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SAP talent management FAQ: Fresh answers to frequently asked questions

SAP Mentor Jon Reed provides a new twist to frequently asked questions on SAP talent management: Which key SAP skills should be kept in-house, and what the best approach is to SAP on-demand training?

The phrase "managing talent" has vital meaning to both SAP project managers and SAP professionals, though they come at it from two decidedly different directions. The relative supply and demand of each SAP skill affects rates and skills pay. It's only natural for SAP professionals to want to maximize that pay; it's equally understandable that managers are looking for the most "SAP talent management bang" for their buck. As in any marketplace, the two parties meet somewhere in a constantly fluctuating middle.

Recently, I wrote an article on this topic titled SAP Talent: Are You Making the Most Out of Yours? for Panaya, a provider of SaaS software that automates and streamlines SAP upgrades and support pack installation. The article listed some of the key best practices for SAP talent management I recommend for SAP managers who are looking for ways to better manage SAP talent and specific SAP-related skills in today's market. I'd like to expand on some of the points of my article with readers.

Often, when we talk about SAP "talent management," we err on the side of sex appeal and end up discussing not only how to retain the best SAP talent but also why talent is a key to competitive advantage in most industries (even in recessionary cycles).

But there is also a brass tacks, cost-control aspect to SAP talent management: If a particular SAP skill can be easily sourced off-premise at bargain rates, why pay a premium? The trick for everyone in the SAP hiring game is to navigate within those dueling philosophies.

Here are a few hot-stove hiring issues for SAP project managers:

Frequently asked question: Which SAP skills are the most important to keep in-house these days?

Fresh answer: There are three SAP profiles to recruit and support:

  1. Those with the deepest knowledge of SAP's (ahem) "best practices" in your industry. (Some SAP pros float from industry to industry.)
  2. The technical "all-star" who has moved beyond cranking out SAP code and now understands how to get the most out of SAP's NetWeaver platform. Think: enterprise architect, NetWeaver engineer, SAP roadmap guru, SAP virtualization pioneer -- plugged into SAP's developer community. ABAP Objects – yes! But also Java and maybe Rich Internet Application (RIA) approaches like Adobe Flex. Knowledge of Agile and Scrum methodologies a plus. A "geek in suit's clothing."

  3. The functional expert who is moving toward a process-driven approach to ERP. This person geeks out on modeling tools like NetWeaver BPM and SAP Gravity (Google Wave) and understands end-to-end process optimization in order-to-cash, procure-to-pay, etc. The "suit" who isn't scared of being perceived as a geek. "Lean" business process management methodology knowledge = great!

Many companies experiment with offshoring SAP talent. Some are successful. But don't mess with offshoring the skills profiles I just mentioned. You need those SAP stars in-house.

Frequently asked question: When should you hire an outside SAP consultant?

Fresh answer: The best time to bring an outside consultant onto your project is when you have an immediate need for expertise related to a new SAP tool or technology and don't have the time (or resources) to up-skill your internal team.

Examples of good on-site consultant hires I've seen recently:

  • Experts in advanced Solution Manager capabilities like root-cause analysis.
  • Identity Management gurus who understand authorization issues across SAP products.
  • SAP BusinessObjects experts who have worked in both BusinessObjects and SAP BW environments.
  • Areas where SAP has acquired new products, such as Business Planning and Consolidation (bolstered by the purchase of business performance management vendor OutlookSoft Corp.) and SAP MII (from the 2005 Lighthammer acquisition), are good spots for outside experts. Note: Just make sure the outside experts you hire have a demonstrated ability to train, mentor and transfer knowledge.

Frequently asked question: What is the best approach to SAP training in the on-demand era?

Fresh answer: SAP training works because, in most cases, those who are skilled in older SAP releases can be transitioned into becoming key contributors on new releases – if they are given the right skills exposure. Too many companies end up paying a premium for new SAP skills rather than bringing their existing team up to speed.

Now more than ever, with virtual training options sprouting up all over the place, including SAP's own Learning on Demand website, there are plenty of ways to get employees trained efficiently. However, which training option you choose and how expensive it is will depend on how heavily customized your SAP environment is. Look to balance virtual training options with "fingertip" training that is role-based and built into the day-to-day experience of your users.

Tip: Companies in the lead on training realize that training is more than just choosing the right format. It's about shifting the company's internal culture to that of a "learning organization." This means creating opportunities for mentorship inside and outside the company and supporting employees as they build better SAP social networks. This further means loosening up cultural barriers to empowering employees to blog, speak and, yes, even Tweet!

Employees with better networks have more options to turn to when troubleshooting problems and more resources to draw on beyond organizational walls.

I hope this article whets your appetite for reading more about SAP talent trends.. Meantime, I am planning to contribute to SearchSAP on a more regular basis in 2010, so either let me or know which themes related to SAP skills and talent management you'd like me to cover.

About the author: Jon Reed is an independent SAP analyst and SAP Mentor who blogs, podcasts and Tweets on SAP market trends. He is the driving force behind, an interactive website that features Jon's SAP Career Blog and his podcasts for SAP professionals.

Jon has been a contributor to since 2002, when he joined its Ask The Expert panel. He has been publishing SAP skills and market analysis for almost 15 years and is the author of the SAP Consultant Handbook. Jon serves as a "PAC Fellow" with PAC's SAP Services Research Program. Recently, he was recognized as a Top Contributor for the SAP Community Network 2008-2009 in the Business Process Expert category. 

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