Sapphire 2009 Live Podcast - Jon Reed Interviews Ajay Vonkarey on BPM and Solution Manager Skills

alphasirius.jpg"Reactions to Sapphire 2009, SAP BPM, and the Pros and Cons of Solution Manager"
Podcast Interview Date: May 14, 2009
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In the first of two live Sapphire podcast recordings Jon will issue this week, Jon Reed of sits down with Ajay Vonkarey of Alpha Sirius to discuss his views on Sapphire, his impressions of the SAP market, and in particular, his views on Solution Manager - a topic you could not get away from at Sapphire where Ajay has deep expertise. In this 24 minute podcast, taped in a classroom as Sapphire closes out, Jon asks Ajay for his views on the pros and cons of Solution Manager from a customer perspective, how Solution Manager fits into BPM, and how SAP skills needs are evolving in the era of BPM and "end to end process" management.

Topics covered in this podcast include:

- Why Ajay came to the show and what he was hoping to get out of it - his presentation on Business Process Management (BPM). Sapphire is a chance to learn what is coming down the road from SAP and the challenges customers are facing.

- Ajay's general impressions walking the Sapphire floor. While there were less people this year, Ajay saw a benefit in terms of getting into deeper interactions with customers and partners on the show floor.

- Ajay gives his response to Leo's keynote - his takeaway was SAP's focus on "clarity," both from SAP and the interactions in the ecosystem between customers, partners, and SAP. Ajay sees clarity as both a philosophy and also an emerging collection of tools.

- Sapphire is more business-oriented than technical. Ajay came to Sapphire early to get it on some BPM related sessions. BPM is not a tool in Ajay's view but an approach to managing end-to-end processes. This ties into the Run SAP theme of post go live optimization that Alphasirius focuses on. SAP launched the Run SAP methodology last year, and in his interactions with customers, they are seeing a lot of value in standardization and other Run SAP best practices. This focus can lead to a reduction in operational costs.

- Jon didn't hear much about Run SAP at Sapphire in the keynotes. Does this mean that Run SAP is being downplayed as a theme going forward for SAP? Ajay still sees Run SAP as a priority for SAP. He provides an example: many more Run SAP partners have been signed up. Last year, there were only five Run SAP partners. This year, there were more than 15. It's the partners working on the ground with the customers that are the key to Run SAP's future success.

- Solution Manager was all over the conference. In Jon's Sapphire Twitter feed, he posted from the conference floor that Solution Manager was coming up in just about every SAP context at Sapphire, from Enterprise Support to BPM. But some customers resent the imposition of Solution Manager as a "must use" tool. Jon talked to a customer at a pre-conference ASUG event who was a little frustrated because they had used a different tool for their implementation and were not lacking the in-house capabilities in Solution Manager SAP was pushing. Ajay believes that Solution Manager is here to stay, and he has setup Solution Manager for a number of customers. But some do feel they are being forced to use the tool. The good news is that there is deeper functionality in Solution Manager than ever before, but a roadmap is really needed on how to use the many functions in this tool. Ajay is now working on a white paper trying to develop this type of roadmap, to help both new and existing customers make sense of the tool.

- But even is Solution Manager is here to stay, you can't learn it in a weekend. So how does an individual get a handle on this skill area? The challenge Ajay sees is that the standards of Run SAP and the functions of Solution Manager are pretty broad. For example, a Basis person can find certain functions in Solution Manager that fit into their skill set. But there are also uses on the functional side for project managers and functional experts, either through upgrades or post-go live optimizations. It's not just one focus - Solution Manager is a broad tool that requires a focus on which aspect of the tool is the best fit with your skills. Ajay's firm has built a training program around this to help consultants upskill.

- Many consultants can't afford to take weeks out for training in this economy, so what can they do? There is information on Service Marketplace, there are new books coming out. One possible starting point is to learn how Solution Manager can help with SAP upgrades.

- Some Solution Manager skills are in demand now. But at Sapphire, you also get a glimpse into the future as SAP sees it. The future doesn't always play out as SAP predicts, but at the pre-conference BS7 and BPX day, the next goal for the NetWeaver BPM tool is tight solution manager integration, modeling processes in BPM and drawing on Solution Manager content. Jon asks Ajay about the connections between BPM and Solution Manager and whether he plans to get involved in this area. Ajay wants to clear up a misconception: there is still a sense in the market that Solution Manager is only a technical tool, but that's not the case. As far as BPM is concerned, Ajay's firm is monitoring SAP's future plans: you will eventually manage end-to-end processes in SAP, like order-to-cash or pay-to-procure. It's not just about how do you build a process, but how you deploy it on a database and an operating system level. Solution Manager figures closely into this envisioned future, bringing together "suits and geeks" into business process deployment.

- Jon asks Ajay what he would say to SAP board in terms of their strategic direction. SAP keeps coming up with different tools and approaches. There are misconceptions in the customer base, for example with Business Suite 7, is even more clarity from SAP. One example of how SAP has lessened some of this confusion: more consistent versioning of releases within the BS7 Suite.

- Ajay's takeaway: the economy isn't easy, but it's important to expand your skill set. The classic "SD consultant" or "Basis consultant" role is changing. Skills are becoming outdated - skills expansion on the project management site or the BPM side are two examples of areas where Ajay sees future demand.