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The Top 10 Ways To Future-Proof Your SAP Career

1 . Where are IT careers heading generally?

Firstly I am happy to report that we appear to be comfortably into an IT industry up-cycle that is not in danger of losing momentum in the foreseeable future. But the world and the world of IT are changing, so it is not a given that a valued skill today will be a valued skill tomorrow.

A shortage of new talent

Not all the dotcom crash shockwaves have passed through the IT industry. In 999 doing an IT degree was the Gold Rush equivalent of a pneumatic shovel. Unsurprisingly, very few signed up for IT degrees in 2002. The few that did must have been hermetically sealed from the world to make such a counter intuitive choice. The net effect is that there is now very little new raw material pouring out of the academic establishments into the IT marketplace. This is causing an acute shortage of talent in the market, which is bad for employers and great for skilled IT professionals.

Like manufacturing, IT is now subject to globalisation. India is the high profile delivery venue. China, Eastern Europe and South America are also on the ascendancy. It is early days and those going east looking for bargains are generally not getting the savings they hoped for. However they are getting the management headaches they didn’t bargain for. Whilst we are not quite experiencing an offshoring backlash, European buyers do appear to be having reservations about the offshoring concept. This makes predicting the impact of offshoring on IT careers very difficult. Should offshoring gain momentum then it is likely that the lowest value jobs will migrate first. The corollary of which is that the highest value IT roles will be last to leave.

The 21st century IT professional

The IT vendors are engaged in a vicious war to guarantee their places in the IT end game. Thus we are seeing significant Pac-man activity throughout the industry. Again it is not clear who will be left. Choosing a vendor-oriented career is thus a risky move, unless you are confident that the vendor you choose will be one of the ‘last men standing’.

This consolidation in the marketplace will lead to consolidation in the technologies. This will over time lead to technology skills becoming commoditized. We are starting to see a trend whereby the clients are taking the technology skills for granted and placing great store in the sector / business process experience. The day of the ‘pure-play propeller head’ is coming to an end. Hybrid business-technologists represent the 21 st century IT professional. 2. Where is SAP Going?

Its competitors heavily influence SAP’s vision. As mighty as SAP is, it cannot own the enterprise applications marketplace. Recognising that, it has taken a sector verticalization approach, and thus has chosen to build its reputation in certain industry sectors. This in turn leaves the door open for SAP’s competitors, in unattended verticals.

A new client looking to employ enterprise applications in the Pharmaceutical or Utilities sectors would turn to SAP. But in High Technology Manufacturing they are likely to turn to Oracle. So the boundaries are being marked out.

Technology wise SAP is showing a keen interest in mobility and CSS (Customer Self Service).

SAP is battling it out with Oracle in the Services Oriented Architecture (SOA) marketplace. It is also venturing into Business Process Modelling (BPM), which will help process specialists integrate their activities with those of software specialists.

SAP believes that we are moving into a world where applications will be deployed via the web. This is having a fundamental impact on the way in which SAP is architected.

SAP’s main rivals are Oracle and Microsoft. They all have offerings in the key areas of ERP, CRM and SCM. Microsoft is a novice, but has just unveiled it Dynamics suite. Oracle has traction. But SAP is in full flight.

Oracle has its hands full with its Fusion initiative, which essentially involves consolidating its PeopleSoft and JD Edwards acquisitions. The Siebel acquisition complicates this. Oracle and SAP are out and out competitors.

SAP’s relationship with Microsoft is more difficult to read. Despite Microsoft’s covert notion some years ago to propel itself to number one in the enterprise applications marketplace by acquiring SAP, they appear to be enjoying a romantic spell together. The SAP - MS Office Duet initiative highlights this. Whether Microsoft has a seduction plan in place, and whether SAP has given this the ‘green light’ has yet to be seen.

A senior executive has recently announced that SAP would be happy to be acquired if the right suitor came along. Personally I think HP would benefit from the addition of SAP to their portfolio.

In the Oracle-SAP race, SAP is playing a smarter partnership game. Along with Microsoft, it has strategic links with IBM, Adobe and Siemens. In fact all of these would benefit from acquiring SAP. A long courtship, even several long courtships in parallel might make the anti-trust regulators look more kindly on SAP’s chosen buyer, which in the case of those listed would have a seismic impact on the market.

All in all SAP’s future is far from clear. Being number one in the market does not guarantee its sovereignty. But given the market uptake in SAP technology, only a fool would acquire SAP and dissolve the product range. This should be of some comfort to SAP specialists. 3. Ways to future-proof your SAP career

1. Get web services exposure

SAP is committed to a web-centric future. The hype has already started with the so-called Web 2.0. Exposure to is strongly recommended. SAP’s attraction to Java will make J2EE exposure very valuable in the future. Given Microsoft’s close tie-up with SAP, there will probably be some value in getting exposure to .NET.

Basis and Abap do not fit the Web 2.0 vision. Picking up expertise in Java/XML and Netweaver will make you an increasingly attractive proposition going forward.

2. Improve your software engineering skills

Software engineering has been in the doldrums for many years. But recently has gained momentum due to the general increase in IT investment. Regulatory compliance and IT governance are forcing better practice across the industry.

Specifically I would recommend getting experience of SOA (Services Oriented Architectures), which some would say is merely tech vendor hype. I see this as next generation object orientation; this time around the focus is more on the business semantics than the technology syntax. In English, SOA is more business-friendly than OO.

One of the criticisms of SAP is the elongated deployment cycles. When paid on a per diem basis you might quite understandably believe this to be a good thing. The market wants to shorten the time-to-use period and so Rapid Application Development techniques are being encouraged. RAD today is referred to as Agile development.

Internally SAP itself is using the Scrum methodology. Picking up this skill will align you with SAP’s approach.

3. Develop expertise in SAP partner technologies

SAP has a very strong partnership programme. These are/will manifest themselves in multi-vendor solutions. Those that have expertise in the partner technologies as well as SAP’s will be in demand.4. Consider project management

Whilst the offshoring wave is a reality, the extent to which it will hit Europe and impact IT roles is unclear. The market growth is not that impressive ($45bn globally to date (McKinsey on IT – Summer 2006). So one should not unduly panic. But as an insurance policy I would recommend gravitating further up the tree so to speak. Making the move into project management can be taken in two steps. Project management is an option.

Step 1 – Become a technical project manager. This makes good use of your technical skills and gently introduces you to people management. You can then use this experience to migrate to Step 2.

Step 2 – Become a full-blown people project manager. The team headcount will be larger and you will need to develop confidence in trusting others with technology matters. Acquiring distributed project management to cope with your team being based in multiple countries/continents will be of increasingly great value as globalisation takes root.

5. Develop your consulting skills

Being technically strong is not enough. Clients/employers want the complete package:

Technology skills
Sector / business process skills
Interpersonal skills
Aadvisory skills

Whether you work for SAP, one of its ISVs or an end user organisation, you will deliver more value and will be rewarded more if you can tick all the boxes above.

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Désiré has been musing and writing about technology during a career spanning four decades. He dabbled in website building and web hosting when DHTML and frames were en vogue and started writing about the impact of technology on society just before the start of the Y2K hysteria at the turn of the last millennium. Following an eight-year stint at where he discovered the joys of global tech-fests, Désiré now heads up TechRadar Pro. Previously he was a freelance technology journalist at Incisive Media, Breakthrough Publishing and Vnunet, and Business Magazine. He also launched and hosted the first Tech Radio Show on Radio Plus.