The company's success means demand for talent is outpacing supply.

By Sonia Lelii | June 2008
Dice News Staff

If you've spent the last several years beefing up your SAP business software experience, chances are you're in demand.

As companies become more global and look to the German-based firm to build out their business processes, they're increasingly challenged to retain skilled SAP experts, according to Gard Little, program manager for researcher IDC's Worldwide Services/Global Services Markets and Trends. Another researcher, Vero Beach, Fla.-based Foote Partners, also noted a severe SAP labor shortage within the U.S. and Canada in its quarterly IT Skills and Certifications Pay Index.

Largely, the shortage has been brought on by SAP's own success, says David Foote, co-founder and chief research officer for Foote Partners. Once primarily an ERP shop, SAP has evolved its product base to include about 40 specialized application modules. Today, the firm has 49,000 customers spread across 120 countries. In addition SAP has made a strong push into the market for small to medium-size businesses, and released a slew of new products, including an update to its Customer Relations Management (CRM) solutions and a shift to a new NetWeaver platform.

"SAP took on a tough skills challenge when it penetrated into the (small and medium-sized business) space," says Foote, who's been benchmarking SAP jobs since 1999. "They moved down-market and created a skills gap. That segment has different staffing behavior than large companies."

As a result, qualified IT professionals can take advantage of a range of opportunities.

Brian Green, executive director of IT staffing at Lloyd IT, a division of Lloyd Staffing in Melville, N.Y., says the majority of SAP experts are typically consultants who work on a company site for the one or two years it takes to perform an implementation, then move on to their next project. "The problem is when you do a hand-off at a 500-person company, it's very hard to find a SAP expert," explains Green. "We work on a number of SAP positions, and it's a difficult challenge."

Narrow is Better

IT professionals considering a career in SAP should focus on specializing in a narrow area, Foote believes. The company has been compartmentalizing its products as part of its communities, which focus on areas such as human resources, finance, manufacturing, enterprise Service Oriented Architecture (SOA), Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), CRM and Product LifeCycle Management (PLM). Master Data Management (MDM) is one of the fastest growing process areas. Where several years ago SAP largely focused on ERP, today SAP has made a rapid expansion into other business processes, which has contributed to the lag of available talent.

"Now, you need to go narrow," says Foote. "It's against conventional wisdom because generalists tend to do well in a recession. But in this recession, if you want to focus on SAP, choose a functional area or tool set and get deep into that. As you get more specific experience, the more in-demand you are."

SAP IT workers typically require mature experience. At minimum, a product manager requires six years' worth, while a mid- to senior-level administrator needs three to five. A mid- to senior-level developer needs four to six years, as well as SAP module experience or functional business specialization.

Joe Westhuizen, a vice president of business development at SAP, says the company is working on expanding its labor ecosystem by following four main paths: marketing, education, partner engagement and the SAP University Alliance Program. SAP invests $545 million annually in the University Alliance Program, which gives 850 universities worldwide access to SAP systems so students can get hands-on experience.

In September 2007, SAP also revamped its certification program to make it less linear and include more certification levels. Since then, the company's seen a 38 percent increase in the number of certifications IT workers have earned. "We see the certification program as key to expanding our ecosystem," says Westhuizen. "It's difficult for us to find the right people. This means we are fighting for our fair share of IT workers."

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