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How Do You Move from SAP Developer to Functional Consultant?

This reader’s question is one of the most common emails I receive about the SAP consulting market. It’s understandable that it would be — functional consultants make higher rates, are less vulnerable to outsourcing, and historically, are seen as more "mission critical" by the project team. However, I think some of those dynamics are starting to change. This is yet another reason why you should always look before you leap when it comes to moving around inside of SAP.

Many times, I see people jumping ship on areas within SAP they see as outdated that are actually still marketable — if they can make some tweaks to their existing skill set. And remember, when you jump ship on a particular skill, you’re losing all of that built-up marketability and experience. In some cases, it’s like your starting from scratch. That’s why building a logical extension from your current skills is often a better idea than making a big skills move within SAP.

  I think, for example, of an APO consultant who emailed me that he wanted to make a move because the APO market is so sluggish. Fair enough — but before you move from a focus area altogether, how about looking at mastering the integration points between that area and other aspect of SAP? In the case of APO, how about integration with ERP 6.0, or with BI, or with other aspects of the SAP SCM product line? This allows you to begin to broaden your skills without losing sight of the area you have a track record in.

I feel even more strongly about this when you’re talking about an area you have a real passion for. I have talked to SAP developers who have a passion for SAP development but left because they figured they were doomed to be outsourced. That’s a simplistic view — there are ways to stay on the development side and remain marketable, and I’ll write more about them in this blog as time goes on.

Having said that, there’s no question that the functional side of SAP is where the highest rates and higher levels of job security are at. Just remember that functional work can also be outsourced, and I believe, to an increasing extent, it will be. I believe that eventually, what determines the highest rate will really be how indispensable the consultant is to the core business and how well they understand that industry and the specific business processes they specialize in. That will be more important than whether the person is functional or technical. Those who want to hear more about this are encouraged to listen to my podcast with SAP NetWeaver VP Ori Inbar on the "NetWeaver Jobs of the Future."

With all that out of the way, let’s go back to our developer who wants to make a functional transition. How would that be done? Well, the first step is simply to start focusing your development efforts on one particular module. This is a "best practice" for developers anyway, but for those who are looking to make a functional move, it is vitally important. So, if you want to move into the Financials area, make sure you start doing the bulk of your programming within the FI/CO modules.

Once you are focused on programming in the FI/CO modules, you are going to start picking up on more and more module-specific know-how. Learn as much about the functional side as you can. Eventually, you might be lucky enough to land a 50/50 "techno-functional" role. If you’re having trouble finding such a role now, I recommend looking to smaller companies where employees tend to wear more hats.

Of course, you don’t want to remain a 50/50 consultant — SAP rewards specialization. You want to keep pushing towards the functional side from there. But a techno-functional role is a great way to get that SAP skills transition moving forward. Once you have half your time invested in the functional side of SAP, from there you should be able to gradually get more functional exposure.

Just make sure you get some all-important module configuration skills. Eventually, I expect the importance of configuration skills to diminish somewhat, but right now, they are still the key differentiator in a marketable functional consultant versus a halfway-marketable "super user" who understands the product but has never configured it.

Remember that if you’re unable to make this transition as a consultant, you may need to look at becoming a full-time employee to get this kind of skills transition opportunity. It is very rare to obtain a high hourly rate while getting your skills fully retrained at the same time. So if that kind of exposure can’t be found as an SAP contractor, consider "going perm" until you get those skills. Then you can consider consulting again.

There’s more to say about the "ABAP programmer of the future" and how the functional skills transition works, but this is a good starting point and a good wrap to this first blog entry on the subject.

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