3.1 Types of Jobs
Within the SAP Ecosystem there are generally two kinds of roles: functional and technical. As you start out, you’ll need to choose an area to focus on in order to move your career forward.
3.1.1 SAP Functional
An SAP functional person is just what it sounds like: someone who understands the business functions of SAP software. This is sometimes referred to as someone with applications expertise. These folks understand, for example, the business flow of order to cash and procure to pay, as well as the SAP documents that support that flow. Because SAP is a mile wide and a mile deep, an SAP functional person usually focuses on one SAP module, also known as a functional area. Examples of SAP modules are Sales and Distribution (SD), Materials Management (MM), Finance (FI), and Production Planning (PP). You’ll also hear these business functions described as acronyms for their flows. For example, SD aligns with OTC (Order to Cash) process flow and P2P (Procure to Pay) aligns with MM. There are also many other areas and functions in SAP that have grown out of these core modules and are closely related to them. For example, SD and CRM (Customer Relationship Management) go together in terms of process, solution, and skill set because they are both customer oriented. Likewise, MM and APO (Advance Planning and Optimization) are both focused on optimizing the supply chain. In fact, many of the three-letter acronym solutions are extensions of their core brethren. For example, SD has many CRM functionalities built into it, such as order management, pricing, and quotations. However, SD doesn’t have other CRM functionality such as opportunity management and sales force automation (SFA), so CRM was introduced as an extension of the core functionality of SD.
A further dimension of the functional world is industry, both in the sense of industry-specific knowledge and as different flavors of SAP software called “Industry Specific Solutions (IS).” In addition to the core SAP software (often called ECC, short for enterprise core component), there are a number of Industry Solutions (IS) that comprise different versions of the software. For example, there is IS-U for utilities, IS-AFS for apparel and footwear, and IS-M for media companies. Functional people with specific expertise in these industry solutions are sometimes in short supply, allowing them to command premium rates. But as with any niche skill, there are fewer companies that have these versions, so the market is smaller than with the generic versions of SAP software.
3.1.2 SAP Technical
SAP technical resources fall into two camps. The first is development, which means programming, usually using ABAP, SAP’s core programming language. There are some web-focused areas where Java can be used, but the bread-and-butter programming language of the SAP world is ABAP.
The second technical camp is system administration also called “basis.” The folks who work in this camp install the SAP software, monitor the systems, create new clients, and handle performance tuning, among a whole host of other activities.
There is also the area of security and authorizations, which is its own specialty within basis. This area is concerned with user authorizations, the creation of roles, profiles, and security. Security folks are usually specialized and focus solely on security. This is a quasi-technical area, though you don’t necessarily need to have a technical background to enter it.
3.1.3 SAP Roles
End User—An end user is someone who uses SAP software on a regular basis as part of their day-to-day job at a company running SAP. This can be a customer service rep entering sales orders, a finance person making journal entries, or an operations person confirming production orders. These people use SAP software as it has been configured and implemented for their company to (hopefully) efficiently and accurately do what they need to do to keep their company running. As with any of these roles, the skill level of individual end users can vary quite a bit, with some simply entering very basic information into screens while others interact with the software and use it intelligently to optimize processes. For example, some CSRs (customer service reps) may simply take a sales order, enter the customer, products, and quantities, and save, whereas others might dig into the ATP (available to promise) details and optimize when and where the customer’s products are coming from.
An end user position is an excellent way to gain a foothold in the SAP world because it gets you experience working with SAP software and, more importantly, gets SAP experience on your resume. On the many SAP projects I have worked on, I have never failed to be amazed by the people who invariably complain about how awful it is that they have to learn this new “SAP software” when everything was fine and dandy with their old homegrown system. They sometimes have to be dragged kicking and screaming to learn this new and highly transferable skill set. They don’t seem to understand that in learning SAP, they gain a skill that is valued by hundreds of thousands of other companies. Change is often hard.
Super User—A super user is an end user who has dove in and learned more than the bare minimum they need to do their daily job. This is someone who one way or another has become the go-to person in their department for others who have questions about or issues with using SAP. They may be officially recognized a super user in their company’s support structure or they may just unofficially be the person people know to ask when they’re having an issue. They are the next step up in the value chain of human knowledge capital (to throw in a few overused terms of business speak).
The compensation of end users and super users typically has much more to do with their business function and experience than with their SAP knowledge. The important thing for you to know is that these are excellent first steps toward getting the experience necessary to move into the SAP world.
SAP Business Analyst—An SAP business analyst serves as an internal consultant to a company. They are expected to have detailed system knowledge and functional expertise in order to support current processes (Production Support) and participate in new deployments of functionality or business units. The business analyst is expected to have both a basic knowledge of business processes and configuration skills in order to customize SAP to meet the needs of the business (i.e., requirements). In order to get hired, a business analyst typically needs to have existing expertise in a certain SAP module. A business analyst will need to have at least a couple of years of SAP experience in order to get the job. We’ll talk more about what kind of experience a hiring manager looks for in this role, but you can’t be totally green and expect to be hired. Salaries for SAP business analysts typically range from $60,000 to $150,000 a year, depending on the company, location, and candidate’s experience. More salary info can be found in the appendix and here: http://www.glassdoor.com/Salaries/sap-business-analyst-salary-SRCH_KO0,20.htm
Consultants—These are the folks that (theoretically, at least) have expert level knowledge of SAP software and the know-how to help companies implement SAP successfully. As with anything else, there is a wide range of skill levels in the consulting realm, from the very green (i.e., just off the school bus) to the very senior (twenty years+) expert level. There is also a wide variety of companies that consultants work for, including “Big 4” consulting firms such as Accenture, SAP’s own professional services, Indian companies like Wipro and L&T, small boutique firms, and independent contractors. Consulting firms can be a great way to start your SAP career because they often provide ongoing training, access to early software releases, and a network of skilled colleagues to learn from. But it can be hard to get your foot in the door without SAP experience, and they usually expect full-time travel from their employees. But the pay is good and the variety of project experience can keep things interesting.
4 Planning an SAP Career
One of the first things you’ll need to decide is where you want to play in this SAP universe. To make an informed decision you should consider your background as well as what you want to do. You need to consider the SAP market, which businesses are willing to pay for a given skill set, and your own interests. There’s no sense in preparing yourself for an area that has very little demand, nor is there much sense in pushing yourself into an area you dislike.
If you are new to SAP, the good news is that you are a clean slate. You can decide where you want to go and what to focus on. The bad news is that no one is going to hire you. This is one of the conundrums the SAP world shares with many other careers. No one wants to hire someone without experience, but you can’t get experience until you are hired. Don’t despair, though, because there are ways around this, and everyone working in SAP today has faced and overcome similar challenges. We all have to start somewhere.
If you are new to SAP, you should first take a look at your experience. If you’ve never had any kind of job before, you first need to get yourself ANY kind of job. Someone with no work experience raises a red flag for any hiring manager. Most businesses are not going to throw someone totally green into an SAP role. SAP is a mission-critical application, and before handing over the keys to the car they are going to want to know that you have at least driven before.
If you are fresh out of college with a computer science degree, you may need to get yourself a programming job using a different language before you can land one doing ABAP, not because ABAP is more complex (it’s not), but rather because most companies are risk averse and taking a chance on a totally green candidate is more of an exception than the norm.
Assuming you have some kind of work experience and educational background, think about how you can market yourself. Getting a job is all about marketing and selling yourself; you need to convince people that you can do the job, that you are not an unpleasant person, and that a company is not going to look like a fool for hiring you. Do you have programming experience or training? That’s a natural fit to sell yourself into a technical role. ABAP has similar syntax to COBOL, and someone who knows how to code in another language can pick it up at a basic level pretty quickly. Do you have business process experience? Maybe you worked as a customer service representative. You understand the concept of a sales order header and line items (God knows I didn’t when I started out). Maybe you worked in a warehouse and understand the concepts of storing products and bins, packing, and receiving. That’s a start on the road to becoming a functional analyst. Maybe you don’t have any of these experiences, but you can get them. Regardless, we need to get something on your resume that shows experience. We’ll devise a specific plan for this later.
Your calling card is your resume (or CV). Your resume needs to convince people that they should make a small investment of their time in talking to you. SAP is a competitive market, and every open position is likely to have many applicants. The hiring process often starts with a weeding out of resumes; one in which a hundred resumes may be received and only ten deemed worthy of reply. This isn’t always the case (sometimes speed of response plays a critical role), but without a decent resume you are dead in the water.
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