SAP Podcast: Jon Reed Interviews Marco ten Vaanholt of SAP BPX

Podcast Interview Date: October 30, 2007
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Continuing his ongoing podcast series with, Jon Reed interviews Marco ten Vaanholt, Global Director of the SAP BPX Community, for a compelling look at the changing SAP skill set and what it takes to become a "Business Process Expert." During the podcast, Marco describes his work with the SAP BPX community, and how BPX is working collectively to help define the skill set that SAP professionals will need to stay relevant on both the functional and technical side.

Jon asked Marco to be on this podcast because during TechEd 2007, Marco's presentation on becoming an SAP Business Process Expert (BPE) provided the most practical "next steps" for how an SAP consultant can evolve their skills that Jon had yet seen. Marco came through on this podcast with an excellent overview of how the SAP market is changing, how BPX is supporting the SAP skills transition, and what consultants can do to keep their skills in line with the market.

By the time the podcast is over, there is a clearer sense of how the SAP professional of today can involve themselves in the BPX community, honing their own skills while also contributing to SAP's product evolution.

Site Manager's Note: During this podcast, Marco refers to the SAP BPX "Skills Spiderweb" that charts out the main skill areas of the SAP Business Process Expert. Marco has kindly shared this skills chart with members. (PDF, 990K)

In this thirty-one minute interview, hosted by Jon Franke of, Jon and Marco talk about the following points:

- How Marco got involved with SAP and how he wound up in his current role as the Global Director of the BPX community.

- The origins of the SAP BPX community in 2006, and how it has achieved phenomenal growth (200,000 + members) through a grassroots approach to community building. Marco also shares the vision of BPX, the emergence of the industry forums, and the "horizontal and vertical" areas of BPX built around SAP's Business Suite, core ERP, and GRC products.

- Marco explains why the BPX community has been so compelling to SAP professionals, by tapping into their desire to evolve into BPE (Business Process Expert) consultants and be better prepared for the eSOA era. 

- Marco also describes how the collaborative BPX community has also helped SAP partners reduce the "cost of ownership" around educating their consultants about eSOA. SAP customers have also turned to SAP BPX to help support their employees working on the SAP "Business Process Platform." 

- The SAP BPX community also influences SAP through its product management cycle. Marco explains how the SAP BPX world can serve as a feedback channel to SAP and also support the launch of new product initiatives going forward.

- Jon asks Marco about the importance of the Business Process Expert (BPE), and why this person is going to be so important to the SAP implementations of the future. Marco shares the BPX community definition of the BPE: "This business process expert has both the business knowledge and IT savvy to make business process innovation happen in real time, by adapting, composing and executing business processes, using best practices, composition software, and enterprise services."

- Marco explains that while there are many different definitions of BPEs, they most commonly describe themselves as having "one foot in IT, and one foot in business." Marco highlights the range of job roles that fit in under the Business Process Expert "umbrella role."

- Jon brings up one of the most riveting aspects of Marco's TechEd presentation on becoming a BPE: the argument that both ABAP jobs and core functional configuration jobs are going to go away. Marco clarifies this point, and reframes the discussion to step back from the "shock value" of Jon's statement. Marco explains that ABAP and configuration jobs are not going to go away, but that it's important for all SAP professionals to acquire composition skills, especially technical consultants.

- Marco talks about the evolving SAP Composition Environment (CE) and why both technical and functional SAP professionals will want to get experience with the CE going forward. He also hones in on the importance of "soft skills" and provides concrete examples of the types of "soft skills" that will be crucial, including industry expertise.

- Marco emphasizes the importance of process modeling skills, and he mentions some of the modeling tools of today (Visio, Visual Composer, ARIS for NetWeaver) and tomorrow that both technical and functional SAP folks will want to get a handle on.

- Jon and Marco agree that the "alarmist" view that the current SAP job roles are going away is not the right mindset. The right attitude is to make a commitment to transforming your skill set along with SAP.

- Marco talks about other key skills of the "BPXer," including Business Process Management (BPM) methodology know-how and BPM tools like Six Sigma. He tells us why Web 2.0 and community-building skills are so important for the BPE, using blogging, wikis, and collaborative forums to "evangelize" your solutions throughout a global project.

- Jon and Marco talk about how SAP professionals now have access to free resources to self-education. Since cost for training is not a barrier, it's more of a mindset shift: (1) getting access to new SAP technical information, and (2) joining communities like BPX to share "best practices" and lessons learned.

- Marco makes some distinctions between sharing processes at "process level zero" versus "process level three," and why there is a difference between collaborating on "commoditized processes" versus working on more "disruptive" or strategic (level three) areas. This latter type of collaboration would likely take place in a closed area and shared with the broader community as appropriate.

- Jon asks Marco about how today's "SAP functional configuration expert" and "SAP application consultant" of the present needs to evolve to become a BPE. Marco explains how the CE and other Business Process Platform modeling tools will change the relationship between functional and technical teams. He also talks about eSOA, and how, alongside the Enterprise Architect, the functional specialist will be working with SAP eSOA resources like the Enterprise Services Repository.  

- Jon Franke asks Marco about how to improve your soft skills, and Marco gives a "big picture" response that starts with how you carry yourself on client sites and work with executives and project teams, and goes on to include various areas of formal and informal education such as organizational change management, process modeling tools, Web 2.0 technologies, and Enterprise SOA.

- Jon tries to put Marco on the spot by asking him to explain how the "disruptive innovation" he is advocating can exist alongside of SAP's customer message of "innovation without disruption." Marco explains that there is not a contradiction because the kind of innovation he is advocating takes place in a closed environment that does not involve disrupting the transactional system.

- Marco also explains that the distinction between commodity processes and strategic processes comes into play when understanding the cycle of disruptive innovation. He uses the example of Nike's product rollouts and the cycle of innovation in the mobile technology space to describe the difference.

- Marco issues a formal invitation for all listeners to get involved with the SAP BPX community. There is a robust "getting started" area to get new members involved quickly with the issues and projects that the BPX community is tackling. Marco also highlights the SAP upgrades area within SAP BPX as a great resource for project teams.

- Jon wraps the podcast by talking about the shifting trends in SAP employment, and how it's easy to end this podcast because the next step is to sign up with SAP BPX and get further involved in your SAP skills transformation.

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