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How Do You Shift from Basis Administrator to NetWeaver Engineer?

On July, 26, I conducted a podcast interview with Kent Sanders, Senior Technology Architect for CSC Consulting, about the beginning of the end for the traditional R/3 Basis Consultant, and how to make the skills transition to "NetWeaver Engineer." This was one of my favorite podcasts; Kent did a terrific job of breaking down the practical steps necessary to stay on the cutting edge of the technical side of SAP.

Too often, we hear about the long-term SAP technology vision but don’t get a good sense of the next moves we need to make. Kent does a great job of spelling this out. After the podcast, I had some email correspondence with Kent that clarified a couple key issues in the podcast, so I’ll share those with you in this blog entry.

  Before I do that, I want to briefly describe my goal for this podcast. Last fall, I interviewed Kent Sanders while he was still with Home Depot. In that podcast, he explained SAP’s eSOA architecture and some of the skills needed to capitalize on it. For this podcast, Kent and I decided to try to build a conceptual bridge from the "SAP R/3"technology of the 90s and eSOA. We did that by focusing on the Basis-to-NetWeaver skills transition and, in a broader sense, how the functional and technical SAP skill sets are changing.

I already published a writeup of the new podcast with some detail on what we covered, but a few highlights are:

-Why Enterprise SOA is no longer just hype, but is now a practical reality in use on project sites.

- Kent makes the case that just as ABAP development is giving way to web-based programming standards, traditional Basis skills are changing into NetWeaver-related skills.

- Kent says that at CSC, he is working to standardize the term "NetWeaver Engineer" for the new skill set and that he views "Basis" as a term that is tied to the older R/3 technology.

- Kent talks about the key to the new NetWeaver Engineer skill set that SAP consultants should pursue: a combination of core NetWeaver skills, including Solution Manager, with some type of additional specialization, such as NetWeaver PI, NetWeaver BI (including OLAP and database management), NetWeaver Portals, and also Security - but not just role-based management. Security now means broader Identity Management.

- Kent goes into detail about Solution Manager and why this tool is touching on a broad range of SAP consulting roles, including functional roles that include BPM (Business Process Management).

- Kent also has some excellent tips on how to avoid the possibility of being outsourced by making sure your business process know-how is invaluable to on-site project teams.

There is a lot more ground covered in this podcast, but that gives you some idea of what we get into. While this podcast is of special use to the Basis specialist, I think Kent’s overview of SAP skills acquisition, in particular how to leverage SAP’s online communities to further your skills transition, are a must-hear for most SAP professionals.

There were, however, a couple parts in the podcast that needed some clarification after the fact. During the podcast, Kent and I got into a discussion of the compatibility of various NetWeaver stacks with SAP ERP applications that probably raised as many questions as it answered. We’re not the first people to get into this kind of trouble. If we had hashed out all the issues with NetWeaver and SAP version numbers, it would have taken up the entire podcast, and as important as some of these distinctions are, I feel confident in saying most of you would not have wanted to listen to a thirty minute discussion about SAP software compatibilities.

Let me talk about where we got into trouble during this podcast and how we clarified it after the fact. At the 12:20 time stamp in the podcast, I ask Kent to clarify how the NetWeaver version numbers are tied into the SAP ERP releases. This is an important question for those who are choosing projects and getting involved with NetWeaver. You need to know how NetWeaver ties into the SAP ERP application stack. Kent talked about how NetWeaver 2004s (now NetWeaver 7.0) was originally (and still is) tied to ERP 2005 (now ERP 6.0). (For you SAP trivia buffs out there, NetWeaver 2004 is tied to "ECC 5.0.," the core component of SAP ERP 5.0.)

Kent explained that the release of NetWeaver 7.1 added some interesting decision points for SAP customers, because SAP has also started releasing enhancement packages to NetWeaver 7.0, the next of which will be called NetWeaver 7.0.1. Kent explained that NetWeaver 7.0.1 will have some of the capabilities of NetWeaver 7.1, but not all.

The really tricky part was when Kent said that "ERP doesn’t run on NetWeaver 7.1"

I knew that Kent meant "ERP" stood for "ERP 6.0," which meant that "ERP 6.0 didn’t run on NetWeaver 7.1, but I was still surprised: did SAP really have a version of NetWeaver out there than would not support ERP 6.0? And if they did, which customer would want to use that?

Kent answered this question in an email to me: "ERP 6.0 runs on NetWeaver 7.0 and that won’t change. What this really means is that you can’t run ERP 6.0 on AS 7.1 (the application server for NetWeaver 7.1)."

I had asked Kent, "So, why would a company put in 7.1 if their ERP system couldn’t run on it?" (I assumed that companies would simply run on the NetWeaver 7.0.1 enhancement pack until the ERP 6.0 application stack ran perfectly on 7.1).

Kent responded: "Even though ERP won’t run on NetWeaver 7.1, and this means you can’t run ERP on AS 7.1, or have a local 7.1 Portal or BI 7.1 instance running with ERP 6.0, that doesn’t mean the other Business Suite application won’t run on 7.1. ERP 6.0 is the only solution from SAP ‘frozen’ with its release number and NetWeaver release. Now,that doesn’t mean SAP is not making some of the new functionality delivered in 7.1 available to 7.0. SAP is adopting the Enhancement Pack strategy with NetWeaver 7.0, the next release for NetWeaver 7.0 will be 7.0.1 (NetWeaver Enhancement Pack 1)

"So why would a customer put in NetWeaver 7.1 when ERP doesn’t run on it? The ESR (Enterprise Services Repository) for one, it’s not available in PI 7.0, but it is in PI 7.1 and CE 7.1. Another consideration is NetWeaver BPM (Business Process Management), which will be available in CE 7.1.1, as well as the Business Rules Framework Plus, in ABAP AS 7.1, which I believe CRM 7 uses.

Kent continued: In addition, Portal 7.1 will have lots of new collaboration features. Here’s an example, let’s say I run ERP, SCM, CRM and BI with local Portal 7.0, and I want to federate to an uber-consumer portal for my enterprise and beyond. I want to take advantages of additional collaboration to do collaborative product design with my customers. In this case, I would leave the local portals alone, install a new Portal 7.1, and federate the local portals to it. This is one scenario of why a customer might want to move to NetWeaver 7.1 even while their ERP 6.0 applications were running on Netweaver 7.0."

Well, folks, there you have it. I could have gone back and forth with Kent even further, but I think you see how the onion can unravel. SAP has done a better job in recent years of hiding its underlying complexity, but this kind of exchange shows us SAP’s work on version clarifications is not done yet. I personally have a hard time understanding why SAP would want to release a version of NetWeaver that their latest application set (ERP 6.0) can’t run on, but then again, I’m not in charge nor I do know the complexities involved.

Of course, the key to an SAP professional (or an SAP project team) is NOT to understand every detail of this architecture, but to know what you need for the next step in your skills acquisition or training strategy. Kent did a great job in the podcast of sharing those next steps. And as far as the version and compatibility issues, he took us farther in the podcast and in this follow-up email than all but a very small percentage of us need to go right now. I find that it’s often best to let this kind of conversation ride and check back in half a year later to see how SAP has corrected (or revised) its version names and release strategy. So that’s what we’ll do, and we’ll check back in with Kent down the line. But regardless of how it all pans out, if you can your hands dirty with some of the latest tools mentioned in this blog entry and podcast, you should be in good shape.

One more clarification to the podcast: Kent also talked about his "MASS" approach to Enterprise SOA projects, which he called "Management, Availability, Scalability and Security." Since then, Kent informed me he has added another letter to the acronym, So now it’s "iMASS" - Implementation, Management, Availability, Scalability, Security.

If you have a follow up question or comment for Kent, please post it on this blog and we’ll report back with his response.

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