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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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Bernard: That sounds like an interesting area that you'd think you'd see the Big Five targeting and specializing in. They're not going to get these full-blown 300 or 400 person implementations anymore, so maybe narrowing in on something like that could be fruitful, where as you say, there's a focused win that everyone can look at and be proud of. If you want to leverage off that, you can; and if not, well, you've got this piece in.

Reed: I think that's really what's necessary. Even when you talk about CRM, it's just not enough to just run the buzzwords by the right people and get a major project off the ground. CRM continues to benefit from the notion that in an economic downturn, the one thing a company needs to invest in is building and managing their customer base. But in the industry press, CRM has really taken a beating in the last year. Gartner came out with a study saying upwards of 60 percent of all CRM implementations have failed, and it's going to get worse before it gets better.

That may be why, when you talk about CRM, companies are not saying "We need to spend a lot of money on a state-of-the-art CRM system." Instead, they're putting the brakes on and asking focused questions. They're saying: "Wait a minute. What are our specific objectives here; what's the biggest thing we're lacking now? Is it an issue where we are unable to properly identify and target our most profitable customers? Or is it a more basic problem with our call center?" It's a matter of targeting some specific issues, and selecting vendors who can come forward with some specific solutions.

In that kind of market, I'd rather be SAP, Oracle, or PeopleSoft than a best-of-breed vendor trying to come in. Because if you're a big ERP vendor, you can sit down with your current customer and say, "Look, our CRM product can do this, and you're going to have full integration with your existing platform." And since SAP can pick up these little incremental sales in multiple areas with multiple customers, not just in CRM, but also in supply chain, data warehousing/business intelligence, e-procurement, partner relationship management - you name it, they have a solution they can offer - each sale can be a lot smaller and SAP is still making a lot of money at the end of the day. I think that's going to carry a lot of weight.

Obviously, some companies are going to say, "Look, we want this specific niche product that is the best in the world at handling this issue for our industry." SAP wants to be able to say, "Sure, no problem. Your users can access it through mySAP Portals, so they'll have it right on their desktop or laptop via a browser interface - you don't even have to install it on every computer because it's a thin client scenario, and it will be integrated seamlessly through our next-generation business connectors/adapters." So SAP wants to take responsibility for that.

And since SAP has control of the overall environment, they're willing to give up a little more in terms of losing some sales in best-of-breed areas. In the meantime, they're becoming much more competitive across the board, because in a down market, there's all this time for the tecchies in Germany to pound away at these products. And so, when you talk about versions 3.0 of APO, BW, and CRM - these are much stronger releases than version 1.2 or what have you.

So I think these enhanced products are going to create some serious work, but people have to get away from that "Big Bang" mentality, because I don't think that's what customers are asking for. Even when the economy improves, it's going to be a much more accountable process as far as approving project budgets.

And that may reflect some of what we see consultants experiencing these days, where they feel like they have a lot of irons in the fire, but actual job offers don't come together nearly as quickly or as frequently. So as a consultant, you may still get lots of phone calls, and you're talking with companies who are still thinking about hiring you, but they're taking a much more cautious approach which dramatically effects the amount of formal offers that are made. Whereas in the past a company's executives would have pulled the trigger so they could pat each other on the back and say, "We're doing the biggest CRM rollout in our industry," Now they're thinking, "We don't want to be the next Global Crossing, we have to justify this based on the bottom line."

Bernard: I think you're right, and I think what we're seeing now is more "business as normal," and the last few years were more the aberration.

Reed: Yes, it's business-as-normal more than business-in-recession, but I still think things are going to pick up in the months to come. There is a dynamic that Brian Trout has pointed out which is: when your competitors are moving slowly on their e-business infrastructure issues, then you feel justified in doing nothing because your competitors aren't doing anything either. But if the market picks up just a little bit, and some companies start to move ahead with e-business projects, then that can create a little bit of paranoia that can be good for those of us in the SAP consulting business. When a company launches a visible project, then it forces their competitors to ask themselves, "Hey, are we missing the boat?" and that's something that puts a little heat on the market.

Bernard: That's a real good point. Many times, when companies choose to make these kinds of investments, it's not so much that they really need to do it - it's that they can't afford not to do it, because other companies in their industry are getting the media attention for being "innovators."

Reed: I think that's true. Another key point that Brian has made is that a lot of companies haven't clearly defined what their overall e-business architecture is going to look like, and which vendors are going to play key roles, and that's part of the holdup too. If companies don't have a well-developed strategy, it's hard for them to move ahead on e-business projects, because they're not sure how it's going to plug into an architecture they haven't really defined yet. And they don't want to commit prematurely to the wrong solutions from the wrong vendors.

But once again, I think that's a product of a lazy market where you can afford to say, "Well, we're not doing the latest e-business things, but neither are our competitors. We're all running 3.1, we're happy with it, so we'll just lay low for a while." Unfortunately, SAP will be supporting 3.1 for a while longer, so the market boost of "enforced upgrades" is still out there quite a ways. As far as I can tell, that seems like the market we're looking at. And obviously that creates challenges for every vendor in the market. As for your own situation, do you feel tied to the fate of any particular EAI vendor, or do you feel like you could go in a lot of directions? I know you've been exposed to a few of the cutting edge EAI players...

Bernard: Most deeply webMethods and Crossworlds. At this point, it would be hard for me to come out and say, "I'm a pure EAI guy." It's not like the early days, where you could say you had EAI exposure with one vendor, and a client would say, "Well, fine, you can learn the other one we're using." I think the knowledge is readily transportable, because the different tools do pretty much the same thing, but there's that perception that when you start to become specialized with one vendor, it means you're unspecialized in the others. At this point, I couldn't see myself just coming into a Vitria shop and doing that work.

But if I had an opportunity, I wouldn't mind getting involved in a Tibco project. I've managed to leverage some of the Tibco functionality in the past, by integrating Ariba with an SAP system. At this point, I'd only want to focus on the top one, two, or three EAI vendors. I don't know where the other players are going to go. CrossWorlds is already rolled up into IBM's Websphere. So while they definitely have an install base with some large customers, I'm just not seeing a lot of new pure CrossWorlds gigs coming up. SeeBeyond is certainly out there, they recently got a new license and changed their name for some reason, and I know Vitria is still around. But the big two behind webMethods right now are probably Tibco and SeeBeyond, as far as market share and growth prospects.


Integrating a Career:
An In-Depth Interview with Dave Bernard, SAP-EAI Consultant, Part Six
July 15, 2002

In the concluding section of our interview, we get to the heart of Dave's strategy for skills enhancement. We start the discussion by asking Dave about how he goes about selecting projects and what his priorities are in terms of rate versus skills. Then, as Dave elaborates on his approach, he explains the importance of ongoing marketing - "marketing within the project." Finally, to conclude the interview we ask Dave about his short and long term career goals and how SAP (and independent consulting) fits into his plans.

Jon Reed: Let's take a closer look at your own skills strategy, and see if we can get a clearer sense of the methodology that you use in order to get your hands dirty in new areas. Does project selection play a crucial role? When you look at new projects, do you look hard at where they're going with their EAI initiatives, or are rate and location the biggest variables? What are your priorities when you look at new assignments?

Dave Bernard: I think everything is a part of it. For shorter-term projects, if I'm trying to find something to tide me over, I'll do whatever I need to do. But if I'm thinking about a longer-term commitment, then the nature of the work, the realistic possibility for exposure to new technologies or new functional areas within SAP - all of that is of prime importance and would certainly factor into rate.

If I could get involved with a new technology that I think is going to go in a good direction, as well as get exposure to new SAP functionality at the same time, then I'm sure I'd sacrifice some current rate in order to be competitive and get in there. Over the longer term, it's an investment. It's a gamble too. Ideally, you won't have to make that tradeoff. But it's definitely something I would consider, because if you're going to be locked into a project for a year, the first thing you need to ask yourself is where you're going to be after that project is over.

Reed: The other thing that seems crucial to your strategy is that once you get on board a project, you seem to be pretty good at elbowing your way toward the functionality that's really exciting. Maybe that's the wrong phrase, "elbowing your way in," because it sounds as though you're really good at making friends on project sites; not necessarily elbowing your way in, but schmoozing your way in, via pick-up basketball or whatever. It seems like you've figured out how to grab onto technology once you're on the project site, and that seems like a key part of your approach.

Bernard: It's not just technology, it's also functional areas too, and that's one area where an independent has an advantage. You don't necessarily have to market yourself as this or that only. If I were being marketed by a consulting agency, they might say "I've got this ABAPer that knows IDOCs, or I've got this Basis guy." But I can market myself differently based on the perceived needs of a particular client. And once you're on the project, you just have to be persistent and hunt down the new technologies in play.

If you really take an interest in it, if you take it as far as you can and don't ask for help until you need to, if you really take it as a personal challenge, then you can get involved in a lot of different areas and make yourself more valuable and well-rounded. And the more you can do that on a project, the more the client is willing to let you do that, because their people are really busy. That's one freedom that you have as an independent that can be leveraged - you can always try to increase the breadth of the ways you can be of service to your client.

Reed: So a major key is to get yourself into the right place at the right time on the project. You might have been hired to do "Task A," but it just so happens that you've read up on "Task B," you've been to a two day training on "Task B," and lo and behold, the client pulls the trigger on "Task B." It turns out that their IT people are really busy, they don't have anyone to do it, and you say, "Look, I have this functional knowledge, I'm already on the project," and they say, "Yeah, great!" I guess you've probably seen that scenario play out a number of times.

Bernard: That's true.

Reed: Many contractors don't realize that this is the crucial way you get into new areas - it's not necessarily all about getting certified in something new. It's about project selection, and once you're on the project, you have to take it one step further. You have to master the art of getting into new areas once you're on project sites, based upon certain kinds of backgrounds you've developed. The common mistake is to try to get too much up front. For example, a contractor will say, "I'm an MM/PP guy, and I went out and got training in APO. I'm certified, and now I'm going to go out and get an APO project." But that approach doesn't work as well as you might think, especially in a tight market, because there are much more experienced folks out there who have already implemented what you're trying to break into.

The real art is to find ways to leverage the skills you do have to get yourself onto an attractive project, and then, once you're on the project, you try to get yourself into the most interesting areas you can find on that site. And that's when the trainings and the certifications and all the additional things you know start to come into play. Does that sound like a fair description?

Bernard: I think that's a real good way to put it. Once you're on the project, the marketing doesn't stop. You're constantly marketing yourself within the project. Whenever there's an opportunity to learn from the next guy, or the possibility of extending and getting into something new, you put yourself out there. There's just so much opportunity. That's the reason that I tend to target larger companies, because there seem to be more possibilities there.

Reed: "Constantly marketing yourself within the project" - that's got a real ring to it. Looking ahead in your own career, What are your future goals? You seem to really like the hands-on/team lead role. Looking ahead, do you aspire to the full-time project management/Big Five partner track, or do you want to stay closer to the technology?

Bernard: I definitely have my roots in technology. If I were to remain independent and aim for the higher end roles, I'd have to take a completely different approach. I'd have to get myself on the speaker agenda at trade shows, write books, articles, and things like that. I'd have to change tracks and become a full-blown independent management guy, and even at that point, I'd be up against all the big guys. So it becomes harder and harder to find projects, and your market becomes narrower and narrower. It's definitely a possibility, but for now I don't necessarily put myself in this or that niche, I just think of myself as a consultant.

Often, as you said, because clients have a very specific need, it's easiest to get in the door as the answer to a very specific need, so I'll come in for a specific technical area. But during the interview, I'll say, "By the way, I can also do this or that," and I'll ask them, "Are you going into this area? Maybe I can be of service there." Sooner or later, because you've been around the block a little bit, you start to become a go-to guy for this or that, and it plays itself into other responsibilities. I don't necessarily see myself changing because I'm having fun doing what I do now. Do I want to do this forever, travel and all? Probably not, but I'll look at that in a couple of years and start to figure that out.


 

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