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Video Blog: SAP TechEd - Talking SAP Skills and Certification with SAP CIO Oliver Bussmann

At SAP TechEd Las Vegas, I was amongst a small group of bloggers that had a compelling conversation with SAP CIO Oliver Bussmann on the changing technology at SAP and the barriers to collaboration and "upskilling at scale" that must be overcome for SAP to realize its grander visions. A good portion of the conversation was sparked by bloggers Dennis Howlett and Sameer Pattel, with a focus on how SAP can integrate (or extend) more collaborative processes and unstructured information into its ERP core. The best part of the discussion was that it was a genuine discussion, with both sides taking notes. That’s SAP at its best. Nobody has all the answers.

To me, this conversation about technical evolution always circles back to skills development - without the right skills, how can you support a (gulp) "intelligent enterprise?". I asked Bussmann that question, and Howlett filmed Bussmann’s response and the follow up questions. The conversation pointed towards skills trends all SAP professionals should be paying attention to. Not to mention implications for certification that the Certification Five will certainly be tracking.

Check out the nine minute video, and then scroll down for some notes and analysis:

I’ve been told this video talk was not so easy to follow if you weren’t on site for the build up to this part of the conversation, so here’s some summary notes:

:00 Bussmann’s response: After I joined SAP last year, we looked at our application delivery model - it was not scaleable. Then there is the matter of changing technology due to key acquisitions, including Bob J and Sybase. These impact how we look at job profiles on the value chain. So we asked ourselves, what could we do to scale these skills transformations,  partnering with our consulting organization and third parties?

:56 Bussmann: What we realized is that process knowledge, business domain expertise and solution architecture were absolutely critical functions that we needed to keep in-house, and drive more talent towards. The SAP business units are looking at us as advisors, not only for technical implementations, but from a functionality and process perspective. The solutions we provide must be technically sound, but it also must fit the overall architecture.

1:27 What we’re doing right now is organizing our maintenance and support on three skill levels. We are moving more domain expertise into maintenance and support, and we’re also working with third parties. Our third and highest level of support skills is still 50 percent in-house, because those are the teams that share  what they have learned with our development organization. If I were a customer, I would be more aggressive than 50 percent, but in our situation, that third level provides direct feedback to our development teams.

On the build side, I make sure we get the right resources into the build organization: domain business analysts, solution architects, project managers and enterprise architects. The technical consultant is less in focus - that type of skill set is becoming a commodity…we’ve been moving people into business-related activities. We started the project with a tight operating model, looking at the skill sets needed, how they are distributed across job categories, and how we move people into new roles? We are now moving into upskilling, investing in people by job categories, by domain, by process. This is not a fast process - it will happen over 12 months, it won’t happen overnight.

4:15 Howlett: Can this be externalized into the SI community? Does this lead us into a form of training and certification that can be brought to the marketplace?

Bussmann: Yes - we want to certify our solution architects, our business analysts, our enterprise architects, to confirm they are on the right skill levels.

5:04 Howlett: can this type of skills movement you are making be packaged and scaled?

5:16 Bussmann: Our field service organization is embracing that - to enhance the categories like technical consulting and application consulting, that’s where SAP is heading, but we need a delivery model. To bring this to the external market is a different question. I’ve been in the sourcing business for over 10 years - coming to SAP, I realized we have to change the way we operate. I can’t hire 200-300 people to cover the entire process, it takes too long, it’s too expensive. Focusing on key skills categories and makin sure the right people are certified is the way to do it.

6:34 Howlett: Are you sharing this with SAP Education?

Bussmann: We are working with SAP Education - what we have developed is an overall accepted model in SAP, but to recommend it for external customers - I don’t think we are there yet. To be honest, we have lots of intensive discussions internally on this topic now.

7:07 Bussmann: I see two views coming together, one is that we want to keep all the roles and skills together, and I’m saying no, we have to focus on core expertise, scale it and standardize. HR is supporting that. I can tell you that it’s an interesting internal discussion, but to share it with our customers is a different issue.

8:00 Reed: I would encourage you to keep the ultimate vision of bringing this to to customers - It’s not easy to certify what you’re talking about, it’s much more than technical skills. If you can take a leadership role in that area, it would have a major impact on how certification is perceived.

8:34 Bussmann: What I’m hearing today is almost a confirmation of how we should structure our internal workflows. The sourcing and delivery model we are using can work.

Analysis: My take

1. For SAP: Bussmann is leading SAP’s IT group through a skills tranformation that is on track with where SAP skills should be headed:

- As core SAP (and IT) skills become commoditized, they are outsourced to partners for cost savings.
- The focal point is on the techno-functional skills convergence we see in new job roles like enterprise architects and solution architects. New roles blur traditional lines between "developer," "admin" and "functional" and focus instead on delivering business value from IT, incorporating business intelligence, mobility trends, in-memory technology, and next generation UI know-how. These are the new collaborative "rock stars"/team builders/architects that are not outsourced but are cultivated internally as the vital bridge between business and IT. They are multilingual if that word can be applied in a technical and business sense.
- The hardest part of this transformation is figuring out how to "scale" these skills transitions, since SAP professionals have individual skills strengths/weaknesses that make broad upskilling difficult. Nor are these emerging skills combinations easy to scale or multiply.

2. For SAP Certification: Bussmann’s upskilling strategy has big implications for SIs and SAP’s services partners. Even more challenging than internal skills transitions will be providing guidance to partners and enforcing a new level of accountability. The way to do this is via SAP certification, through partner certification, individual certification, or both. Bussmann’s team can have a major impact on where SAP certification needs to go - if these internal models for moving beyond basic technical competencies into "problem-solving architects" can be firmed into a meaningful skills roadmap for partners to apply and individual SAP professionals to aspire to.

3. For SAP Professionals: Bussmann’s team’s approach to skills transformation confirms much of the advice on enhancing your SAP skills that is recommended on For individuals, there may not be an  immediate opportunity to participate in an organizational skills transformation. Don’t wait for that - begin your SAP skills transitions now. Several lessons from Bussman’s talk:

- We are all "consultants." Doesn’t matter if your work is customer-facing or not. The best consultants understand product roadmaps and not just a small focused expertise. The best SAP consultants are moving from "specialists to  "advisors." Advisors are less concerned with showcasing their virtouso technical talents and more concerned with leaving project teams more informed and motivated than they found them. Those internal SAP pros that become "advisors" are more essential to projects and less vulnerable to outsourcing and skills commodization.

- We all need skills roadmaps. It’s not enough to be a developer or an admin or a functional specialist. We need to be thinking in terms of a continual evolution, with advanced roles like "Solution Architect," "Process Expert," and "Hands-on Project lead" pointing the way.

(If the video didn’t play properly for you, you can see that and many more worthwhile TechEd videos on Dennis Howlett’s YouTube channel).

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