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Should You Green Your SAP Skills?

One of the bigger surprises at Sapphire 2009 was the emphasis on sustainability. I expected some discussion on this topic – I did not expect it to be a centerpiece of Leo’s keynote or a major emphasis of SAP’s new “Clear Enterprise” campaign. This led me to Tweet at the conference: “Should SAP consultants ‘green’ their SAP skills?” I had a couple interesting responses; in this blog entry I’ll riff a bit on what this might mean.

  Before I do that, I should say that while SAP is pushing sustainability from the top down, there is a lot to digest. There are an array of tools and approaches to consider, as well as some skeptical viewpoints. In addition to official events, such as an excellent ASUG session coordinated by SAP Mentor Jim Spath, I had a chance to talk informally with a number of folks on this topic, including Spath and Greenmonk’s Tom Raftery. During Spath’s ASUG event, Raftery publicly challenged SAP to go further than the stated commitment of a reduction of one half of SAP’s carbon footprint by 2020. blogger Vinnie Mirchandani raised another point of skepticism: what about the customers who are not equipped technically to leverage SAP’s monitoring tools?

Expect this healthy discussion to get even more vigorous as SAP moves from its sustainability report to the more important follow through steps that have yet to occur. Nevertheless, from a skills standpoint, we can certainly say with some confidence that mastering SAP’s sustainability tools should give SAP professionals a competitive edge. Companies are all about reducing costs, complying with increasingly stringent regulations, and improving their corporate reputation, so sustainability, at least as a practical way of managing energy expenses and reducing carbon footprints, is here to stay. So how would one go about “greening” their SAP skills?

I see the “greening of an SAP consultant” in several dimensions:

1. Understand which existing tools and skills can be presented as “green” skills and considering marketing and positions yourself as a “green” SAP consultant.

2. Study the SAP sustainability product roadmap and plan to get experience in skills that tie into your existing SAP focus.

3. Get a handle on how real-time, or near real-time monitoring, via dashboards or other tools, might relate to sustainability and other objectives of the so-called “clear enterprise.” Investigate how these tools might tie into your existing skill set.

The first point of these three might seem somewhat cynical: why should an SAP consultant “spin” their skills as green? The answer: because in a very competitive job market, you need every edge you can get. Success in any field is based on two components: acquiring relevant skills and marketing those skills effectively. Cynical or not, it’s how the world works, and if you have those skills, why not consider packaging them in new ways? I have yet to hear of an SAP professional who has tried this, but the general approach, getting across to future employers that you have the skills that can help them save money, not just configure tables, is certainly a winning one.

On my Twitter feed, this idea of “green marketing” occurred to me during the SAP Sustainability press event with Peter Graf.

I started by Tweeting: “Wondering if SAP consultants can ‘green; their skills, e.g. programmer who markets as "green coder" writing leaner code.”

Another: “Or the SAP HCM consultants who self-market as "green HCM" - paperwork reduction via online forms, etc.”

To which “AR71” responded: “@jonerp in my opinion a developer who can use lean code is simply smart (esp. if code is re-usable) - not a green coder.”

I Tweeted back: “I agree but right now consultants need all the edge they can get and how you position and market your skills matters a LOT,”

then: “plus I have yet to see an SAP coder tell me they are aware that their lean coding uses less energy. Just riffing on idea for now.”

So the idea of marketing existing skills as “green” is intriguing. It will be interesting to see if anyone has success going this route. If you do, please tell your story. SAP is certainly doing the same thing. For example, SAP has a mature EHS product line (Environmental Health and Safety), which was not historically positioned by SAP as a “green” solution, but now it certainly is presented as part of SAP’s sustainability offerings.

And what of SAP’s new sustainability offerings? The solutions include a repositioning of existing products and an introduction of new tools. Example of new tools include SAP’s recent acquisition of Clear Standards, a leading carbon management tool, and Adaptive Computing Controller (ACC), which will allow customers to manage both real and “virtual” SAP instances.

We can certainly expect Solution Manager to come into play here as SAP customers look to get more sophisticated in their monitoring of system resources, and SAP BusinessObjects should have a big role to play as well, with dashboarding being one example of real-time, or near real-time information management. The reduction of paper-based reporting for web-based approaches using SAP reporting tools could come into play here also. Needless to say, a range of SAP virtualization skills come into play here, as well as knowledge of SAP’s on demand roadmap and the increasing number of on demand offerings we can expect SAP to add to its product offerings (right now E-Sourcing, CRM On-Demand, and SAP BO On-Demand are three examples).

From a skills standpoint, I look at sustainability the way I look at SAP BI. No longer an isolated tool, BI is not becoming integrated in every aspect of SAP, making all SAP professional accountable for understanding how data visibility impacts their day-to-day work. The same is going to be true of sustainability. If you approach it as an approach to compliance, cost reduction, and reputation management, and look to master the tools that can help companies with these efforts, whether or not they are specifically designated as sustainability apps or not, you should be on your way.

As for the dreamier aspects of sustainability, and Tom Raftery’s challenge of going “carbon negative,” that’s something for anyone who has a stake in the future beyond a narrow focus on careers to seriously ponder. But in the meantime, we need jobs, and we need to maximize our rates. We haven’t seen any “green” SAP consultants yet, but I believe we will.

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