Monday, October 20, 2008

A View on the State of the SAP Freelancers Market

Later this month, PAC will be releasing a brand new report entitled “The Worldwide SAP Skills Market.” In this post, I wanted to give my view on the state of the SAP freelancer, which in many ways will show market weakness well before IT services suppliers. While some of these themes may be included when the final report is issued, loyal “Feeding the SAP Ecosystem” readers will get a sneak preview into a few highlights from my findings in this blog entry.

I have been analyzing the SAP freelancing market in the United States since 1995. But the economic shifts we are all enduring have called into question all market assumptions, whether it be about freelancers or the largest SAP customers or even SAP itself. So I began my research with a number of fresh inquiries to determine how freelancers were faring in this uncertain marketplace.

Here’s a few key things I learned:
- Even in today’s unpredictable economy, senior SAP freelancers who combine deep SAP project experience with ERP 6.0/NetWeaver skills exposure are still in demand.
- Those consultants who are “junior” level in experience (less than three years) are having a difficult time finding new projects - unless they have special experience in an ERP 6.0 capability.
- Consultants who are rolling off projects on older versions of SAP (4.6c) are having trouble finding new engagements.
- Aspiring SAP consultants who do not have project experience but who may be certified in SAP are having a very difficult time finding a project opportunity.

These seem to be fairly straightforward conclusions. So what are the market forces that created this circumstance?
First, there are fewer new SAP projects being green-lighted. This is putting a damper on the overall demand for SAP talent. The result is less “trickle down” opportunities for junior consultants.
Second, the need for freelancers is currently coming from existing SAP projects who need a subject matter expert to proceed with a key project that is already underway. Some projects are indeed continuing, perhaps because the funding is from a budget that has already been allocated, or the industry in question is less impacted by the downturn. This type of consulting need often comes from more mature SAP shops that have plenty of employees with solid SAP skills, but who lack the bells and whistles of newer NetWeaver and ERP 6.0 experience. This is driving the continuing need for senior SAP freelancing talent, which I often call the “SAP Subject Matter Expert.”

You’ll also notice when I mentioned skills in demand that I didn’t mention Enterprise SOA, and there’s no mention of NetWeaver BPM or Business Process Expert skills either. That’s because we can expect a temporary slowdown in actual project ramp-ups involving these emerging skills and technologies.

Of course, the tricky thing for the SAP freelancer is that holding off on innovation can backfire. Just because companies are in a cautious mood does not mean that SAP freelancers themselves should be cautious. I tell freelancers that in times like these, you need to balance ruthless practicality with a visionary approach. Be ruthless about acquiring the skills that SAP projects need now, but be visionary enough to realize that the business drivers that dictated a need for a BPM-driven strategy are not going away.

Momentum for eSOA is going to pick up again, and companies are going to need freelancers with those skills. SAP services firms who are smart enough to provide their consultants with both practical SAP upgrade experience and business process training are going to be the big winners when SAP consulting activity kicks into higher gear again. Firms that focus only on meeting present day SAP needs are going to miss the bus when eSOA-related activity picks up again.

In the meantime, I am always telling SAP freelancers to move to the edges of the enterprise, in “value added” roles that allow companies to better serve their customers and suppliers. That’s one piece of advice that all of us in the SAP services market can adhere to, and it will pay off, in good times and in these times.