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What is the Risk that XI Development Projects Will be Outsourced?

I’ve been hearing from a number of ABAP programmers about the potential of XI programming. I guess we should start by updating terminology and calling XI by its new name PI (which stands for Process Integration). Of course, the question any developer wants to know is: can my position be outsourced? The answer is good news and bad news.

Let’s get the bad news over with first. In the modern enterprise, pretty much any development project can be evaluated for its outsourcing potential. Very few projects are immune from outsourcing. As a developer, making yourself "outsourcing-proof" is nearly impossible.

  But there’s good news too: there are a number of things you can do to keep your skill set as appealing to on-site project managers as possible. I have detailed some of these tactics before, such as in my article on SAP outsourcing on ERPgenie. I’ll cover them again in this blog from time to time.

One of the key tactics to make your programming skills "outsourcing proof" is to keep your skills on the cutting edge. For example, an ABAP programmer who is mostly doing old school legacy conversions is not nearly as marketable as an ABAP programmer who already has XI exposure and has worked with some of the NetWeaver development environments. So if you’re an "XI developer," as several of my readers are, you are better off in terms of marketability than programmers who don’t have that kind of exposure.

When you look at the future of certain skills within SAP, there are several key factors to consider:

- How advanced and functionally-rich is this technology? Are their non-SAP vendors offering a similar technology?

- How close to the core is this functionality? Do most SAP customers use it (example: SAP Financials) or it its use more limited (example: SAP Plant Maintenance)?

- How many customers have implemented this technology? How many plan to?

When we look at SAP XI/PI, it gets pretty good marks in all of these areas. Since PI is a core NetWeaver component, we can expect broad usage of PI within the SAP customer base. Now, there is a catch. PI is fundamentally a messaging and integration hub, and there are non-SAP products that serve some of the same functions. Certainly SAP customers will find XI appealing due to its ease of integration with other NetWeaver components, but there are other EAI-type systems in play on SAP customer sites. Some companies will hold off on PI for a pretty long time, opting to go with their current vendor-supported messaging environment instead.

In the long run, however, I believe most SAP customers will end up using PI. Now, the next question is: what are the different roles you can play that touch on PI? As it turns out, those roles are still evolving. But in terms of a PI developer, we are talking about someone who probably has both ABAP and Java skills, and who is familiar with NetWeaver development environments. Soon, this will mean exposure to the NetWeaver CE (Composition Environment), which will function as the umbrella for all of the NetWeaver programming tools.

Obviously, PI is all about application integration, so successful PI developers will be well-versed in the various options for integrating SAP and non-SAP systems. In particular, the ability to ensure that SAP information can be accessed via role-based portals and processed in real-time on the back end will be at the heart of any PI-related project work. Other technical terms that we see in many SAP XI and SAP PI job orders are: BADIs, BTEs, BSPs, and Visual Composer, as well as experience with open standards such as XML and SOAP. Essentially, the PI programmer of the future is an ABAP-Java "hybrid" who is comfortable functioning in a range of development environments, with an emphasis on integration and re-usability.

There’s more to say about the future of SAP programming and the impact of SAP outsourcing and SAP offshoring than we can cover in one blog entry. But we’ll return to these themes in the future.

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