Breaking into SAP from Competing ERP Vendors
In this section of our Classic SAP Career Q and A, Jon Reed shares some key points from comments he has given over the years to those breaking into SAP from competing ERP vendors. If you have further feedback on this topic, please post it as a comment on one of Jon's SAP Career Blog entries.

Should an Oracle DBA consider SAP, or is it better to pursue a career in the Oracle Applications suite?

Oracle Apps is looking pretty strong right now as we head into the "Fusion" era and beyond, so that decision is not an easy one. All things being equal, I'd probably choose to stick with an all-Oracle platform if I was an Oracle person. True, you can also find good work as an Oracle DBA within SAP environments. Oracle, after all, is the back end database for at least 70 percent of SAP environments. But that number is trending downward for a couple of reasons. First, SAP is de-emphasizing Oracle databases in deference to DB2 from its preferred partner IBM. Second, as ERP moves into the mid-market, you have smaller databases which often means a Windows/SQL world. If you're an Oracle DBA heading for the SAP world, just make sure that you find companies that are committed to an Oracle back end.


Now that JD Edwards has been acquired by Oracle, does it make sense to try to move into SAP?

Many ERP professionals are curious about how easy it is to move from one ERP package to another. You would think, since ERP systems are based on similar technologies and business processes, that it would not be too hard to switch from one package to another. However, the reality is that it is not easy to make that move.

Unfortunately, hiring managers have a tendency to focus only on what you've done recently, and, if at all possible, they don't want to train people once they are hired. I personally think that it should be easier to move from one ERP system to another. I've seen consultants do it and prove to me that knowledge in one ERP system does transfer to another if the company will give that person a chance to make the move.

As for the future of JD Edwards, I know a thing or two about that because SAPtips has a sister JD Edwards division.

What I've seen on the JD Edwards side is that Oracle does plan on supporting JDE customers far beyond what I would have expected (We're talking years into the future). If I were a JD Edwards consultant, I would probably stick with JD Edwards and then eventually move into Oracle when the opportunity presented itself (such as a JD Edwards customer moving to Oracle and involving you in the transition). I do think that, eventually, most JD Edwards folks will want to move to either Oracle or SAP; but I think that Oracle might be the easier of the two to break into given the close JDE-Oracle ties. But you might also be able to pull it off on the SAP side.

One strategy that I've seen used successfully is to get a job as a JD Edwards consultant with a company that is a subsidiary to a larger SAP shop. I have seen this a fair amount working with SAPtips. We meet companies that decide to move from JD Edwards to SAP because their parent company, which runs on SAP, wants them to make the move.

So, there are ways to move from JD Edwards to SAP or Oracle, but it may take some time to pull it off. I do think it's a good idea tp pro-actively move from JD Edwards at some point. It's not a crisis situation, but it's one to address in the next few years.


How would you move from Oracle programming to functional SAP consulting?

I understand the desire to move away from programming. Development work can be rewarding, but it's also an increasingly commodified market. However, as I've noted, when you're trying to break into SAP, be careful trying to make two skills jumps in one job change. For example, moving from Oracle programming to SAP programming is one skills jump. From Oracle programming to SAP functional is actually two skills jumps, one from Oracle to SAP and one from SAP technical to SAP functional. In a competitive job market, it's very hard to make two skills jumps in one job change. If you can pull it off, then great. But if you run into trouble becoming an SAP functional specialist, consider looking for SAP technical/development roles first and then gradually move from SAP technical to functional. Even as a technical SAP programmer, you'll begin to get a feel for the functional side of SAP. At that point, you can also take note of which functional areas seem to be in the most demand and fit in best with your skills and interests. Over time, you can hopefully make the move to exactly where you want to be within SAP, but it may take more than one job change and a few years to fully make that transition. 


How marketable are PeopleSoft skills if you want to break into SAP consulting?

When it comes to identifying the marketability of your current skills, the only way you can find out for sure is to put your resume out there, apply for some SAP-related positions, and see what happens. If you get interest from SAP managers, then you've answered your own question. If there is no interest, then that also tells you something.

But you want the bottom line: how relevant is PeopleSoft experience to a typical SAP hiring manager? Unfortunately, the answer is, "not very." It should be fairly routine to switch from one ERP package to another, because the fundamentals are more similar than they are different, but it is not.

Many PeopleSoft customers are uncertain of the future of this platform, and for good reason. Therefore, a good percentage will upgrade into Oracle Applications and some may also move into SAP. Possibly, you could move along with them and help them with the shift. To do this, you have to put yourself in the right place at the right time which is difficult, but it can be done. And getting into Oracle Apps might be almost as good as getting into SAP. Oracle should create strong consulting opportunities in the market also. Since Oracle seems to be holding onto the majority of its PeopleSoft and JD Edwards customers, chances are a PeopleSoft consultant would have an easier time breaking into Oracle in the long run.


What advice would you give Siebel consultants who are having trouble breaking into SAP? Does SAP certification help?

I get a lot of questions from readers about certification. Many think that once they invest in certification, they will easily get a job in SAP and be off and running. The problem is that even if you have relevant industry experience, including an MBA, and a well-thought approach to breaking into SAP, it's not always easy to get that all-important "first break."

This can be a seriously frustrating situation. Especially because you know, with a strong Siebel and business background, that you could make a real difference on an SAP project if someone would give you that first chance! To be honest, I have a lot of problems with the fact that employers can't see beyond their tunnel-vision focus on SAP skills and see the big picture of what with a strong functional background and business application experience can offer. I think that many projects suffer because of this small-mindedness. They wind up with "flavor of the day" hired guns without any depth. But nevertheless, these are the rules of the game and you can't hate the game or you'll just go crazy. You just have to find a way to break through.

Though I'm not a big fan of SAP certification as a "career cure all," I do think that Siebel consultants might want to give SAP CRM training a shot. SAP CRM has been on a roll and is now considered to be the leading CRM application in terms of overall revenues.  poised to have a very good year and it's possible this training could make the difference. Certainly, it's gut check time for Siebel consultants. It's time to look at the options and make a move before the market goes dry. Now that Siebel has been acquired by Oracle, it may make more sense to look to get scooped up into the Oracle CRM realm.

Siebel's days of market dominance are in the past, so I'd avoid the temptation to milk the Siebel market too heavily. Come up with some other alternative instead, perhaps working in the emerging SMB space where Microsoft is poised to have a huge impact. Good luck!


If you're an Oracle DBA, what are your chances to move into an SAP environment?

Some people get confused. They see that SAP is having one of the best years of any software company, so they assume there must be a lot of opportunities to break into SAP. That's not the case. The SAP consulting market is extremely competitive, and for the most part, the vast majority of people who are getting their feet wet in SAP are simply lucky to be in the "right place at the right time" with a company that decides to implement. So, what are the implications for an Oracle DBA? Is there still hope to get into this field? Yes. But you must recognize the competition and be strategic. And your strategy is this: find the aspect of your skills that is most relevant to SAP environments and use that as the means to obtain your first SAP project. About 70% of SAP implementations -- including the largest installs -- are running on Oracle databases (this number is going down as the Oracle-SAP relationship gets more and more tense, but the amount of Oracle-SAP installations is still sizeable). Therefore, your Oracle DBA skills are relevant to many SAP environments. In the SAP world, Oracle DBA skills are a subset of the SAP systems administration, or Basis, toolkit. So, your Oracle DBA background might help you break into Basis, and from there, you can pursue other SAP-related technical specialties. Your goal is to apply for full-time Oracle DBA positions in SAP shops. You probably won't find many consulting opportunities, as consulting requires a deeper SPA skill set, but there should be some full time positions with SAP customers that fit this description. I recommend doing some serious research into the nature of the SAP technical work and SAP's evolving technical architecture before you apply to any positions. It is vital to have a handle on the evolving NetWeaver architecture as well.

If you have further feedback on this topic, please post it as a comment on one of Jon's SAP Career Blog entries.