Did you know that SAP’s online events page is a resource for self-training on SAP? The page is not only a repository of live-event webcasts but also a collection of tips and techniques for SAP consultants, developers, and implementation team members. Everyone from executives looking to build an SAP business case to techies who want to learn about advanced functionality in individual SAP modules can take advantage of hundreds of indexed webcasts, and other supporting materials, to find more detailed information about their needs.
SAP’s online events pages are experiencing a surge in traffic, says SAP VP of Communications Bill Wohl. “Nothing against on-site events, but where we’ve seen the greatest growth is in the online world.” That’s no surprise given the high costs of attending on-site events and live training sessions, which simply aren’t in the budget for many members of the SAP ecosystem. This is particularly true outside Europe and the Americas. Consequently, SAP’s tips and techniques webcasts are attracting a great deal of attention from users in India, with China and Japan also contributing traffic.
Wohl explains that these webcasts, complemented by SAP online forums, are even being used as formal training tools in some contexts. “Consultants and staff people from solutions integrators are using the online environment as a training ground when they bring in new people,” he says. Picture new hires in India, where systems integrators such as Infosys, Wipro, and others run thriving SAP practices, downloading webcasts and hanging out on SAP’s developer forums as part of their professional development.
Accumulating experience with SAP’s online events and developer forums is a no-cost way for developers and consultants to make themselves more attractive to potential clients and employers alike. It’s also a way for executives in smaller and mid-sized businesses, which often lack budgets for conference or training travel, to attain a high-level understanding of SAP (for example, from very specific functionalities such as Bank Relationship Management all the way up to an architectural overview of SAP ERP 6.0) and build a business case for implementation.
Demir Barlas, Site Editor
The most heated and partisan debate in technology is about to begin… again. Yes, we are firmly in H-1B season. On April 1, 2008, the U.S. will begin accepting petitions for temporary foreign worker visas and, if history is any guide, will be overrun by applicants within mere hours. It’s a time of mixed feelings in IT, as American workers are reminded of their job insecurity while foreign IT workers clamor for a chance to monetize their skills in the United States.
As if H-1B season needed even more drama, Microsoft’s Bill Gates is set to go before the House of Representatives next week to make what is becoming a perennial plea for the U.S. to allow in more H-1B workers. Microsoft employs thousands of such workers, so there is plenty of self-interest in play, but Gates will claim — once more — that there is a shortage of IT workers in America, and that raising the H-1B cap (over and above the current regular limit of 65,000) will allow this country to keep the tech lights on.
Last year, we heard anecdotes about American SAP specialists being locked out of work in favor of H-1B counterparts from India. This year, we’ll be keeping a close eye on H-1B developments and how they impact both American and foreign SAP specialists.
A good way to begin this discussion is to look over Bill Gates’ December 2007 article, “America’s Brain Gain.” These are some of the claims Gates made:
- “Today, the nation’s need for graduates in science and engineering far exceeds the supply.”
- “America’s immigration policies are increasingly driving away the world’s top talent and consequently forcing U.S. companies to expand overseas. This is having an adverse impact on U.S. competitiveness and on domestic growth in the technology industry.”
- “Congress can…focus on comprehensive immigration reform, and on redoubling efforts to improve education and expand U.S. output of scientists and engineers, so that Microsoft and other U.S. companies can hire even more Americans.”
- “Meanwhile, Congressional action is needed now to prevent the current shortage of highly skilled workers from resolving itself – through a job-killing economic slowdown caused by a loss of U.S. competitiveness.”
What do you SAP people think? Is Gates right or wrong? What are your perspectives?
Demir Barlas, Site Editor
SAP trainers don’t make as much money as implementation consultants, as resident SearchSAP Expert Jon Reed has pointed out. For this reason, there isn’t as much interest in the field of SAP training as there is in implementation consulting and functional deployment positions. But is this a logical state of affairs?
In reading some of the academic literature on ERP implementation, I found two studies (Somers and Nelson, 2004, and Peslak, Subramanian, and Clayton, 2007) that isolated training as either the most important or one of the two most important (along with preparation) factors in the success of an ERP implementation. If so, it stands to reason that at least some ERP failures are due to companies’ failures to dedicate the necessary resources to training. It also stands to reason that more people — whether employees inside SAP-adopting companies or professional services providers — could stand to hone their training skills in order to mitigate the risk of ERP failure.
If training is as pivotal to a successful ERP implementation as the academic studies say it is, it may only be a matter of time before SAP trainers get more respect…and more money.
Demir Barlas, Site Editor
Consultants seeking to acquire and further develop their SAP skills have long been limited to finding an accredited SAP training center close to them or simply learning on the job. Now, however, there’s a new service that lets consultants ramp up their SAP skills online. The service, SID (sidportal.com), costs £1,200 annually, and gives consultants access to an SAP sandbox environment. After purchasing a SID subscription, consultants can access the latest versions of SAP software online through SID’s servers.
This could allow consultants to become better acquainted with particular modules, customize their own SAP processes, or develop an online portfolio that can be shown to potential clients. While SID doesn’t replace valuable on-the-job SAP experience, it does allow consultants to polish their knowledge of SAP’s modules and processes, and to create customized tweaks, from their own computers.
SID would be more appropriate for consultants with a basic knowledge of SAP, as the service does not include training or e-learning (there are other several online companies that bundle online access to SAP modules with e-learning components). If anyone has signed up for SID, or for any similar online service, we’d love to hear from you about whether the experience is proving valuable.
SAP and Microsoft, partners since 2005’s Project Mendocino (now called Duet), are pushing further into healthcare. At the HIMSS 2008 Conference, currently underway in Orlando, FL, the two companies announced a refinement of their partnership aimed at creating joint products for the healthcare market.
The announcement is a reminder that some SAP developers have much to gain from polishing their Microsoft skills. For example, SAP Enterprise Portal developers can pick up technical skills related to creating and customizing portal interoperability between the SAP Enterprise Portal and Microsoft SharePoint. NetWeaver specialists can learn how to establish stateful Web Services communications between NetWeaver and Microsoft .NET, or configure Web Services Security between .NET and NetWeaver.
These are just a few examples of the many ways in which the SAP-Microsoft partnership will create new opportunities for developers. The announcement at HIMSS 2008 indicates that Duet is serious about going after verticals, creating new marketplaces for developers, consultants, and others in the SAP ecosystem to sell their technical expertise.
If you think this is the right time for honing your joint SAP-Microsoft skills, or if you think Duet shouldn’t be on the radar of SAP developers, speak your mind in the comments box.
Good news for aspiring SAP professionals in India: Wipro, the Indian IT and business process outsourcing company, plans on raising its overall resources in China. On Tuesday, A. L. Rao, Chief Operating Officer of Wipro, told the media that his company hopes to increase the number of its employees working in China from 200 to 2,000 in the next two years.
Forrester Research Inc referred to Wipro as “a leader in SAP Implementation services” in the December 2007 report titled, “The Forrester Wave: SAP Implementation Providers, Q4 2007.”
These SAP implementation services are increasingly in demand in China. Keeping true to the words of Forrester Research, Wipro is on the scene ready to aid with IT resources; and I can’t help but imagine that this news is lit kindling underneath a prepared bonfire of SAP resources. This is a big step for SAP India, as we will surely see the emergence of more and more SAP careers opening up in China.
What does this mean for SAP professionals? Here is what Jon Reed, of JonERP.com, had to say:
“If there is any doubt that the SAP market is global in nature, look no further than Wipro’s planned expansion into China. The fact that the SAP labor pool will soon be truly global is either good news or not so good news, depending on whether you are in a country where the hiring growth is expanding or contracting. All SAP professionals need to take this kind of globalization into account as they plot their careers. I recommend placing an emphasis on cutting edge skills that are crucial to have on site and therefore cannot be easily outsourced.”
I would go further and say that aspiring SAP professionals in India should keep an eye on this news as it develops. The SAP job market in India is a competitive one right now, and this could be the opportunity that many have been waiting for.
For all you SAP users out there looking to save on SAP maintenance and support beware, SAP has eliminated its Basic Support option for net new customers. It’s actually eliminated Premium Support as well, replacing both with one option — Enterprise Support. Where once customers could choose between 17% of net licensing fees or 22%, now there’s only one option — 22%.
SAP went to great pains to say it wasn’t raising maintenance fees, but if it’s eliminated the cheaper option, that may be an issue of semantics.
It’s an interesting move that prompts a few questions:
Why do this in a time when Software as a Service (Salesforce.com, NetSuite, Business ByDesign) is firmly entrenched in the market and third-party support vendors (Rimini Street, TomorrowNow) are gaining traction? It seems that rather than extra support, there’s an appetite for cheaper alternatives. SAP is now in line with Oracle’s maintenance fee structure, giving up what appeared to be a competitive advantage. Why? What does this mean for TomorrowNow? SAP has already indicated it is inclined to sell off the division after the fiasco with the Oracle lawsuit. This move suggests it’s less interested than ever in offering cheaper support options. Are you getting what you pay for in maintenance fees as it is? A similar question about Oracle Support posed on Eye on Oracle drew overwhelming response, with many raising some serious concerns about Oracle’s responsiveness, while others were perfectly satisfied. How does SAP measure up?
Over at the Software Insiders, Ray Wang says it’s time to stop the anti-competitive maintenance fee madness and suggests its time for software buyers to revolt.
Of course, if you’re going to spend the money to deploy SAP, it makes sense to get some help keeping it up and running right, but at 22% are you getting what you pay for? Or is that something you should have negotiated about a little harder? After all, maintenance fees have always been a cash cow for enterprise software vendors.
Last week reader Chris Young of B2BSX made the following comment:
“I am interested in your perspective on how customer to customer exchange of custom development may impact both the rate of innovation in the community of companies using SAP and also the total cost of deploying and operating SAP…I see a tremendous opportunity to leverage much IP around the landscape.”
The tremendous opportunity in what Chris calls customer-to-customer exchange in the business-to-business arena (C2CXB2B, anyone?) has been apparent since the heyday of e-marketplaces in the 1990s, when so many people were awestruck by the Web’s ability to disintermediate business relationships. The idea of disintermediation was hot in B2B because people had already seen how the consumer Web successfully encroached on the turf of once-unassailable middlemen such as travel agents and brick-and-mortar stores.
I see a direct link between the e-marketplace paradigm and the Web 2.0 paradigm to which Chris is making an oblique reference in his comments. Both are do-it-yourself (DIY) paradigms that emphasize the way in which traditionally real-world interactions — such as partner discovery, negotiation, and sales — can be ported to the Web and de-emphasize the role of gatekeepers. As it turns out, however, the customer-to-customer idea behind these paradigms has had only partial purchase in the B2B world. Despite the presence of any number of startups out trying to convince VCs that the business Web will go the way of Facebook, the business world has stubbornly resisted the idea.
Salesforce.com’s AppExchange is an excellent case in point. Some years ago, Salesforce.com took a visionary direction, deciding that its future lay partly in becoming a platform for applications that customers created, shared, and sold to each other. AppExchange never did as well as its analogues in the B2C world — iTunes, for example — and Salesforce.com is still, in revenues and perception, overwhelmingly a CRM provider. To me, that proves that the time is not right for customer-to-customer exchange in the B2B world. Most of the customers still prefer dedicated mediators between themselves and the products they buy; in other words, customers want to deal with vendors, systems integrators, and consultants, but not necessarily with other customers.
If you’ve spent any time in the world of open source, it’s apparent why this is the case. When you buy something from another customer, there’s little control and less support. The fate of your module (or whatever you’ve bought) could depend on finding a long-buried technical post on some obscure open source website. Coders don’t answer phone calls. Forums are only sporadically updated and maintained. The person who created the code leaves the company. Whatever the case, the bottom line is that buying technology or technology customizations from your own peers isn’t a predictable experience. You get what you get, and a lot of enterprise buyers simply don’t want to take that shot in the dark. It’s not a good risk management move. Of course, the economics change downstream, where risk management is outweighed by budget constraints. But if you’re a larger company, why not spend the extra money getting customization straight from the vendor or from a vendor-approved partner?
I don’t necessarily agree with this dynamic, because I am an enthusiastic user of open source who loves the idea of disintermediation, but I do think that it exists, and it is the reason behind very slow enterprise adoption of customer-to-customer, Web 2.0, or any other flavor of the DIY Web. I’d welcome a debate on this topic, especially now that SAP is making noises about exposing its underlying SOA to community-designed custom mini-apps and interfaces. Leave your comments here or email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
SAP announced today that it has admitted Business Objects CEO John Schwarz to the Executive Board, effective March 1, 2008. SAP has also created a new business branch, SAP Business Objects, for Schwarz to lead.
Before his tenure at Business Objects, Schwarz was President and Chief Operating Officer of Symantec Corporation, where he played an integral role in the Symantec and VERITAS merger. Prior to Symantec, Schwarz spent 25 years with IBM in several development, manufacturing, sales and marketing positions.
This event raises the number of SAP Executive Board members to seven, and the number of non-German members to one. Due to this fact, the panel is reminiscent of Shai Agassi’s time with SAP… and if Schwarz does for SAP what Agassi did in his time, we should see leaps of innovation and also keynotes free of sleeping spectators.
Resident SAP Careers Expert Jon Reed wants to know how I think SAP has changed since the late 1990s, when I began to cover the company. This is my attempt at a brief but hopefully meaningful answer isolating three key areas that I find important.
ERP Direction: Staying the Course
I remember how much pressure there was on SAP, from at least 1998 to early 2003, to change its DNA. In the early part of that period, a lot of people — including analysts, investors, and journalists — pressured SAP to make an accommodation for the e-marketplace model that was so hot at the time. Then, after 2000, SAP was increasingly browbeaten to put greater emphasis on CRM. SAP didn’t really listen. Sure, there were bones tossed to the crowd — remember SAPMarkets? — but on the whole, the company went forward on the strength of its own ERP suite-based convictions, not the voice of the multitude, which at one point considered both ERP and suites passé.
Not listening earned SAP a reputation for being stubborn and maladaptive. In retrospect, however, the company was justified in not betting the farm on marketplaces. As for CRM, SAP refused to hurry the decision to enter the domain. The jury’s still out on whether delaying the move into CRM was the right move — I for one believe that, if SAP was willing to buy a portals company like TopTier, it should also have been willing to invest in a leading CRM company — but it’s by no means an easy call.
The bottom line is that SAP did not succumb to the exhilarating atmosphere of the dot-com era; it remained unchanged in this important respect, at a time during which it could easily have gone in another direction.
More Globalization: The World Outside Walldorf
SAP started to get heavily involved in India towards the end of the 1990s, and since has demonstrated a deepening commitment to that country [editor’s note: I am working on an upcoming “SAP in India” feature that will explore this history and examine the future prospects for SAP in the Subcontinent]. India is now teeming with SAP developers, process experts, and customers. SAP engineers in India are responsible for much of the work on core SAP products that are used all over the world, representing a globalization of SAP’s German roots that began during the late 1990s and continues today.
In addition to India, SAP Labs sprung up all over the world. Israel, for example, became an important development center and was also the home of Shai Agassi, the CEO of portals company TopTier, which SAP acquired in 2001. Shai was a quiet but confident leader who came close to becoming SAP’s CEO in 2007. Had that happened, I think SAP would have altered perceptions that it is not so much global as German. But in any case, all the globalization that has taken place after the late 1990s has already moved SAP into closer contact with the world outside Walldorf.
CRM: A Taste of Things to Come?
I think that SAP moving into CRM is more important for what it might say about the future of SAP than for the CRM marketplace itself. That’s because, for the last couple of years, CRM has been the site of a great deal of e-business experimentation, collaboration, and user-generated functionality. B2B CRM is getting very close to consumer-flavored Web 2.0, and Web 2.0 is the last thing that comes to my mind when I think about SAP. So I feel that, by entering CRM, SAP is at least conceptually associating itself with the wild and woolly world of Web 2.0. I would never have imagined that SAP would even be adjacent to Web 2.0, and I am dying of curiosity to learn whether, through some back door, Web 2.0 will actually wend its way into the SAP vision. If it takes place, that would be one of the most momentous changes in SAP’s history!