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Is it True That ABAP and SAP Configuration Jobs are Going Away?

In a nutshell, yes, I believe it is — though there’s no need to hit the panic button. This should be a gradual evolution. However, it’s one we need to pay attention to. A helpful way of looking at it is this: in the SAP eSOA era, IT and Business are converging — therefore SAP technical and functional skill sets are converging.

The first part of this sentence, that IT and Business are converging, is really the great inarguable point that SAP is wisely betting its future on. The second part is the implications of this for technical and functional SAP consultants. The idea that the skill set of the technical and functional SAP consultant is converging is not my own - it was offered up in a workshop I attended on becoming an SAP Business Process Expert that was hosted by Marco ten Vaanholt, Global Director of the SAP BPX Community, and Puneet Suppal of Capgemini.

  The official title of the workshop was "How to Transform from a Technology or Business Consultants to a Business Process Expert and put eSOA to Work." This workshop was significant enough that I’m going to write a longer piece on it, and I’m also hoping to have Marco on for a podcast on my site shortly.

But let me summarize a couple very interesting implications out of this presentation. First key point: it would be a mistake to assume that when we say that functional and technical SAP skill sets are converging that technical SAP folks will start configuring tables and functional folks will start cranking out ABAP.

In the view of Puneet Suppal of Capgemini, both the traditional SAP skills sets: (1) ABAP and (2) configuring the IMG, are going to either phase out though automated tools or become utterly commoditized. A similar view was echoed by SAP Chief Technology Officer Vishal Sikka during my TechEd interview with him, and I happen to agree with it also. I’ll go into more detail on Vishal’s views at a later point.

So for now, what are the implications? If the main SAP technical skill sets are eventually going to go away, what’s an SAP consultant to do? This is a tricky question, especially because the next generation jobs aren’t really there yet. Right now, the vast majority of SAP jobs are still in the core functional areas, involving the same IMG/configuration skills that are supposedly going away.

The answer lies in making a gradual skills transition, following one step behind SAP. Savvy consultants will ride the upgrade wave and choose forward-thinking projects that expose them to as much of this new technology as possible. Through the SAP BPX community, there will be plenty of opportunities for self-education as well. It’s not about becoming irrelevant, it’s about taking a pro-active mindset towards evolving your skills. The best SAP consultants have been following this strategy for years anyhow.

One thing I do see changing is the ideal skills mix of the SAP consultant. For many years, I have been telling SAP consultants to strive for an "80/20 skills mix." By that I mean that the ideal skills combination is either eighty percent functional or eighty percent technical. The remaining twenty percent gives you just enough knowledge of the other side of SAP to be effective on project sites.

Historically, the problem with being a techno-functional consultant with a 50/50 skills mix is that SAP rewards specialization. In my recent podcast with Rohana Gunawardena of Exium, Inc, Rohana talked about how the best SAP consultants focus on either the functional or technical side of SAP rather than trying to "straddle the fence." But in the future, I think that’s going to change, at least for these so-called "Business Process Experts." (BPEs).

Some of these BPEs will come from a technical background, and some from a functional, but overall, I think it’s safe to say that in the future, that 50/50 skills mix may actually become the ideal. But we’re not there yet. Therefore, SAP professionals are in an odd spot: the skills needed for success now are not the same as what will be needed down the road.

In the end, however, just as SAP emphasizes an evolution of product improvement that is not disruptive, SAP professionals should be able to evolve their skills in line with SAP. The key will be to anticipate which skills are actually being used on project sites, as compared to the skills that might take center stage at conferences but aren’t actually being utilized.

One of the great things about this evolution to an SAP Business Process Expert is that you don’t just have to wait on the right project to come along. Many of the tools of this skill set, such as "Web 2.0" know-how are available to learn on your own, and the SAP BPX community has a lot to offer in this area also. Of course, exactly what skills are needed to fill in the gaps depends on where you start from within SAP.

For those who are looking for more practical next steps on making the transition to BPE, rest assured, I’ll be returning to this topic frequently in my blog, in my podcasts, and in upcoming articles.

Site Manager’s Note: This blog entry is from a longer piece Jon Reed has written on SAP TechEd 2007 that will be posted soon.

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