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Bridging the Skills Gap

by Don Hanson

April 1, 2007

Preparing for an SAP NetWeaver upgrade creates the opportunity to identify and close your skills gaps by recruiting top-shelf talent before it is lost to competitors, and budget constraints and a lack of available talent can frustrate your search. Learn different approaches to consider when creating your hiring plan.
 

Budget constraints frustrate many firms that need experienced SAP experts; others simply can’t find the talent they need; still others consider outsourcing — a timely, but potentially risky process. Even though mainstream maintenance on SAP R/3 release 4.6c ended with 2006, you still have time to evaluate your talent needs and find qualified people who are aligned to your business objectives.

Technology talent must keep pace with a rapidly evolving SAP NetWeaver foundation for you to make use of the tools and methodologies available to solve your IT challenges. Steady improvements and upgrades — along with a shift toward a standardized enterprise service-oriented architecture (SOA) platform — require a new approach to your SAP solution’s overall total cost of ownership (TCO). If you are in the process of moving to SAP NetWeaver, you will need new talent to take advantage of new and improved applications, technologies, and methodologies for improving your business processes. If you are already running SAP NetWeaver, you may still need to find talent with more experience in some particular area.

A Lively Lifecycle

Planning a future SAP technology portfolio begins with creating an enterprise SOA roadmap that uses SAP NetWeaver technology, builds on the SAP R/3 platform, and expands the breadth of technologies and applications. A roadmap is the crucial first step toward bridging the skills gap because it identifies all the new technologies and application areas you need to support your future business.

The new SAP application lifecycle has three phases — plan, build, and run — each of which requires different skills and core competencies. Understanding them can help you to pinpoint the talent you need:

  • Plan: The plan phase typically lasts 30 to 90 days. During this time, a company begins to develop a plan to move forward with an upgrade. The most important part of this phase is designing the enterprise SOA roadmap with your SAP NetWeaver architects and application specialists. These skilled developers create a portfolio of the applications and technologies that delineate upcoming changes in personnel, processes, and technologies. You can typically use in-house talent to build the required portfolio. If that’s not possible, you can use external IT strategists to compile a list of potential changes. Then, you can engage an outside SAP consultant well versed in the technology to refine the initial assessment.

  • Build: The build phase is the longest one, typically lasting anywhere from three to 12 months. This is also the blueprint phase during which the enterprise SOA roadmap is put into action and you begin to configure and test proposed solutions. It’s crucial to have technical upgrade and application specialists to oversee this phase. Subject-matter experts in areas such as SAP NetWeaver technology and targeted new functional areas can shorten the time-to-benefit and help avoid costly errors during implementation. Knowledge transfer from an external team to your internal team should be one of your goals.

  • Run: Consider the run phase a continuous improvement cycle intended to support and optimize the newly implemented solution and get the most for your organization’s time and money. To that end, companies should work with knowledgeable talent in SAP core competencies (see the table below) to ensure stable solutions that run efficiently, align with user requirements, and are properly maintained. In this phase, many companies use the initial results from their SAP Customer Competency Center (CCC) to determine an appropriate course of action.

Potential Talents Needed

Core Competency Tasks
Global strategy and service-level management The overall — and service-level — management of a support organization; for example, the tasks and roles of the staff, the procedures and processes in
the support organization, and the management of service levels between IT departments and the functional departments they support
Support-desk management The process of how to solve support issues and determine monitoring and reporting procedures; for example, the statistics showing call resolution and the tools infrastructure

SAP technology management

The technical tasks required to run the solution; for example, backup and recovery, performance management, and system administration

Software change
management

The processes and strategies for implementing software changes; for example, release and upgrade management, test management, and template management
Business-process
management
How an organization can manage core business processes; for example, business-process monitoring, program-scheduling management (managing background jobs), and interface management

The CCC is a customer group comprised of functional, business-process, custom-development, and operations people who are concerned with the IT environment. They ensure that solutions are properly tested, supported, and integrated before they are implemented. The initial results cover the core competencies necessary as well as all the relevant processes, activities, roles, and tasks required to efficiently operate and optimize SAP solutions. You may choose to upgrade internal skills, supplement them with external expertise, or outsource hardware and application-management support to external providers.

Tailoring the Fit

When implementing your upgrade strategy, the better the talent is, the easier the transition will be. The following three steps can help you determine where you stand and how to match talent to your needs:

1] Determine the gaps between current and needed SAP competencies: Expanding SAP capability and functionality requires new knowledge and capabilities. Case in point: mySAP Human Capital Management (mySAP HCM) turns the oversight of human resources (HR) into a self-service platform, empowering employees to manage and administer their own benefits and their personal career information. mySAP HCM eliminates the extra paperwork between employees and administrators and lets employees access their personal employee information directly to change their contact information or tax status, adjust their benefits, and so on. This shortcut reduces the administrative costs associated with benefits management.

While building and using mySAP HCM is a complex process, finding the right people with the right competencies up-front can ease the transition. For example, SAP NetWeaver provides users with a Web-based portal that includes tools such as role-based usage, Single Sign-On (SSO), Knowledge Management (KM), collaboration, and Information Broadcasting. Clearly, to achieve the benefits of full self-service, a company needs people skilled in SAP NetWeaver Portal technology. Completing your enterprise SOA roadmap should make your resource requirements evident and provide a direct comparison of what your enterprise has now and what it needs to accomplish the upgrade (see “The Upgrade Challenge” below).

The Upgrade Challenge

The upgrade pace is quickening. SAP shops are gearing up to take advantage of the SAP NetWeaver platform technologies that are now available, as well as expanding into the SAP Business Suite of applications. However, the challenge lies in finding qualified talent who can plan, build, and maintain regularly scheduled upgrades, as well as maintain the SAP systems. Indeed, about 50% of organizations, according to AMR Research, are running on SAP R/3 release 4.6c or earlier and don’t use the latest SAP NetWeaver technologies. Worse, many of these older releases, including release 4.6c, exited standard maintenance at the end of 2006.

Making matters worse, the skills requirements are changing in not one, but two areas: technical and functional.

  • In the technical arena, R/3 abstraction technology is being improved in SAP NetWeaver (see the table below), causing companies to recruit talent skilled at addressing fundamental changes in core SAP technology.

  • On the functional side, SAP has enhanced its business-specific product suites to expand human capital management (HCM), customer relationship management (CRM), and supply chain management (SCM) capabilities. As a result, businesses need resources who understand and can deploy changes to increase business-process performance and exploit SAP capabilities in the markets that they serve.
SAP R/3 Standards SAP NetWeaver Standards
ABAP and Basis SAP NetWeaver Application Server (SAP NetWeaver AS)
and Java
Remote Function Calls (RFCs) Web services
SAP GUI Web Dynpro and SAP NetWeaver Portal
Workflow SAP Business Process Manager (BPM) and SAP NetWeaver Exchange Infrastructure (SAP NetWeaver XI)
Application Linking and Enabling (ALE)/
Intermediate Documents (IDocs)
SAP NetWeaver XI and SAP NetWeaver Master Data Management (SAP NetWeaver MDM)
Report Writer and ABAP Query SAP NetWeaver Business Intelligence (SAP NetWeaver BI)
ABAP Workbench SAP NetWeaver Developer Studio (NWDS)
ABAP Lifecycle Tools SAP Solution Manager
Technical standards involved in moving from SAP R/3 to SAP NetWeaver

You can also conduct a CCC review of your company’s core SAP skills to highlight the skill-set gap. Then, you can use these skills as the framework for an SAP Operations Competence Assessment, which is readily available through the SAP Service Marketplace (http://service.sap.com).

2] Develop your requirements based on your current life-cycle phase: The three different life-cycle phases require different skill sets. You should base your hiring decisions on where you are in the life cycle. Do you need people who can handle new and ongoing SAP core competencies, or do you need those who already have SAP implementation specialty skills? The timeframe impacts what, when, and how much your business can undertake. For example, preparing SAP projects initially requires strong overall project-planning and project-management skills. Design and blueprinting are specific to the application areas being introduced and require SAP application and business-process skills. Realizing the final implementation requires skills in development, testing, data mapping, conversion, and integration technologies.

3] Weigh external and internal sourcing strategies for the new skills: A sourcing strategy for SAP talent is an ongoing process to identify current and future hiring needs and understand the sources of talent available, as well as to recruit, hire, and bring onboard new employees or contract consultants. Sourcing strategies offer several options. Depending on the timeframe and your company’s philosophy, you may want to offer internal training and education. Or you could outsource the project to a systems integrator (SI) or enter into a strategic partnership to supplement the internal skills you have with outside expertise. Probably the most cost-effective approach is to add to your staff, hiring the talent to fill missing internal expertise. Expanding internal core competencies with additional training and mixing in external expertise to support new technologies or alleviate resource capacity constraints comprise a comfortable hybrid approach that also keeps project ownership and knowledge transfer intact.

A hybrid approach offers a cost-competitive advantage on two fronts: If your organization is pursuing internal strategies, outsourcing for specific talents can fill the immediate IT staffing void, fulfilling your immediate need without disrupting your baseline staff. If your strategy is primarily external, contracting with individuals eliminates the need to enlist higher priced consultants, while augmenting the skills related to the new technologies.

The SAP network is an authorized listing of SAP consultants, developers, and resellers. It offers many ways to find experts in a variety of specialties: for example, consulting, training and education, hosting, and application-management services. SAP customers can access both global and local SAP partners through SAP Service Marketplace, which classifies partners by category, company, country, regional/market expertise, and other criteria. This reduces staffing costs, increases HR efficiency and effectiveness, and ensures the consistent hiring of talent that will positively impact your business.

Executive Investment

When planning an SAP NetWeaver upgrade, IT teams find themselves under pressure from executive management to provide a compelling, convincing business case for investing in the required talent. At this stage, the information already gathered during the planning phase lends critical support to that argument and helps launch the final phase — the actual hiring — in time for the transition to SAP NetWeaver.

A successful argument for investing in an SAP upgrade calls out the main advantages of leveraging SAP NetWeaver technology. One argument, for example, might be that the company will be better positioned to take full advantage of mySAP ERP capabilities by deploying new and improved SAP functionality and technology tools. Deploying the latest SAP best practices enables you to support new and changing business processes without needing custom development or additional point solutions such as third-party portal, business intelligence, process integration, and system administration tools.

More important, organizations that upgrade sooner rather than later begin to have sustainable and adaptive business processes with SAP NetWeaver as their platform of choice. Through the upgrade process, you can shift technology costs from maintenance into an investment in the future by expanding functionality and enabling business-process support, becoming more efficient and current.

Approaching upper management with a clear, current, cost-competitive plan to bridge the skills gap has two distinct benefits:

  • It allays any fears about an SAP NetWeaver implementation by providing a roadmap for evaluation and determining the application’s specific status and needs.

  • It opens the eyes of management to the benefits of the SAP NetWeaver and SAP partner programs, both of which can be tremendous assets in an upgrade scramble.

Preparing for an SAP NetWeaver upgrade creates the opportunity for firms to identify and close their skills gaps by recruiting top-shelf talent before it is lost to competitors. The better a company’s plan is, the better aligned its talent will be.

Don Hanson is President of Managed Services for Yoh (www.yoh.com), a provider of high-impact talent and outsourcing services.

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