The “need” for industry-specific SAP configuration experience is probably one of the most over-rated ideas in the SAP consulting field.
The most successful SAP implementations require integration of the business requirements with application functionality. To do this well requires three separate domains of expertise–, industry expertise, application expertise and consulting skills. One of those domains — consulting skills — requires a skill with change management, communication, process engineering, people skills, and other factors.
The need for industry specific SAP consulting is often oversold
In a single domain of expertise, rather than 3 separate domains (industry, SAP application, and consulting), research indicates it takes at least 10 years to achieve “expert performance” levels. For more background on the expertise required see Successful SAP Project Team Composition – Technicians or Experts? where this extract was taken from:
“[E]ven the most ‘talented’ need 10 years or more of intense involvement before they reach a level where they can consistently demonstrate superior performance in international adult competitions in sports, sciences and the arts… Even in cases of famous legends, such as prodigies like Bobby Fischer, the required time to reach grandmaster status was still around nine years, and it took another two decades before Fischer played for the world championship. In many domains of expertise, most elite individuals take considerably longer than 10 years of intensive practice to win international competitions consistently. Further, outstanding scientists and authors normally publish their first work at around age 25 after an extended preparation, and their best work takes an additional 10 years…[E]ngaging in particular practice activities produces dramatically elevated levels of performance over an extended period of time.” (Ericsson, K., et. al. 2007, ppg. 16, 17)
Just how talented is someone who has to understand an industry AND the SAP software AND solid consulting skills? Put this in context of Chess Master Bobby Fisher’s game. The Chess set has a board with 64 squares and each person plays with 16 pieces (32 pieces total). SAP software settings combined with master data options provides more possibilities than that for a single stage of a business process chain with multiple stages. Is an “industry specific” consultant with 3 or 4 years, and possibly 2 or 3 SAP implementations going to make much of a difference for your business?
Then there are the critical consulting skills necessary for a successful project, see Expert SAP Consulting to Reduce SAP TCO and Improve SAP ROI. These skills can take several years and several SAP projects to gain competence with as well. Long before I started doing SAP consulting I had numerous corporate training and education courses on managing conflict, facilitation, project planning, negotiation, communication, managing people, organizational change, etc. Along with this training I had several years to put this training into practice before ever being exposed to SAP. The expectation that you are going to see significant business-centered results from a “consultant” with a few years of SAP experience is optimistic at best but disastrous in practice.
As an SAP software customer what can you do to ensure the greatest possibility of success? Focus on bringing in those with deep SAP business software experience and strong consulting skills. That should be the key focus of your search for a consultant or for a system integrator.
Where does the industry experience come from then?
Integration of Industry and Business Experience in the SAP Software
Industry experience comes from you as a customer. That is why it is so important to bring the best you can from the ranks of your business to the SAP project. These are usually the people in departments or organizations that are depended on or have the answers for the difficult issues that arise.
The key to success in your SAP project is to combine your business and industry experience with the most seasoned SAP consultants you can budget for.
Those within your own company know that is usually takes 8-10 years to really start to know the industry. Often it may take 15-20 years or more to become skilled within a particular industry. You need industry expertise from within your own company when you are trying to decide on strategic corporate direction, plan for the future, or determine new marketing and sales opportunities.
An SAP consultant with many years of SAP configuration can successfully translate your business requirements into more of the standard application functionality. What I have personally discovered is my broad industry and solution exposure in SAP has provided me insight into new ways to solve nagging industry problems in unrelated industries.
The Ivey Business Journal recently offered a great, insightful post about gaining value from consultants noting:
Clearly, a key ingredient in enabling a consultant to meet or exceed expectations is to avoid diluting value-adding expertise with the consulting firm’s unskilled or inexperienced resources. Consulting firms are too quick to dismiss the capabilities of client personnel, when in fact such personnel can orient the consultants, navigate political minefields, get to the data more quickly (as they understand the company and the industry), and facilitate the buy-in process. Companies must demonstrate leadership not by simply accepting a consulting firm’s proposal, but by applying their own considered perspective as to the best approach for embedding maximum, value-adding expertise in the project, while cost-effectively filling non-expert roles with resources from other sources…
Assessing whether a consulting firm can deliver the necessary expertise can be difficult if the company itself does not already have the particular expertise. Consultant credentials and resumes are carefully crafted to make the consultant appear to be the perfect fit for the role called for in the proposal. But just because assessing consultants’ capabilities can be challenging, companies should not simply take refuge in a favorite or familiar brand. Rather they need to invest the time to verify that the proposed team can deliver.
Many of the larger consulting firms recruit smart graduates directly form college. How much business experience do these smart grads have? How much practical work experience do they have? What do they have to draw upon? The extent of their industry experience usually consists of the 1, 2, or 3 SAP projects they participated in.
To gain real value from your SAP implementation project hire the best possible SAP consultants you can find and bring the strongest employees you have to the project. Set the expectation that the consultants are supposed to help the employees learn the software setup, and that the employees are to be relied upon for key business direction. Let the employees know that they have been empowered to make the key decisions. After this have weekly meetings with your internal employees to talk about lessons learned on dealing with consultants and how to ensure the company gets what they need from the SAP vendor.
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