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Making the BPX Business Case for SAP TechEd 2009 Print E-mail

jonerp_full_logo.PNGMaking the BPX Business Case for SAP TechEd 2009: Assessing the Relevance of TechEd for Business Users
by Jon Reed
Unabridged Edition, Never Before Released

In my last article for ERPtips on "Making Sense of SAP Value Scenarios," (ERPtips July/August 2009) I made the case that "business process expert" skills are essential to realizing the benefits of the more sophisticated aspects of SAP Business Suite functionality. Assuming that's true, then how do you go about obtaining those BPX skills? I've already touched on that in a previous ERPtips article ("What Does It Take to Become an SAP Business Process Expert, " ERPtips, Feb/March 2009), but I didn't cover all the bases. One thing I didn't get to was the issue of SAP TechEd, and its relevance to BPXers. And what if you do want to go to TechEd? How do you get a manager to sign off on your attendance? 

(note: this article relates to a podcast I did with Marco ten Vaanholt of SAP on Building a BPX Business case for SAP TechEd, so you may want to listen to that too.)

Each year in the fall, SAP hosts SAP TechEd conferences in four locations around the world, with the 2009 U.S. locale being Phoenix. But is TechEd an appropriate place to obtain BPX skills? And if so, then how does an individual make the "business case" to be sent to TechEd during a time when conference budgets are not exactly loosey goosey? And how does a project team derive value from an individual's attendance at TechEd sessions?

In this article, I'll examine these questions and provide a few answers. Note that in anticipation of this piece, I issued a podcast on JonERP.com with Marco ten Vaanholt, VP of the SAP Community Network and Global Head of the SAP BPX and SAP Business Objects communities, entitled "Building a BPX Business Case for SAP TechEd." I'll draw on a few of Marco's comments from the podcast during this article.

1. Is SAP TechEd Relevant to BPXers?

This is a trick question because the "BPXer" comes in many different flavors and the skills needed to be recognized as an SAP Business Process Expert are still being debated. One thing we do know: "TechEd" is not necessarily the most accurate name for what goes on at these events each year. Yes, there is always plenty of technical education available at TechEd. But there are also business-oriented TechEd sessions. There were more than 100 BPX-related sessions at last year's TechEd, and this year, there are session tracks with BPM and Business Objects themes that are relevant to many pursuing a BPX skill set.

There's no point in derailing this article with an in-depth discussion of what constitutes an SAP Business Process Expert when I have already written an ERPtips article specifically about that ("The Role of the SAP Business Process Expert," ERPtips, Dec/Jan 2009), but for our purposes, here's a brief working definition: in an SAP context, A BPXer is someone who aspires to round out their skills by becoming a techno-business "hybrid." A BPXer is someone with a grasp of the business drivers of the ERP implementation as well as SAP's NetWeaver architecture.

The BPXer understands SAP's Business Process Management (BPM) methodology and is looking to gain hand-on expertise in SAP's NetWeaver BPM process modeling tool, now in general release. Finally, the BPXer understands the impact of business intelligence on ERP, and wants to play a role creating intuitive user interfaces that deliver better reporting and analytics. All this is motivated by the BPXer's desire to help ERP users get more out of the transactional data whizzing through the system. This means understanding the SAP BusinessObjects product line and how analytics are becoming embedded into ERP solutions.

With that definition in mind, let's take a look at some of the topics TechEd has to offer, using the Phoenix sessions for our example.

Here's a screen shot from the TechEd BPM session track:

reedbpxtechedfigure1.jpg

Figure 1: SAP TechEd Phoenix 2009 BPM Session Track

This screen shows about half the BPM-related sessions at this year's TechEd. All the courses in the 100 range are "beginner level" courses. You can see the rest of the courses in the BPM track, as well as the expertise level of the classes here.

One class that didn't fit on the screen shot is an advanced BPM class that seems particularly relevant: BPM 202, or "Five Key Reasons for Advocating SAP NetWeaver BPM Solutions When Capital Budgets are Shrinking." This session looks like it will get to the tension between advanced BPM functionality and the bottom line mindset that can sometimes keep BPM projects in the slow lane. The best BPM thinkers I know argue that truly innovative companies push through this tension. They discover that a BPM outlook allows for better use of resources now, in the crunch time of the present. I hope to be at that session!

Now let's have a look at the SAP BusinessObjects sessions planned. The conference track is entitled "Business Intelligence and Information Management." These classes are harder to screen cap because there are more sessions, and they are organized into categories such as "Business Intelligence Platform, Master Data Management, Performance Optimization Applications, and SAP BusinessObjects Client Tools and Advanced Analytics."

Here's a view of that last category:

reedbpxtechedfigure2.jpg

Figure 2: SAP TechEd Phoenix 2009 BI and Information Management Session Track 

A couple sessions that stood out to me here: "A to Z Steps Taken to Create a Successful Dashboard at Colgate" (dashboards are a "quick hit" type of project and customer case studies are always on my session list), and "Be the First to Get Your Hands on ‘Pioneer', SAP's Next Generation Analysis Client." Getting a look at Pioneer is certainly interesting, given that it is billed as the eventual replacement for the BEx Analyzer tools. Current BEx customers want to know what kind of functionality (and pricing) awaits them with Pioneer - this session could be another step in getting those questions answered. You can view the rest of the Business Intelligence and Platform Management sessions here:

There are other ways to view the SAP TechEd materials - you can also view by job function. If you view by the "Business Process" job function,  you get a lengthy list of courses, at least one hundred by my count, that pertain to business process issues in some way.

2. Making the Business Case for TechEd

I think we've laid to rest that TechEd is simply a chance for code crunchers to lift up the hood and start swapping OSS notes. But that doesn't solve the problem of how to make the business case for TechEd attendance. I was reminded of this challenge when I received a Tweet from a Twitter follower who was looking for suggestions on how to get her hiring manager to green light her TechEd attendance. It's not easy to get companies to sign off on such events these days, so we have to make our case in a broader way than "I'd really love to go to this show" or "I could use a break from the office, and I hear Phoenix is lovely in the fall." Here's some recommended components of a "TechEd Business Case for a BPXer."

A. Make sure that the project team is clear that TechEd is not just for "techies." To get across the range of sessions available, share links of the relevant session tracks.

B. Explain how your role can be enhanced by TechEd attendance. For example, one person I talked to is involved in working as a liaison to a technical team that uses SAP's Composition Environment (CE). So, attending a few CE-related classes should help this person work better with CE colleagues. This person's company is also debating how to restructure some of their SAP activities around business processes. Classes on BPM will bring a more informed perspective on these issues. Solution Manager sessions may also help bring the element of managing live business processes into the knowledge mix.

C. Propose a reporting structure that will allow you to return to your company after the conference and share the lessons learned. This could include: tutorials with other team members and/or management-level presentations of what you have learned. You should go to TechEd armed with a list of agreed-upon topics so that you can ensure that the information you bring back meet's your team's expectations.

D. Remind your team that companies (even competitors) freely share valuable information at such conferences, including the ups and downs of implementing products that may be on your "short list" of projects on the horizon.

E. Point out that SAP sends leaders in its product management group to these sessions - valuable contacts you will be able to call upon after returning. (Example: one person I talked to about attending TechEd has some PLM-related responsibilities. A contact at SAP verified that some of the key PLM product leaders inside SAP will be at TechEd).

F. If appropriate, establish blogging expectations for your contributions from TechEd. Some companies are not comfortable with public blogging from their conference team; others see a high value in such contributions. Clear up any expectations around blogging in advance to ensure that the blogs you post are well received by both the SAP Community and, even more importantly, your project team. If you'd like to see two examples of bloggers who regularly attend trade shows and report back with informative posts, check out the work of Halliburton's Gretchen Lindquist and Black & Decker's Jim Spath (Both Lindquist and Spath are ASUG Volunteers and SAP Mentors who regularly attend SAP trade shows, such as ASUG/Sapphire 2009).

MIT's Susan Keohan, also an ASUG Volunteer and SAP Mentor, recently blogged her own tips on making the case for attending TechEd. Here's a tip from Keohan: "Compile a list of the sessions that can benefit you and your company. Match these to the initiatives currently in place. Talk to colleagues to see where they need help as well. Is someone struggling with how to model procedures in CE? Is there a developer who really needs to learn more about user interfaces? Identifying co-workers who can also benefit from your attendance at TechEd can be helpful in pleading your case."

3. Overcoming Budgetary Obstacles with Virtual Sessions

It's not easy to get the green light to attend trade shows in today's spending climate. If you're an SAP manager, it can be hard to rationalize sending a project team to a far flung location.

There is definite benefit in the "virtual" side of these events. For example, this year's TechEd will feature a full month of virtual sessions in September to allow users who could not attend in person or who can't get enough of SAP another chance. Companies or individuals could already purchase previous TechEd sessions through a Virtual SAP TechEd package. But this year, you can attend live sessions virtually as well, throughout the month of September. (As of this writing, the SAP TechEd virtual schedule for 2009 is still being fleshed out, but a great way to track Virtual SAP TechEd developments is through the blog of SDN Community Evangelist Craig Cmehil.

4. Don't Fear The "Geeks": Networking is Powerful

Although there is a benefit to virtual sessions, there is no replacement for in-person attendance at trade shows. These in-person events strengthen your network and place a greater degree of context to the "virtual connections" made via SCN forums, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Meeting SAP product leaders during and after sessions will give your team more direct lines of communication within SAP that will directly impact your day-to-day work. Plus there are terrific community events, such as the "Process Design Slam" being architected by SAP Community Evangelist Marilyn Pratt and her team, that are specifically geared towards the BPXers who make the journey.

During my podcast with Marco ten Vaanholt, I asked him about the value of in-person TechEd attendance for the BPXer. "When you go to these conferences, it's not only about educating yourself and then dispersing that education throughout your company, it's also about connecting with peers in your industry or in your specific area so that you can rely on them post-TechEd," said ten Vaanholt. "One of the other things I noticed last year is that there's tons of visibility created by some organizations; they have some of their folks go to TechEd as a BPXer and they start blogging on our communities, specifically in our BPX community, about their experiences and their day-to-day findings. They use that knowledge to divert back into their specific job and their specific group."

One of the other messages we get when we "mash" BPXers and TechEd together is: "don't fear the techies" (or the technical sessions). For the BPXer, there is nothing to fear from the "techies" and plenty to learn. During our podcast, Marco shared his views on how technical knowledge has helped in his BPX career: "We've talked a lot about the qualities of a BPXer; one of them is to have one foot in business and one foot in IT," said ten Vaanholt. "The other role is a marriage counselor between business and IT... It's a good idea to familiarize yourself with more of the technical implications, which will then allow you to upskill yourself, as well as being more valuable in some of these conversations that you might have with your IT staff...In my personal experience, I come more from the business side. But throughout my career, I've tried to understand the technical aspects and it has helped me tremendously. When I get into conversations with our enterprise architects, specifically on SCN collaboration tools, I understand their perspective much faster. This allows us to create projects faster and agree on a step by step approach faster as well."

In many cases, it's the "geekier" sessions at TechEd that can provide the most business value. In addition to the many TechEd classes geared specifically to the BPXer, TechEd offers plenty of deeper technical "dives" that may get you a little wet, but will help you to understand your enterprise problems in new ways. Take it from me - you'll leave TechEd with some fancy new technical lingo (that you actually understand), some dandy exhibition hall souvenirs, and a stronger BPX network than you had before. If you end up going, look for me in the Community Clubhouse, where I will likely be picking the brains of the Enterprise Geeks and other SAP Mentors, whose technical knowledge helps me do my job better, day in, day out.

Site Editor's note: this article appeared in a modified format in the August/September 2009 edition of ERPtips, formerly SAPtips.

Jon Reed, JonERP.com. Jon Reed is an independent SAP analyst who writes on SAP consulting trends. He is the President of JonERP.com, an interactive Web site that features Jon's SAP Career Blog and his podcasts for SAP professionals. Jon has been publishing SAP career and market analysis for more than a decade, and he is the author of the SAP Consultant Handbook. From 2003 to 2006, Jon was the Managing Editor of SAPtips. Recently, Jon was named a "PAC Fellow" to formalize his contributions to PAC's SAP Services Research Program, and he is a frequent blogger on PAC's "Feeding the SAP Ecosystem" blog. Jon serves as an SAP Mentor, a highly selective initiative which recognizes those individuals who are making an outstanding contribution to the SAP community.

 

 

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