SAP upgrades drive talent demand

Managers have difficulty finding qualified candidates whose skills can support current implementations

IT hiring managers are finding that SAP's expanding footprint in the enterprise ERP software market requires broader skills to fill open positions. That was one of the main take-aways from April's Sapphire '07 Atlanta, SAP's annual international customer event. Many hiring managers we spoke with voiced how difficult it is to find qualified candidates whose skills can support current implementations.

The reason: SAP America is selling software at a double-digit compounded percentage rate in North America, leading to a flood of upgrades and installations that require new or heightened SAP skills. This puts pressure on organizations to dredge an already shallow talent pool to find IT professionals who meet their needs.

The good news is, job seekers who keep their skills up to date can easily jump into these new roles. And as companies race to fill the positions, knowing when, where and how to build their skills can help IT pros edge out the competition and win jobs.

Understand the SAP life cycle

Essentially, there are three life-cycle steps organizations go through when implementing new SAP systems and doing upgrades: planning, building and maintaining.

In Stage 1, organizations need people with IT planning skills. Designing the system, planning the rollout and coordinating the different components so they work together effectively requires high-level technology architecture skills. As such, qualified job seekers have a deep knowledge of the new functionalities within the ERP, customer relationship management, product life-cycle management and storage resource management applications being planned.

Once the plan is designed, organizations need people with the skills to build, configure and test the system. In addition to strong SAP-related skills, project management experience can help set job seekers apart from the competition.

When the system is running, ongoing support or production roles are at a premium. These include professionals with strong system management skills, such as Basis and Solution Manager skills; ABAP developers fluent in Java; and XML, and Web-based programmers.

Depending on the complexity of the project, the life cycle will last anywhere from a few months to a couple of years. The cycle's length also determines the timing for hiring people with the various skills needed.

Companies then decide whether to fill talent needs internally or hire outside consultants. What they ultimately do often depends on the organization's philosophy, though about 80% of organizations choose to outsource. In our experience, we often see companies bring in consultants because this work is normally project based and will ultimately have a completion date, whether it be in six months or six years. Additionally, it is much more cost-effective for companies to bring in consultants than to hire full-time employees or pull internal resources from other ongoing projects.

Plug into the hot areas

IT professionals can put themselves in the right place at the right time by keeping their skills fresh and being aware of the market's hot areas. SAP continually upgrades its technology, creating new versions with a host of new features and functions that drive demand for new skills.

An upcoming trend is installed users upgrading to the NetWeaver platform while adding new functionality in the financial and human resource sectors, and using portal technology. Upgrades to the new ERP Central Component (ECC) Version 6.0 platform, for example, have generated demand for financial consultants who grasp new general ledger changes. If job seekers can also demonstrate compliance and regulatory expertise, such as a strong understanding of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, their resumes will easily crawl to the top of hiring managers' stacks.

New upgrades are also resulting in a search for human resources professionals who can expand the software to include performance management and learning features. With knowledge of ECC 6.0 and an under standing of the new general ledger features, job seekers make themselves more attractive to potential employers. As the human resources sector continues to move toward more self-serve applications, portal technologists and performance management consultants will also be in more demand.

NetWeaver experts need skills in MDM (Master Data Management), XI (Exchange Infrastructure) and the latest BW (Business Information Warehouse) version. Portal technology expertise is also critical for changing the old SAP user interface to a customized, user-friendly front end.

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