NetWeaver is changing the technical skill set
NetWeaver has jumped from the pages of brochures and into action. The ultimate evidence is that we can now see its impact on actual job orders. The effect of NetWeaver is being felt across functional and technical skill areas, but the most obvious impact is on the technical side. We could spend an entire article on the complexities of NetWeaver consulting in and of itself, especially when we consider that NetWeaver is not one specialty area but a series of related consulting niches, including Portals, XI/PI, xApps, Solution Manager, and the add-on Master Data Management (MDM) product -- not to mention NetWeaver technical development.
Michael Doane believes that recruiting the right talent will be crucial to the success of the NetWeaver upgrade wave. "These are whole new sets of skills that today are very rare and [are] going to be sought more and more through time," he said. "And that's where recruiting and maintaining this talent is once again a major key, just as it was in the heyday of the 1990s."
So how do you get from where you are in SAP to these emerging NetWeaver areas? Roughly speaking, we can classify the traditional SAP technical role into two main areas: Basis and ABAP. The skills migration path from Basis to NetWeaver is fairly obvious, as NetWeaver is more of a systems evolution than the revolution SAP sometimes implies. A Basis person who is savvy about choosing NetWeaver upgrades (or who is lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time) should be able to gradually sink his teeth into more and more NetWeaver tools and stay marketable that way.
For programmers, the migration path is trickier. Analysts differ on how dire the situation is for ABAP programmers. Some, like me, believe that with some additional skills and an expanded view of how a developer adds value, an ABAP programmer can still be successful. Certainly, SAP is still committed to providing an ABAP environment as part of its NetWeaver landscape, which suggests a continued need for this expertise. On the other hand, some analysts feel that ABAP is dead – at least in terms of on-site consulting -- and that it's time for everybody in that field to stop bucketing water and jump ship.
"If I was an ABAP programmer in North America, I would go get a new skill set," Doane says. "While very good ABAP programmers are still in demand, especially in the midmarket -- which according to our data is not yet using offshore as much as the large firms -- it's a skill that is not necessarily needed on site. Any skill set that is not needed on site is going to go overseas -- unless you are a super-duper software engineer who can do things that other ABAP programmers couldn't dream of doing."
Despite some differences on the extent of the ABAP predicament, the folks I spoke with agree on this much: Global outsourcing has lowered the rates for ABAP work and thrown down a big challenge to SAP developers who want to stay marketable. In my "Ask the Career Expert" column on SearchSAP, I have written about how to stay marketable as an ABAP programmer, but we can summarize a few key recommendations here:
- Learn the most cutting edge NetWeaver (and web) development tools
- Make sure you have object-oriented programming experience inside and outside of ABAP
- Round out your team lead and business process skills (know how to work with functional team members to meet business objectives).
The most important part of staying marketable as an ABAP programmer is to realize that the SAP developer of the future is a programming gymnast, a real "hybrid" -- someone who can code object-oriented ABAP with the best of them but who is also well versed in Java, XML and Web-based programming standards, in particular how they are applied in SAP environments. NetWeaver products that emphasize Java-based scripting, such as Portals, are good places to start.
Brian Trout shared his profile of the ideal SAP developer: "The most successful SAP programmers have a blend of Java expertise to deal with Portals development; they have a prior ABAP background; they understand Workflow-related techniques and development; and they understand the inner workings of IDOC and RFC communication as it pertains to forward-reaching, Portals-based technologies."
Business intelligence and BW are here to stay
Business intelligence remains a key area of innovation for SAP, and the BW product continues to gain traction. BI 7.0, the NetWeaver 2004s version of BW, is an area of particular demand, and we're seeing a lot of BW upgrade work from 3.5 to 7.0 driving the need for BW consulting skills. Of course, this is good news for BW consultants, but it's also good news for functional and technical SAP consultants of all stripes. The reason: Connections can be made to BW from almost any other area of SAP consulting.
Why are the connections to BW important? Because we know that in the evolution of SAP, BW is not a fad. All the leading ERP vendors have realized that to deliver a strong ROI for their customers, they need to offer more than a transactional ERP system. Embedded reporting and analytics, along with decision support for executives, are crucial ways for ERP vendors to enhance the value of their offerings. It's all been dressed up with the slick phrase "business intelligence," but there's no question that getting the right information out of an ERP system, and right when you need it, is serious business from this point forward. Consultants who pursue BW can do it knowing that it's going to have a long shelf life.
The entry points into BW vary. The connections on the technical side are more self-evident (Basis people moving into BW system admin and security, ABAP folks into custom BW development and reporting), but more and more functional consultants are picking up on BW as a way to sizzle up their resumes. Another related area to keep an eye on: Master data management is an emerging consulting need.
Brian Trout reports that the latest MDM release, version 5.5, is starting to take off with SAP customers (despite the fact that it's still the least mature of the NetWeaver offerings). Companies such as Nortel, which held off on MDM in the past, are finding that the functionality is now up to snuff for their projects. Of course, MDM is separate from BW, and it doesn't ship with NetWeaver automatically (companies have to pay for the MDM license), but we can expect to see a good amount of MDM consulting, and the transition from a BW/data modeling/database background into MDM makes sense. Consultants without BW experience might find MDM skills just as useful to acquire.