly expect more "next generation" modeling tools from SAP as well. From the conversations I've had with SAP insiders, I expect such tools sooner rather than later.
I don't know whether anyone can say with certainty which modeling tools will become the standard in SAP environments. I'm not sure we should get hung up on that particular debate anyway. What's more important is to pick up exposure on the tools you can get access to, either on your project or in your free time, and look for the commonalities between these tools and how they might deliver a bottom-line benefit to SAP shops. After all, we don't play around with tools because they are nifty; we focus on the tools that can deliver a bottom-line contribution to our project and ensure that our managers smile on us warmly as cutting-edge team members who are on top of the latest stuff that can really help.
It's also important to realize that different tools have different purposes. Visual Composer might be ideal for certain kinds of presentation design or analytics-driven mashups, whereas in other situations, a tool like IDS Scheer's Enterprise Modeling might be the option of choice. What we're really talking about is how the tools we use in our current SAP roles might change -- even if we stay in our current SAP positions.
The best way to stay on top of that is to pay attention to how SAP is positioning its own product. And what SAP is doing in the Enterprise SOA era is to position itself as a business process-driven product that allows SAP customers to let its business users easily customize SAP without having to learn code or pay for custom development. Of course, this is still as much a marketing image as reality. But SAP, like Microsoft, always catches up to its marketing eventually.
These modeling tools we're debating here, as well as Web 2.0 and business process skills, all fit into the skills trends I'm describing. Sure, we can get away with ignoring these trends for a while. But before long, these skills are going to shift from "nice to have" to "must have" on SAP job descriptions, and those who don't have these forward-thinking skills are going to be chasing the market from behind -- or sitting on the bench.
I look forward to your feedback on this piece, and SearchSAP.com would love to hear which SAP tools are proving most useful on your project site.
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.com's "Ask the Expert" panel.