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How Will the eSOA Era Impact the NetWeaver PI Skill Set?

Recently I got this excellent question from an SAP XI consultant. He wanted to know how to position his XI skills going forward, in the context of SAP’s eSOA strategy. Clearly, eSOA is central to SAP’s product vision going forward, so we could ask ourselves the same question of any number of SAP products. But for this time around, let’s focus on XI.

To get insight into this matter, I decided to contact a couple of PI experts and get their opinion. I started with Umesh Borikar, the Managing Principal of the eSOA Group, Inc. He had this to say:

"Hello Jon,

  The question you have sent me is very loaded. But I will try my best to answer. Here is my take: consuming and serving web services from ABAP-based application systems (ERP, CRM, etc.) will play an increasing bigger role in the future. This means it’s a good idea to sharpen your ABAP skills.

As SAP addresses ‘issues’ with Business Process Management, BPM skills will be a must. Apart from technical XI skills, developing business process knowledge in an industry is a plus. If you still have time, Master Data Management should be a good area to focus on. Taken together, this skill set should help an XI/PI consultant stay relevant in the eSOA era."

To get another perspective, I got in touch with Soumya Chatterjee, a NetWeaver Product Manager for SAP. Here’s what he had to contribute:

"Hi Jon. Thank you for the email. Usually consultants attend a course for the skill upgrade for eSOA/PI/XI which is part of the SAP University certification course. Another option is normal PI courses which walk you through the latest concepts and features. You can also find information on the SAP Developer Network (SDN).

To give you a broad overview of what consultants should focus on for a PI skill upgrade, I will offer a few tips, but please note that PI has evolved from XI as the backbone to the point we have reached today, with the SOA/Services flavor built in. Therefore, we call PI the SOA Middleware. So the internal concepts driving PI are basically the same, but they have evolved with a SOA flavor.

With that in mind, here are a few "skills upgrade" pointers. SOA Middleware has three areas which needs particular attention in terms of skills exposure:

- SOA design and tools configuration, namely the ESR (Enterprise Service Repository) and the Service Registry.

- service bus concepts which comprise the core middleware and the integration server which handles the runtime communication and management.

- SOA management, including policy enforcements, governance, runtime monitoring, NetWeaver Administrator, etc.

In addition, the Composition Environment 7.1 allows the users to do consumption in Java which is new. Previously consumption was only available in ABAP.

These are the four areas consultants should focus on to upgrade skills for eSOA."

So Umesh and Soumya had some useful pointers and skills tips for those XI and PI consultants who want to stay in line with SAP’s eSOA strategy.

One thing we can draw from these comments is that those consultants who already have PI experience are well positioned for eSOA work. PI ships with NetWeaver 7.1, which was available starting December 2007. PI is likely to serve as the "integration hub" for many SAP customers, serving as a bridge between SAP ERP, NetWeaver components, and SAP eSOA and web services of all flavors.

There is an important fact to keep in mind, however. PI is ultimately a middleware and integration hub, and SAP customers have other options besides PI when it comes to integration. IBM WebSphere is obviously a popular option, and Microsoft has its own flavors. There are many more.

At TechEd ‘07, I did hear from customers who were already too entrenched in a different EAI or middleware option to look at PI right now. However, I do think it’s a fair statement that most SAP customers who are deeply invested in SAP will eventually use PI as their SAP integration hub. This would include eSOA related initiatives.

We have to look at customer choices seriously because it’s the prevalence of use for a particular project that ultimately drives consulting demand. Look at the BI/BW market. The reason there is so much demand for BI consultants right now is largely because BI has achieved such broad acceptance in the SAP customer base. This was not always the case.

On the other hand, consider the APO product, which never found a high enough level of customer acceptance to drive a vigorous consulting market (and not all SAP customers need a supply chain planning solution at any rate).

The good news on the PI side is that in a matter of two or three years, virtually all SAP customers will be running on the NetWeaver platform which will, by definition, include PI. Companies who are running very diverse environments and who are already entrenched in a different integration solution may not work with PI extensively, but I believe most SAP customers will, in time, use PI to manage the integration needs in their SAP environments.

There is just too much upside to having all the eSOA components under one roof. I have also been told that PI should be a high performance solution that will test out well against the middleware heavyweights. So SAP customers won’t have to settle for less functionality if they go with PI.

For all these reasons, I do like the PI consulting market going forward. However, I do think that because PI can be one of many integration options, that it’s a good idea for PI folks to make sure they are also well-versed in related areas of the SAP architecture and product line.

It does look like those consultants who are lucky enough to get PI experience under their belts are well-positioned to get pulled onto eSOA-related initiatives. But where does that leave those XI folks who are not yet in the PI world? With XI skills, your future options are still bright, but I would take all this good advice from our guest contributors to heart and make sure you are well-versed in eSOA concepts so you will be ready to pounce when a good opportunity presents itself.

We’ll return to the important topic of NetWeaver skills enhancements in future career blog entries. Thanks to Umesh and Soumya for your contributions to this piece.

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