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SAP Article Classics from JonERP.com

Jon has been writing about SAP consulting trends and answering SAP career questions since 1995. Over the years, he's published many popular articles online that have disappeared from the Internet. In this section, we are reclaiming the "best of the archives" and sharing Jon's classic SAP articles from years gone by.

In each case, Jon will write a new introduction explaining the highlights of the article and how the market has changed since it was published. We're hoping to track down some of the interview subjects in these articles and get their updates on how the market has changed since these classics were first published.
Jon Reed Interviews Dave Bernard, SAP EAI Expert Print E-mail
Article Index
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An Historical View of SAP EAI Trends:
Jon Reed Looks Back on His Interview with SAP EAI Expert Dave Bernard

Jon Reed's Introduction, February 2008: Looking back on my interview with Dave Bernard on SAP EAI technologies, I am struck by how today's EAI market is both fundamentally similar and fundamentally different. As I share these classic pieces with JonERP.com readers, my goal is to help frame today's market by understanding the history of particular SAP technologies and how they evolved. But there's more to these articles than history - there are skills lessons that can be applied today.

When you consider the EAI market, we're inclined to say that this market has gone away because companies no longer want the challenge of integrating ERP systems with third party vendor products like those of WebMethods or Tibco. It's true that some of these projects arefading in prominence, but a search of Dice.com just yielded more than 250 active jobs that involve integrating SAP with either Tibco or WebMethods. So, those EAI markets are hardly dead.

However, we can state with some certainty that companies are starting to focus more of their integration budget on SOA-driven integration projects. The obvious appeal of SOA is that it has the potential to deliver the payoffs of third party integration without having to build and keep up with vendor-based interfaces. SOA's universal web standards and re-usability hardly negate the EAI market, rather, they are the next realization of the powerful impact of EAI, especially when it comes to "opening up" internal ERP systems to customers and suppliers. (for more on the potential of SOA, and SAP's own Enteprise SOA product, check out my "SAP for CIOs" section).

 

In the following interview with Dave, SAP's Enterprise SOA product does not yet exist. But what we can trace in this interview is the roots of the evolution of ERP from a closed, internal system to an open, web-enabled, and customer-driven "intelligent network." Perhaps a bit of the excitement of that initial product shift can be detected in this interview.

The real payoff, looking back, is that as you read through Dave Bernard's market perspective, you get a sense of an approach to navigating an SAP career that is timeless. Dave has always been one step ahead of the market, and I'm convinced that his depth of understanding of the SAP product line, and his commitment to staying on top of SAP's technical changes, is what has kept him one step ahead. Reading back over his thoughts, you can get a clear sense of Dave's career methodology, and I heartily recommend using it.

The last time I heard from Dave, he was still up to his old tricks. He had managed to move into project roles as an IS-Retail Architect, one of SAP's hottest verticals. He was also serving as a NetWeaver integration Solution Architect, helping SAP customers with, you guessed it, their eSOA roadmaps. Dave never misses where the market is going. Oh, and he had two ECC 6.0 installs under his belt and was also about to get PI 7.1 exposure. Perhaps we can have Dave share an update with JonERP.com readers soon and get his latest take on where the market is headed. Until then, enjoy this classic interview.

 

Integrating a Career:
An In-Depth Interview with Dave Bernard, SAP EAI Consultant, Part One
May 13, 2002

Getting stuck in outdated technologies is a consultant's worst nightmare. But how do you avoid that fate? Who could have predicted that we'd see a consulting market quite like this one, where the demand for mainframe skills is on the rise, but you couldn't find a Commerce One job if your life depended on it? Two years ago, nobody would have second-guessed a consultant who left SAP in search of greener pastures in CRM or B2B. Now, many of those same consultants are trying to find their way back into SAP. Meanwhile, back in the SAP marketplace, even highly skilled SAP consultants are finding that their core skills are not as marketable and, in many cases, rates are dropping dramatically.

More than ever before, it's clear that choosing the right projects and developing the right skills is critical to remaining a successful SAP consultant. It's also clear that the SAP consultant of the future needs to be fully aware of what SAP is doing to extend its functionality via web-driven Enterprise Application Integration (EAI). SAP is no longer just the "back office" - it's the "integration hub" of the future enterprise, with extensions into a range of SAP and non-SAP systems and data sources. SAP consultants who understand the business logic and data models that are driving SAP's mySAP solution and EAI efforts are going to be in a better position to capitalize on their SAP backgrounds.

Given the importance of selecting the right projects and developing EAI know-how, we couldn't have found a more appropriate SAP consultant to interview than Dave Bernard. Ever since he left SAP America in 1996 to become an independent consultant, Dave has had a knack for finding the right projects and acquiring cutting edge skills. At the same time, he also avoided the temptation to abandon SAP in search of the Internet gold rush. Instead, Dave found ways of keeping one foot in SAP while getting another foothold in new integration technologies.

Dave was one of the first seasoned ALE-EDI consultants to come our way in the mid-1990s. Even then, he seemed to sense the significance of the limited integration capabilities that SAP was offering in early versions of ALE-supported R/3. But unlike some ALE consultants, Dave didn't just tie his fate to ALE; he continued to move forward into uncharted technical areas. Dave was one of the first consultants we spoke with who had managed to obtain skills integrating SAP with outside "best-of-breed" systems such as i2, Siebel, and Ariba. In the process, he developed expertise using EAI toolkits from vendors such as webMethods, CrossWorlds and Tibco.

Dave broke into XML on a pilot project, where he helped to develop an XML interface to an external procurement card processor. On another project, he helped to design an external interface linking the FI and MM modules to an external travel and entertainment card service provider, via an EAI solution from CrossWorlds/WebSphere. He has also been heavily involved in Java customizations to EAI adapters for SAP systems.

Given the range of Dave's SAP-EAI experience, we asked him to sit down with us and give us some insights into how he has seen EAI technologies evolve on R/3 projects. More importantly, we were hoping to pick his brain and get some insight into how he chooses projects and how he manages to get his hands dirty with cutting edge tools again and again. We were also hoping to find out his take on the current market conditions and where he saw SAP going from here.

In this in-depth interview, we covered all of that and more. In the coming weeks, we'll share Dave's insights into project selection with you. We'll also get his definition of "SAP++," and we'll find out if he really thinks EAI is worthy of all the hype. We'll also take a harder look at e-business buzzwords like "web services," "XML," and "CRM," and see what relevance they really have in the SAP-EAI world. In this wide-ranging interview, Dave gives us a real sense of his commitment to furthering his own professional growth.

Perhaps his appetite for knowledge is the real key to his success - we certainly get a taste of Dave's approach later on in the interview, when he turns the tables on Jon and asks him to assess the SAP marketplace. The result is a lively discussion which proves that neither Dave nor Jon has all the answers. At the same time, it's clear that the best way to navigate this challenging market is by having these kinds of conversations with the most experienced SAP consultants. We hope you'll enjoy the interview and we look forward to your comments.

In the first installment of our interview, Dave tells us the meaning of what he calls "SAP++," and how SAP consultants can stay marketable by keeping their skills "in demand" and watching out for skill areas that are becoming too generic. Dave has always tracked where SAP is going next, and in this first interview segment we start to get a feel for how Dave sees SAP evolving and how he keeps his own skills sharp and finds the right project opportunities.

Jon Reed: Dave, it seems like you've always tried to stay on top of SAP technology over the years. You coined the term "SAP++" to describe the "extended" SAP work you've been involved with. At what point did you become aware of the new directions SAP was going in? Did you stumble onto it, or did you intentionally seek it out?

Dave Bernard: If you go back to the real heyday of SAP back in ‘94/'95, when R/3 first started picking up steam, a major concern of customers was a lack of talent, a lack of available R/3 skills. So their only real option was to bring in SAP consultants from Europe or anyplace in the world where consultants might have actually worked on SAP projects. That scarcity was really a problem at that time, but what SAP customers were told, at least in the U.S., was: "Don't worry, the market will seek its own level, things will even out and soon there will be enough consultants to meet the demand." It's just Economics 101, a matter of the supply catching up with the demand.

Reed: Dave, how have you seen the demand for independent SAP consultants change over the years?

Bernard: When you talk about independent consulting, scarcity can translate into both higher rates and also fewer projects where your specialized skills are needed. Sometimes things come together and you get a lot of projects with high rates, like in the early days of SAP, but that doesn't always work out. But from the customer's standpoint, scarcity and high rates for SAP consultants was a reality that needed to change, or their projects just weren't going to be viable. And from SAP's perspective, they knew these days couldn't last forever - the explosive sales of integrated ERP apps couldn't be on that growth curve forever. There's only a finite amount of Fortune 500 companies, and before too long they were either on SAP or some other ERP system.

Reed: So how did you shift your skills to stay in step with the SAP market?

Bernard: Well, I realized that SAP had to either differentiate its products or come up with new products to anticipate the market. So I just tried to do the same thing as a consultant. I did this by looking ahead a year or two, just like SAP was doing, and trying to gauge where the demand would be. It may be more of a personality thing - there's nothing wrong with doing ABAP or FI, that kind of thing is bread-and-butter and it keeps cookies on the shelf, but I like the stimulus of pursuing new technologies, and when you get on that merry-go-round there's always something new to learn.

Reed: What resources do you use on to stay on top of SAP?

Bernard: You're always trying to read the journals, trying to figure out what that next thing will be beyond pure enterprise applications. A good way to do that is to track SAP through the trade journals and conferences - keep an eye on what the topics are, what the speakers are talking about, and what new books are coming out. The books that are available can tell you a lot. Once we saw several books on ABAP coming out by the summer of 1996, we knew ABAP wasn't going to be a little niche anymore, right? I ask myself, "What is there beyond SAP? What do customers need that SAP and the big consulting firms find hard to satisfy?" Maybe they haven't created a specific practice targeting that area yet. In a way, we're all in the same boat the Big Five are in - looking for the next source of revenue and project opportunities.

Reed: What do you mean when you say "SAP++"?

Bernard: It's a pun on the origin of C++, which was an extension of the basic C programming language. So the "++" are the best-of-breed possibilities that SAP might have originally missed. A good example is "supply chain management," which became popular in the mid-to-late 1990s. SAP noted its lack of a real robust offering in that space, so it formed partnerships with Manugistics and i2. But even though SAP forged partnerships with supply chain vendors, you just knew that for the long term SAP wasn't going to let all that business go to outsiders, so they had to come out with their own answer to supply chain management. You always know that sooner or later, SAP will come out with a successful product, extending themselves from SAP to "SAP++."

Reed: So what kinds of opportunities have you seen for consultants to capitalize on the emerging areas of "SAP++"?

Bernard: Early on, as I said, SAP/supply chain management was a possible niche to move into. If a consultant had managed to stay in the SAP world while looking at that gap in the functionality, hopefully they could have moved from one supply chain application to another, or even to SAP's APO or SCM products and become familiar with them. Another notable example of a new area a consultant could have anticipated is CRM, where initially SAP was caught short, but now, due to SAP's marketing presence and the CRM market shakeout, SAP is a real factor in the CRM market, and as a result, many consulting opportunities are bound to emerge in that space.. What I'm saying is no secret, the big consultancies formed practices along these areas - it's really just a matter of trying to figure out what's new and what's next.

The difficulty for an independent consultant is to try to get engaged on a project where some of that new technology is going to come into play. That's the advantage of getting in quickly - if there's not a lot of projects, then there's not a lot of openings to be had. If you get in after the consulting supply has been built up, then a client will demand a year or two of heavy experience implementing Siebel, for example. So in the case of Siebel, it's now a little bit late to jump into that area, just like it's a little bit late to jump in and become an ABAP programmer now. So to get an advantage early in an emerging market like CRM, you want to pick one or two CRM vendors you'd like to work with, and somehow try to get exposed to that. Which means, as you're interviewing, you want to ask the client what other projects they have underway, and at least learn what their plans are and perhaps express some interest in getting involved in that new area.

Reed: But one of your key points is that you once you get onto the project, you keep pushing to move into new areas as best you can.

Bernard: That's right. After you land the project, you keep up the effort to break in. You talk to your colleagues and the other project teams that may be involved in those target areas, and, if nothing else, at least keep up your research in those new areas. If you do go to trade shows now and then, attend a track on the area you're trying to break into - you'll pick up knowledge that will come in handy later on. In one way or another, if you're willing enough or lucky enough, you'll get involved on a track that will take you there. The real key is identifying it early, and there are a lot of risks there. It may be that what you see as the next big thing turns out to be nothing. We've seen a lot of that lately, for example, in online purchasing or e-procurement. There were a whole string of vendors popping up in that area, and of course, some of them are still plugging along.

When the e-procurement hype was at its highest, consultancies formed practices directed at the Aribas and the Commerce Ones of the world. But if you look closely at the product offerings, online procurement really isn't that rich and deep. Online procurement is a very contained subject and application area - it does not extend across a number of functional areas. Instead, it covers only a narrow application focus, and by itself, e-procurement does not provide an opportunity for its vendors to easily expand their software offerings. The question is, what's the natural market extension for indirect purchasing? Direct purchasing, maybe, but where do you go from there? Certainly not out into the enterprise as a whole.

So e-procurement can't really be extended that much as an offering. Which is why those vendors, I think, quickly saw that their revenue streams based on pure e-procurement packages weren't going to be there, and they quickly moved into trading exchanges and e-marketplaces. I don't want to say they gave away their e-procurement software, but they really saw their biggest revenue stream come from operating exchanges. Of course, that didn't pan out either.

Now SAP is in the e-procurement market in a big way with the EBP product, and it's almost as though that whole e-procurement offering is going to become pretty standard. But I don't see a big growth area there. We've all known consultants who looked at e-procurement and saw it as a longstanding, big thing, but it really hasn't turned out to be that big or that longstanding. You never know. So there is a certain amount of risk, because it takes effort to train yourself and get involved in this or that project. There's also the opportunity cost of what you're not doing. So getting back to what I would call "SAP++" - it's all about trying to stay one step ahead of the market, trying to anticipate what will the market be - knowing in the back of your mind that every time you find a niche, SAP and the other big software vendors are going to be there sooner or later.

Integrating a Career:
An In-Depth Interview with Dave Bernard, SAP EAI Consultant, Part Two

May 27, 2002

In part two of our interview, we trace Dave's SAP career back to his days at SAP America, and we learn how he first got into independent SAP consulting. From there, we take a closer look at Dave's earlier career moves, and we begin to get a sense of how he has anticipated trends in EAI and B2B without leaving the core SAP platform.

Jon Reed: Dave, more than ever, SAP consultants with basic functional and technical skills are having a hard time finding projects. The core markets for generalist SAP skills that used to be so robust have really gone soft. What independent SAP consultants seem to be looking for, and what you seem to be developing, is really a methodology for keeping your skills on the cutting edge without having to take a perm position. Of course, it's not an easy methodology to define - anticipating the next thing, making sure it's the "right call," getting the training/skills in that area, and then getting that all-important, hands-on project work - that's all easier said than done. It's really an art form that seems to come more naturally to you then it does for a lot of people.

So we're hoping that by taking a closer look at your SAP career and the choices you made, we can get some insights into staying on the cutting edge of SAP. In your own career, you had a major transition in 1996. At that time, you were a salaried SAP consultant with SAP America. But after a few years with the mothership, you struck out on your own.

When you first decided to "go independent," you had accumulated a range of skills in the "internal SAP integration" toolkit of that time period - in areas like ABAP, technical architecture/business framework design, Workflow, ALE, EDI. At some point, did you have a moment of truth where you realized it was time to capitalize on the skills you had developed, or did you just realize that an independent consulting lifestyle was going to be a better working arrangement for you? What happened in 1996 that made you decide to move out on your own?

Dave Bernard: I was really happy at SAP at the time, I really was, it was just about the best place I had ever worked. Especially at that time, it was almost like a startup; it was very entrepreneurial, you could create your own roles. But like many people, in the back of my mind, was the idea of going out on my own and seeing what would happen. I really wasn't making a big plan to leave SAP, but I suddenly got offered a contract in a city I didn't mind living in for six months, and so everything just came together. So my family and I discussed it and we went for it. After that, it became a challenge and a way of life.

There's a lot to contracting beyond the possibility of enhanced revenue which may or may not translate into reality at the end of the day... :) But beyond that, there's just a sense that you're doing what you want to do, that you're taking the direction you want to take.

I'm not saying every project is perfect, or every client is perfect. But it's that overall sense of freedom that you get day-to-day as an independent contractor. A person with the right personality will be happier in what they do, uninvolved in office politics, being a project-oriented person.

When I talk about personalities, I think what it really comes down to is having a project-based orientation: everything is organized around a start date, an implementation, and an end date. As a consultant and software engineer, I always had a project orientation anyway. The other aspect you need as an independent is just the willingness to please your client. You're right, I had been at SAP for a while, but I had also worked for other companies before that. I had a pretty good technical base, and things just came together at the right time. I'm not saying I would never work for anyone again, but this suits me for now.


 

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