User group targets SAP's talent shortage

ASUG's database is meant to help members find the right outsourcer at a time when SAP is experiencing a talent shortage it says is in the tens of thousands

The Americas SAP Users Group (ASUG) is launching a subscription reviews database, ASUG EDGE, that is meant to help members find the right outsourcer at a time when SAP is experiencing a talent shortage even company officials place in the tens of thousands.

"It's very difficult to find qualified, skilled talent. It's such a wide set of software packages, so as you deal with software consultants, you don't always get a completely straight picture of what they've been successful at," said Craig Lathrop, ASUG's chief information officer.

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The primary areas of pain lie in newer SAP technologies, such as NetWeaver, according to Steve Strout, ASUG's CEO.

"Most of the biggest [system integrators] and smaller consulting companies have good resources in the traditional enterprise suites," he said.

ASUG is charging for the information. Members must pay US$995 a year, compared to $1,495 for non-members.

The site has been in beta for six months, and it will launch with about 400 reviews, according to ASUG.

"We're wanting the most accurate and usable comments, not just negatives," Strout said.

David Foote, an analyst who tracks the SAP jobs market, said the review database doesn't solve the core problem for SAP, which is getting more skilled workers in play quickly.

Should high-profile implementation failures begin to dog SAP in coming years, they will be the result of the jobs shortage, predicted Foote, CEO and chief research officer of Foote Partners.

"If there are large collapses on SAP systems there will be a diagnosis made by the media and others, and it's probably not going to be the technology [at fault]. It's probably going to be issues of project skills and executions," he said.

Joe Westhuizen, vice president of business development at SAP, said the company first assessed its skills shortage 12 to 18 months ago and concluded it was short about 50,000 specialists worldwide.

Due to upticks in hiring by its partners, better marketing and other efforts, that number has now dropped to the 30,000 range, according to Westhuizen.

"We've definitely got the right initiatives in place, but we still have a lot of work to do," he said.

SAP arrived at the lower number by analyzing a range of data points, such as new growth in SAP certifications; traffic to key educational sites; the number of new graduates with SAP skills; and pricing rates for professionals.

ASUG's site focuses on North American consultants. SAP has seen its skills base grow more quickly in emerging markets like Brazil and China, according to Westhuizen, but he asserted that "the U.S. is in pretty good shape overall."

Asked how SAP managed to let the skill shortage rise so high before responding, Westhuizen said many quarters of double-digit growth and the wave of retiring baby boomers proved to be a combustible mix. "Those have come together to create an opportunity but also a challenge."

Foote, however, said SAP knew what it was doing as it rolled out a series of new products in recent years.

"When you're a successful company, you're not going to let the steam engine stop rolling unless you know there's no track ahead," he said. "Vendors don't think nor do they want to think what the barriers would be for customers. If [customers] are willing to buy, [vendors] sell and then let their channel partners deal with it as best as possible."

One SAP consultant and partner said some skills areas are tighter than others, but there is no drastic overall shortage if you know where to look.

"We have over 40,000 consultants in our database," said Michael Bovaird, president of Sophlogic, a Bradenton, Florida integrator that has its own team and also works with independent SAP consultants. "The tool allows us to be very granular in finding the right people [for clients]."

Meanwhile, a major SAP customer said enterprises have a certain responsibility for their own fate.

"The key to this, just like any other sort of project, is doing the fundamentals in project planning," said Doug Tracy, executive vice president of IT, Rolls-Royce North America and global chief technology officer, Rolls-Royce.

The company has a long-standing contract with the major integrator EDS, and is now studying the ramifications of an ERP (enterprise resource planning) upgrade within the next 18 to 24 months. It has 38,800 employees around the world.

"You've got to do your resource forecast well in advance," Tracy said. "EDS or anybody else can't have good people available at the drop of a hat. They have to go through their own process."

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