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How Promising is the SAP MDM Career Path?

I probably field as many questions about SAP Master Data Management (MDM) as any other emerging area of SAP. There are two ways to assess the viability of an SAP skill. One is to consider a tool like MDM as part of a broader SAP skill set. The other way is to consider MDM as a possible consulting focus and specialty. In this SAP career blog entry, I’ll consider both aspects of MDM in terms of its "skills marketability." Our bottom line is: how good does SAP MDM look on a resume?

SAP MDM, now officially called SAP NetWeaver MDM, has a pretty typical history for an SAP add-on product. Its initial releases were unimpressive. However, SAP kept at it, and fueled by the 2004 acquisition of a Product Information Management (PIM) product called A2i, SAP gradually built on its MDM functionality. The most recent release, MDM 5.5, is considered the most robust version of this product yet released. I’ve heard of more than one major SAP account that took the plunge into MDM once the 5.5 release came out, as it has the functionality they were looking for.

  SAP MDM is a versatile product. It can run in conjunction with XI, now called PI, but that’s not required. It can handle the master data management responsibilities for both SAP and non-SAP systems. So what is the demand for MDM today? One of the things I like to do to gauge immediate demand for a product is to do a search on A search of 91,500 jobs on Dice tonight yielded a result of 150 jobs involving SAP MDM.

A Dice search of this kind is imperfect, as some jobs are repeats, and we don’t know how many jobs are MDM-focused versus just listing MDM skills as a "nice to have." However, this gives us some basis of comparison. So, let’s compare that with SAP BW, MDM’s closest relative in the SAP product line. A search of SAP BW yielded 920 jobs on its own, and that doesn’t count however many would come up if we searched on BI. A search on SAP XI yielded 454 jobs and SAP PI 152 more. So, even in comparison to another emerging area like XI, MDM lags behind.

So what can we make of this data? Well, we know that with 150 jobs coming up involving MDM, it is starting to get some play in the market. However, it’s not yet invoking the kind of demand that will reward a broad base of MDM specialists. The thing about MDM is that while it does ship with NetWeaver, my understanding is that it does cost additional fees to "turn the lights on" and implement it. And of course, cleaning up master data within an enterprise is not an easy undertaking.

In the end, consulting opportunities almost always break down to a simple question of supply and demand, and if a product is not embraced by the SAP customer base, then the demand will be limited. And when I say "embraced by the SAP customer base," I’m not just talking about a handful of deep-pocketed flagship customers. That is not enough to fuel demand. So will MDM remain a niche product, or will it eventually break out and create a broad base of skills demand?

I believe that over time, MDM will become a very high demand area within SAP. The reason? MDM is crucial to SAP’s vision of Enterprise SOA (eSOA). Only a minority of SAP customers are pursuing eSOA projects now, but I expect that to change as more and more complete their core ERP 6.0 upgrades. We hear a lot of talk about how MDM is crucial to eSOA, SAP’s SOA initiative. The reasoning is this: you can’t build successful web services without a standardization of data types (SAP often calls this "one version of the truth"), so as usage of eSOA heats up, then the popularity of MDM should increase also. I buy into that line of thinking, but that doesn’t necessarily boost the MDM consulting market immediately.

We have to consider the role of ROI in all this as well. Simply put, those SAP products that deliver a strong ROI case have a better future. One thing I can tell you is that starting at SAPPHIRE in 2007, and continuing at TechEd last fall, I began to hear from more customers who are seeing a positive bottom line result from MDM. At TechEd, I sat in on a very well-attended presentation on MDM that demonstrated how an SAP customer could use MDM to identify and eliminate duplicate customer records. This may sound like a small thing, but cleaning up master data can be a very big deal.

In the example I watched, the end result of cleaning up the customer master data was the ability to truly track who the highest revenue customers were. Before the data was cleaned up duplicate customer data was really distorting this information. And without good, "actionable" information, companies cannot make good strategic decisions.

So where does that leave an aspiring MDM consultant? Well, as a long term career path, I like SAP MDM a lot. I believe it’s here to stay and that it will only gather more momentum for the reasons I just described. But I’m not sure that MDM has generated enough consulting demand to justify a specialization in MDM right now. I’m sure that some consultants will find a way to pull this off, but for now, I’d be tempted to combine MDM with a core bread-and-butter skill set.

The obvious choice, to me, would be the NetWeaver BI and MDM combination. BI is arguably the hottest area of consulting in SAP today, and when you combine the two, you have two related products, one proven (BW/BI), and one emerging (MDM). That fits in well with the "career best practice" advice I give all SAP professionals, regardless of their experience level, which is to combine a core, marketable skill area with an "emerging skill" that fits in well with your core skills.

To me, that’s the ideal combination for now, and as MDM gains more acceptance from SAP end users, then I will like it more as a primary skills focus. So to return to our original question, I like MDM as part of an SAP skill set right now for a variety of consultants, in particular BI consultants who are looking to broaden their skill set. I don’t like MDM as a core specialty for most SAP folks right now, but I do see it being an area that will support a broader base of consultants in the future. I don’t ever expect SAP MDM to be the hottest area in SAP consulting, but I do expect it to be a factor.

In fairness, what I should have done is add SAP MDM to my "SAP Skills You Want to Have" list. This is a list of skills that are nice to have today, but are perhaps more important to have tomorrow. That’s how I see SAP MDM currently. I’ll add updates to this blog when I get more perspectives on the future of MDM.

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