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What are the Skills Migration Paths for SAP Professionals?

Recently I was corresponding with the illustrious Michael Doane as he put his finishing touches on his upcoming SAP Green Book, which looks to be another Michael Doane classic. In an email, Michael asked me about what SAP users should be doing to cultivate in-house teams. I’ve been writing about talent management a lot lately, including a recent blog post for PAC on how to attract and retain SAP talent. In the email to Michael, I also touched on the skills migration paths for SAP professionals. Some of it will probably wind up in the Green Book, but in the meantime, I wanted to take those comments and share them with JonERP readers in an enhanced form.

The obvious disclaimer is that there a many career paths within SAP - too many to generalize about in one blog entry. But for our purposes, I have focused on three: ABAP, Basis, and SAP functional. All three are what we would call hands-on SAP career paths. Without further ado…

  The best skills SAP skills migration paths are as follows:

ABAP programmers: should be evolving into savvy "hybrid" developers who are skilled in object-oriented programming and composing web services. Some of these folks may even move into the Enterprise Architect role, helping to plan the technical landscape that allows NetWeaver to serve as both a development platform and a means of integrating web services. This is a big skills shift from the tedious custom development approaches in the past, reflecting an emphasis on interoperable standards and open architectures. Increasingly, experience with Rich Internet Applications (RIAs) in an SAP context is part of this process also. My recent podcast with SAP developer Abesh Bhattacharjee gets into some of these issues. In the podcast, Abesh shares his keys to becoming a successful SAP developer.

The Basis specialist: needs to evolve into the "NetWeaver Engineer" and perhaps also into the Enterprise Architect role over time. The NetWeaver Engineer is much more of a systems integrator than an administrator, skilled in performance tuning and integrating business intelligence and other "value add" systems into the SAP landscape. My podcast with Kent Sanders on becoming an SAP NetWeaver Engineer is a great starting point if this is a skill area you are interested in.

The "functional configurator": needs to be thinking in terms of industry specialization and moving beyond a silo-module approach to SAP. Those companies who can help their "configurators" round into savvy business process experts who understand end-to-end processes, and think of SAP not as a storehouse of configuration tables, but as an enabler of end-to-end processes will have a have a leg up in the "talent wars". Not long ago, I updated an article I wrote in the 1990s on "The Pros and Cons of SAP Configuration Skills". Those who focus on functional configuration might want to see how that article stacks up with their own skills.

Speaking of Business Process Experts, or BPXers as they are often referred to in an SAP context, it’s important to understand that "BPX" is not just a vision of where the SAP functional skill set is headed. It’s a recognition that IT and business are becoming increasingly intertwined, and the best SAP professionals - the ones your company wants to keep on the softball team - are those chameleons who can walk across the aisle with comfort and talk business or "tech speak" as needed.

The SAP skills world of the future is a techno-functional convergence, where suits are sometimes geeks and geeks sometimes wear the suits. There is a ton of BPX-related skills content on this site, including in-depth articles on SAP BPX skills and roles and even a webcast on becoming an SAP Business Process Expert. It’s a good idea to include Business Intelligence (BI) in all its SAP flavors as another "umbrella" skill that all SAP professionals should be cultivating - as it relates to their particular skills focus.

I view "Business Process Expert" skills as relevant to all three career paths I mentioned. In some ways, it’s about "wrapping" your existing SAP skills in a BPX layer or context.

Needless to say, all of these skill areas require a great more detail than I have written about in this blog post. But I have included some links in each section where you can go to get more information based on your interests.

Of course, being a hands-on SAP person is not necessarily a career end point. There are other scenarios that we frequently see. Many make the move into independent consulting, eventually starting or getting involved with their own speciality firms. Kevin Wilson, co-founder of ERPGenie.com, is a good example, with his current specialization in SAP Event Management. You can hear all about in the podcast I recently did with him on SAP EM consulting opportunities.

Another career path could be into project management; yet another could be working for an SAP consulting partner or even a third party software partner. Some enterprising developers create their own products and enter the SAP ecosystem in that fashion. I did a webcast on best practices for building an SAP consulting business for SDN subscriptions a while back. Though it’s outside the scope of this blog entry, I do caution folks to think carefully before moving beyond hands-on SAP roles. Once you move beyond that hands-on implementation work, it’s not easy to return, even with deep experience in the field.

This blog entry is in many ways a summary of the in-depth content you will find on JonERP.com in previous blog entries and in my ongoing podcasts. My new podcast series, The ERP Lounge, delves further into SAP skills trends in a longer, conversational format. I think you will enjoy those podcasts as well - I know I’m having fun doing them. We cover listener questions each time we tape, so let me know if there is an SAP skills topic we have not yet addressed.

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