The hardest thing for the SAP professional is to stay on top of where SAP is headed -- without overlooking the skills that are needed now. SAP does a terrific job of marketing its next-generation solutions, but what's next is not the whole story.
That's why I like to turn to SAP staffing professionals for their take on the market. I have pulled together the SAP market outlooks of two executives with B2B Workforce: Brad Elster, vice president of sales; and Ray Kelly, vice president - B2B Solution Center.
Recently, Brad and Ray attended SAP's FKOM (Field Kick Off Meeting) sessions and published some reviews of those sessions. The FKOM sessions are geared toward prepping SAP's sales force and business partners for the coming year, so it's a great time to get an inside view of SAP's market strategy.
Why is SAP consulting demand as high as it's been in years?
Before looking at the demand for particular SAP skills, it's a good idea to identify the forces that are driving the overall market. Ray Kelly sees three factors driving SAP consulting demand: SAP software license sales, major technology changes (related to new product versions and upgrades), and new product introductions, either internally or through acquisition. As Ray pointed out, "the last three years for SAP have seen unprecedented growth in all three categories.
"SAP license sales are higher than ever -- with 2007 another record year for license sales growth," he said. "As business process automation moves into the SOA era, SAP has introduced newer versions of their technology platform (NetWeaver 2004/s/7.0/7.1) and ECC, all capable of running dual-stack environments (ABAP and Java), which easily support new product introductions."
What are the areas of greatest SAP consulting demand?
"The landscape of SAP skill-sets that are most in demand is ever-changing," Brad added. "However, from the tone at FKOM and my contact with our clients, I foresee high demand for NetWeaver, BW, Enterprise Portal, and HCM in the coming year. There is also likely to be a strong need for core ERP skills like FI, MM and PP."
Ray spelled out three areas of SAP skills demand for 2008. First, he also continues to see demand in the core SAP ERP areas, such as FI/CO, SD, MM, PP, and HCM (formerly SAP HR). As he pointed out, however, "ECC experience is mandatory, so if you are behind in your training, now is the time to 'take the leap' and earn those extra dollars. Of those traditional ERP skills, we see the highest demand for HCM skilled resources or consultants with upgrade experience. Traditional ERP skills combined with upgrade experience will put you in a premium class, earning you a higher rate."
Ray and Brad are looking for résumés with "ECC" ERP skills. For anyone who isn't clear, the "ECC" is what SAP now calls the Enterprise Core Components. Starting with the ERP 5.0 release, and continuing with ERP 6.0, what we used to call "R/3" in terms of the core modules is now referred to as ECC. Now that SAP is emphasizing ERP 6.0 as the "go-to release," what you are really shooting for is exposure to ECC 6.0. ECC 5.0 also looks nice on the résumé, but it's all about ERP 6.0 from this point forward. If these terminology changes make you a little dizzy, you're not alone, but ERP 6.0 should remain the standard SAP release through at least 2010.
The next area of demand that Ray foresees relates to the technical innovations of the eSOA-enabled NetWeaver technology platform. He points out that SAP actually began to introduce major changes to its underlying architecture in 2004, with the release of NetWeaver 2004s (the technical underpinnings of ECC 5.0).
But it's not enough to focus on "getting NetWeaver experience." NetWeaver is actually a broader term for a number of components.
"We see extremely high demand for NetWeaver Architects, NetWeaver Basis (BI and Portal) and NetWeaver Developers (BI and Portal), all of whom must be skilled in the latest versions of the NetWeaver Platform (2004s, 7.0, 7.1)," Ray said.
"Achieving a NetWeaver Upgrade certification offered by SAP America will put you at the top of the class," he continued. "At minimum, most customers will perform a technical upgrade (not introducing any additional functionality) of ERP (to ECC) and/or the NetWeaver Portal/BI platforms. Over the course of the three-day FKOM event, we were told a number of times that SAP's internal bench is drained of these resources."
As Ray pointed out, the latest SAP upgrade wave is really driven by two other factors, SOA and business process transparency. "SAP has dramatically changed the integration layer of their platform to support SOA-enabled business processes, which will primarily consist of one or more business functions spanning across multiple technology landscapes," he said.
Given this emphasis on integrated business processes, which SAP trumpets as the "Business Process Platform," two new product areas within NetWeaver that Ray sees as especially significant are PI (Process Integration, formerly XI), and MDM (Master Data Management).
"In terms of PI/XI and MDM, think of those components as 'repositories' which provide SOA enablement to seamlessly take place at the business process level," Ray said. "The technical infrastructure for Web services (primarily Java-enabled) is the NetWeaver Platform in a nutshell."
So how does this lead to consulting demand? "Unfortunately for customers, but good for consultants, the PI/XI and MDM 'rules of engagement' have not been shared in the public domain," Ray said. "Getting the most out of NetWeaver is nowhere near as easy as how our PC works today when we plug in our iPods or BlackBerrys." And that's where the consulting demand comes in! As Ray pointed out, there's a lot of rolling-up-the-sleeves work involved here: "We will need to build these rules of engagement, individually by company and for each disparate system platform within each company that supports their business processes."
Ray boiled it down simply: "Go re-tool yourself on PI/XI and MDM; they are here to stay and will be mandatory for all of SAP's current and future new product introductions."
Brad Elster is the Vice President of Sales for B2B Workforce. He has been working in the SAP field since 1997.
Ray Kelly is the Vice President - B2B Workforce Solution Center. He has been working in the SAP field since 1995.
Jon Reed is an independent SAP analyst who writes on SAP consulting trends. Jon 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.