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How Should SAP Consultants Respond to the Down Market?

It’s shocking how quickly our economic confidence can change. Along with that, professional uncertainties are exposed. So how should SAP consultants respond to the current market conditions? I have put together the following pointers based on my research to date. Just keep in mind the obvious disclaimer that no one knows exactly what lies ahead.

  1. If the current credit freeze doesn’t loosen up, SAP will be the least of our worries. There was a good article in the Wall Street Journal about this, which I can’t link to since it’s behind a firewall. But the key point was that SAP is more affected by this current crisis because IT spending has reached a near-standstill. In the past, SAP was better able to weather downturns because IT spending was something companies were reluctant to halt completely. But with the inability to borrow due to the near-frozen state of lending, companies are hoarding cash and minimizing all IT investments. Thus the sudden restatement of SAP’s earnings projections.

In this kind of economy, there aren’t many SAP opportunities to be found, but as noted, this is nothing personal to SAP - virtually every vendor is negatively impacted by such a dramatically bad lending market. No crystal balls here, but we are all hoping the lending market freefall will begin to stabilize. The rest of my advice here is subject to returning to some normalcy. The economy will likely be sluggish well into 2009, but sluggish economies still create opportunities and SAP can survive, and sometimes even prosper, in a limping economy.

2. This is not a good environment for breaking into SAP. Senior SAP professionals are finding the job market tighter, but there is still a need for seasoned subject matter experts. However, this is not an easy market for those trying to break into SAP for the first time. Those who are in that situation should be especially careful about investing thousands of dollars in SAP training. Smaller online training investments may still make sense. The key to breaking into SAP is making sure you don’t overspend and focus on providing value using your existing skills – hopefully to companies running on SAP. Work from the inside, spend less.

3. Fewer new projects are being greenlighted, but incremental improvements and upgrades on existing projects are moving ahead in some cases. Opportunities in SAP are sharply focused right now, and favor SAP professionals who have NetWeaver/ERP 6.0 upgrade skills. Core functional skills in SAP Financials, HCM, and Logistics are good places to be right now. Core technical skills pertaining to NetWeaver components like BI, Portals, and XI/PI are also attractive areas. Some aspects of CRM are also useful right now, because companies must aggressively sell and serve customers in any economy. Obviously, Solution Manager is another tool that comes heavily into play when we talk about upgrading and managing core SAP activities.

4. Don’t stop your pursuit of eSOA and “Business Process” skills, but understand that the pace of innovation may slow. You can expect some of the heightened interest in SAP BPM and eSOA to go on the back burner right now as companies move into “bunker mode.” This does not mean that SAP consultants should mimic that behavior and back off from skills innovation. We could debate whether companies should back off from their own pace of innovation, but the debate is irrelevant because most companies have already retrenched. I recommend checking out my BPX skills webinar and continuing to pursue those BPX skills, but with the goal of adding them to your current skill set gradually. In such a market, “soft skills” like deeper industry expertise and project management methodologies might be the best BPX skills to pursue. Spending time with new process modeling tools may be less urgent than a month ago, since many companies are putting their own exploration of such tools on the temporary back burner.

4. Customer acquisition and retention remains crucial, and that should inform your skills approach. Interestingly enough, Web 2.0 type skills may be the one area of “new skills” that remains relevant even in this down period. That’s because having the edge on customer experience and web site user-friendliness and interactivity is more important now than ever. This is about putting yourself in your customers’ (or employers’) shoes, and viewing the market from their vantage point. The more you can contribute to either spending efficiencies or revenue stabilization, the more valuable you are - in any market.

In terms of your SAP skills, now is probably not the time for bold new moves, but it’s still important to add to your skill set. The biggest key is being up to date on SAP releases pertaining to your core skills, and the next biggest key is adding those BPX skills that pertain most directly to your current circumstance. If you are interested in more about how BPX skills can help you secure new job opportunities, read my latest contribution to PAC’s “Feeding the SAP Ecosystem,” blog,  where I talk about how SAP BPX skills can impact a job search - not so much during the resume submittal process, but certainly during the interview process, where consultants with a more “wholistic” skill set almost always have the edge. It’s a pretty good time to have such an edge!

5. Silver lining: “hiring freezes” favor consultants. It’s foolish to talk about silver lining in a time like this, but it’s true that the kinds of hiring freezes many companies, including SAP itself, have implemented, favors those with a contractor’s mindset. You may find that some SAP customers that were previously focused on hiring “permanent” employees may now be more inclined to bring you in on a contractual basis. It’s worth checking. If you have good SAP skills, make sure you’re on the map with firms like B2B Workforce, a client of mine, that specialize in placing independent consultants.

Final thoughts for now.

It’s understandable that companies with large scale operations would scale back to avoid massive shortfalls. But we need to be careful, as individuals, not to be sucked into that same mentality. When we make fear-based career decisions, we often dig a deeper hole in the long run. That’s because life has a way of limiting the options of those who self-limit. I was meeting with an SAP consultant yesterday who was torn between options, and I told him to “move towards the inspiration.” That does not mean we should be in denial of changed economic circumstances. But we ultimately have the best chances for success in areas of life we are deeply passionate about and committed to. This is no different in an SAP context.

So if you were excited about your plans to move into BPX areas, by all means, continue in that direction. Yes, you may have to cancel a trade show you can no longer work into your budget, but you can still afford to go online and work on those skills on BPX or SDN. Now is a time to be ruthlessly practical, but not at the expense of renouncing the pursuits that fired our imaginations in the first place. Another way of saying it would be: look for the doors that open as others close. Whether it’s on your own project or in your personal sandbox, you may see an opportunity created by this market that you did not have before. One example might be: a company that slashes its marketing budget and is suddenly less resistant to “Web 2.0” strategies. You may be the person ready with the proposal about “Web 2.0” options that are not expensive, but do require an investment of time, such as the maintenance of a Twitter channel.

It’s too early in this “new crummy economy” to report success stories, but I’m certain that when we hear them, they will come from those who adjusted to the new market conditions, and proceeded to execute on strategies that were geared for this economy and stemmed from their existing expertise. Those with a "deer in the headlights" response won’t fare as well. I’ll be sure to report back as soon as I learn more. In the meantime, I welcome your comments.
 

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