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What Are the SAP Skills You Want to Have Going Forward?

Recently, I published a piece on "SAP Skills You Want to Have" for SearchSAP.com. The complete version of that article is now available exclusively on JonERP.com. This article has generated some interesting feedback. It’s important to note that the focus of this piece is NOT "what’s hot" in SAP. That’s a slightly different question and I’ll do a separate piece on that. The focus of "SAP Skills You Want to Have" is a bit more forward-thinking.

It’s a look ahead to the kinds of skills that might not necessarily be on the top of the list today, but should be important to have in the years to come. I also tried to emphasize the skills that could be more easily acquired on project sites or through late-night (or early morning) self-education online.

  So far, the feedback on the piece has been positive, and in general, the responses have confirmed my overall assessment of the skill areas SAP professionals need to master going forward. However, there were some important distinctions, in particular, in terms of modeling tools. I also received some interesting commnets about the prospect of automated configuration tools and how close (or far away) we are from process modeling tools that literallygenerate automated configuration or custom code based on the model.

The feedback I have gotten so far on modeling tools comes down to this: modeling tools of various flavors are definitely going to be important, but the tool set by IDS Scheer that I mentioned as one prominent example may not be the set of modeling tools that ultimately gain traction with SAP customers.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the most interesting feedback I have received so far, and then I’ll make a few more comments in response.

First, I heard from Michael Doane of Doane Associates, who is the author of The New SAP Blue Book: A Concise Business Guide to the World of SAP.

Here’s what Michael had to say: "I agree royally that Solution Manager is the number one thing to master going forward, so much so that I’m considering taking a Solution Manager course myself.

As for ‘Aris for NetWeaver’ from IDS Scheer, Aris has always been a very powerful tool that has never been widely used in the SAP community outside of IDS.

My first week in SAP-land, in late 1995, I read some IDS Scheer literature that said within a year, their business modeler would be upgraded to include not only modeling but…configuration.

That was twelve years ago! So, the prospect of ‘automated configuration’ tools has been on the horizon for a good while, and yet, we’re all still waiting. Sometimes we hear rumors of these tools in the works, and if one of them ever hits the market and lives up to the hype, that will certainly change the skill set SAP managers are looking for. But as of now, custom configuration is still largely a manual process.

As for modeling tools, my favorite project managers tell me they prefer doing their business modeling with tools that the clients can get familiar with without a big upfront cost, like Visio for SAP. I do believe that the Aris toolset is very powerful, but the learning curve is powerful as well."

Michael’s comments were echoed by Kent Sanders, Chief Innovation Architect for innovateITnow, who had some interesting comments about the modeling tools on the horizon:

"Hi Jon,

I just finished reading your article on SAP skills for 2008 and beyond, you were spot on. You noted that SAP doesn’t currently offer much by way of Web 2.0 features. That may change with NetWeaver 7.1.

NetWeaver 7.1 Portal is supposed to have many Web 2.0 features. I think it’s due for release in the second quarter of 2008. Also, you might want to tell people to look at Business Process Modeling Notation (BPMN) from OMG for process modeling since SAP is introducing BPMN in the next release of the Composition Environment (CE) with Collaborative Business Processes (CBP). I don’t know how that will affect the relationship with Aris. In its first release, BPMN will not support execution or process orchestration, though that will likely change as the product evolves.

In my opinion, Aris’ BPMN tools are not that impressive and I’ll be surprised if they become the de facto SAP standard. Also, I know of at least one major SAP project that is running IntelliCorp’s Live Model, which does the same things as Aris for NetWeaver, including Solution Manager integration.

My current recommendation for modeling tools, if you are modeling processes for composite apps, would be to use a BPMN tool such as Intalio until SAP releases a version of CBP that supports process orchestration. If you need to do process simulation or import processes from Solution Manager then tools like Aris or Live Model are good."

The comments from Michael and Kent are much appreciated. They don’t ultimately change my overall take on "SAP Skills You Want to Have," but I think their thoughts on the modeling tools of choice in SAP shops are well taken. IDS Scheer certainly has an inherent marketing advantage with SAP’s increasing emphasis of their product line, but that doesn’t mean that other tools that are deemed by companies are more affordable or effective won’t fare better than IDS in the long run.

I don’t know if anyone can say with certainty which modeling tools will become the standards in SAP environments, and I’m not sure we should get too hung up on that particular debate right now. What’s more important it to pick up exposure on the tools you can get access to, either on your project or in your free time, and look for the commonalities between these tools and how they might deliver a bottom line benefit to SAP shops. After all, when we’re on SAP’s time, we don’t play around with tools because they are nifty; we focus on the tools that can help deliver a bottom line benefit to our project and ensure that our managers smile on us warmly as cutting edge team members who are always on top of the latest stuff that can really help.

It’s also important to realize that different tools have different purposes. Visual Composer might be ideal for certain kinds of presentation design or analytics-driven mashups, whereas in other situations, a tool like "CBP" that Kent referred to might be the option of choice. What we’re really talking about here is remaining open to how our job roles might change even if we stay in our current SAP position.

The best way to do that is by paying attention to how SAP is positioning its own product. And what SAP is doing in the eSOA era is to position itself as a business process-driven product that allows SAP customers to let its business users easily customize SAP without having to learn code or pay for custom development. Of course, this is still as much image as reality. But SAP, like Microsoft, always catches up to its marketing eventually.

These modeling tools we were debating here, as well as Web 2.0 and business process skills, all fit into the skills trends I’m describing here. Sure, we can get away with ignoring these trends for a while. But before long, these skills are going to shift from "nice to have" to "must have" on job descriptions, and those who don’t have these forward-thinking skills are going to be chasing the market from behind, or sitting on the bench.

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