In this podcast, Jon Reed of JonERP.com interviews Elke Simon-Keller, Director ERP Solution Management for SAP, and Nathan Genez, Managing Partner of Serio Consulting, about the recent launch of the ERP@BPX community. Jon also gets Nathan's insights on how to use ERP@BPX to enhance your SAP career.
During this twenty-two minute podcast, ERP@BPX founder Elke Simon-Keller starts by explaining the origins of ERP@BPX and the goal to have ERP@BPX serve as a truly interactive community, not just a knowledge base.
In the middle section of the podcast, frequent BPX contributor Nathan Genez talks about how he has used the BPX site in general, and ERP@BPX in particular, to enhance his consulting career. Nathan also stresses the importance of building on core ERP know-how in the midst of a "back to basics" economic climate.
The final section of the podcast includes Elke's responses to Nathan's suggestions on how ERP@BPX can grow further, as well as some glimpses into what's next for ERP@BPX.
Jon Reed: Hi, welcome to this special SAP BPX community podcast. I’m your host, Jon Reed, of JonERP.com and joining me today is Elke Simon-Keller, director of ERP Solution Management at SAP. We’re also joined by Nathan Genez, Managing Partner of Serio Consulting. We’re here to talk about the ERP@BPX community and how the resources on BPX can increase the effectiveness of SAP consultants. Elke and Nathan, welcome to the podcast.
Elke, let’s start with you. For those who haven’t met Elke, Elke has worked as an SAP Travel Management Consultant for SAP America for five years before moving to Shanghai, China. Since then, she’s been managing the ERP Solution Management team in China, responsible for ERP rollout and market development across Asia, Pacific and Japan. In the beginning of 2008, she began to launch different wikis and discussion forums and she recently founded ERP@BPX as part of the SAP Community Network. So, Elke, can you tell us more about the origins of the ERP@BPX community - how it came about and how it can help SAP BPX members?
Elke Simon-Keller: The Enterprise Resource Planning Community is fairly new to the SAP Community Network and it’s basically a web space for everybody involved with ERP to learn about the latest developments. It’s a space to come together and to exchange knowledge. The space is really run by the ERP community itself, which are both SAP employees and external SAP professionals. They are devoted contributors who are quite competent – experts actually, in their respective fields. We are trying to leverage the Web 2.0 technology; we are trying to communicate and interact with each other as opposed to just having a one way communication channel. It’s more than a publishing platform. We really would like to see people interact with each other.
We do have articles and white papers published, but the weblogs are actually those which enable commenting and direct communication with the author. We do have videos, e-learning and webinars. We also have wikis out there, which are nothing less than our own SAP wikipedia for the community to share and gather their knowledge. We do find these wikis to be the best tools for keeping the knowledge up to date by involving the community at the same time. Those are all great ways to engage with the community for anyone out there who feels like being a part of the ERP community.
ERP@BPX, as I mentioned, has only been live for a few months, and we have established the main pillars of the page which you can call the front page. It’s an overview of all the new and exciting contributions which are in SAP Community Network about ERP. Then we have our key topics, which include financial excellence, best people and talent or human capital management, order to cash, operational excellence. We have stuff about SAP enhancement packages for SAP ERP, upgrade to SAP ERP, market trends in ERP, and also product enablement calendars, which are free for anybody to join.
We also have a section for ERP best practices and a guide for people on how to best get started with ERP. It has really become the virtual home for everyone that is working with ERP, and it’s a great resource to learn and to get in touch with the experts directly.
Reed: So, Elke, how would you suggest a current BPX member get started in the ERP@BPX area?
Simon-Keller: Well, there are actually a few ways to get started and to dip into the community. First of all, the best thing is to go out there and update your blogger profile and, with this, you can start it right away and start your own blog. Then you can dig into existing blogs that are out there, and communicate with the authors directly. Then, by browsing the discussion thread, you will find useful tips and tricks on customizing or best practices, so feel free to jump into these discussions if you feel you have something to share related to the asked topic. In addition, you may also just start your own thread as part of the discussion. Those are actually the best ways to really get engaged with the community.
Reed: Thanks, Elke. We’ll follow up with you again towards the end of this podcast.
Nathan, I’d like to turn the focus on you now. For those who haven’t met Nathan, he’s worked throughout the FI/CO areas of SAP since about ’96 and with BW since 2000. He’s currently a Managing Partner at Serio Consulting; Serio specializes in the capital management areas of SAP across project systems and investment management and asset accounting. Prior to co-founding Serio Consulting, Nathan was a platinum consultant at SAP America, and I would add that Nathan is a prolific participant on the BPX Community and he’s definitely made my own blogs more lively with his strong opinions and thoughtful comments.
So, Nathan, welcome and tell us a bit about Serio Consulting and your role in the SAP market.
Nathan Genez: Well, we’re definitely a niche SAP consulting practice. We’re dedicated to all forms of capital management. We really help customers handle how they track capital acquisitions, capital budgeting, and their ongoing monitoring of their capital records. We can do that both from the ERP site as well as at the BW, so we’re a niche practice, but primarily we’re all formerly with SAP. My partners are all former platinum consultants, so we’re at the same time a very senior practice at that.
Reed: You’ve been a very active member within the BPX community, and I’m curious how this community has impacted your project work and your own pursuit of SAP knowledge.
Genez: Well, in terms of knowledge, the most important thing you’ve got to focus on is your connections – your colleagues, your network – and to that degree it’s been helpful. I’ve definitely made some new connections since interacting with that area of SDN. I really consider my network to be important and vital to my personal success, if only because there’s just no way I can possibly learn everything within SAP: it’s just such a deep, deep application.
Anytime I have the chance to seek somebody else out there that’s clearly a high caliber resource and they know their stuff in their area, I’m going to go out of my way to meet them. After a couple of my blogs or just various discussion threads, I’ve definitely had some offline conversations with people such as that, and that’s been helpful. Those are people that can help me on my next assignment because I just can’t do it all.
Then in terms of other SAP know-how, obviously SAP consulting is a very knowledge-based career and it’s a very knowledge-based role, so anytime you have a chance to pick up some new information, that’s a real valuable asset. In that regard, the ERP at BPX site has had some good material. I know Thomas Weiss had a really good and pretty lengthy series of blogs on enhancement packs and the switch framework, which is a new approach kind of similar to SAP support pack stacks that they came out with just a few years ago when NetWeaver 7.0 came out.
If you really want to get to be a true expert in your field, you can focus on your isolated area of expertise, but eventually customers just seem to keep coming to you with questions all over the place. If they really trust you and find you to be a credible resource, then next thing you know, they’ll come to you with questions on these topics. You just can’t volley them away and say well, that’s a Basis issue or it’s a Security issue; you’ve really got to have at least some awareness and knowledge of where some of these lines are drawn. So, in that regard, being able to pick up some of that information has been pretty helpful.
Reed: Nathan, when we were planning this podcast, you referred to something that really interested me which was the difference between a contractor and a consultant. I found that interesting because I tend to use the terms interchangeably. How do you see the difference and how does an SAP contractor become a consultant?
Genez: Well, in my mind, this is kind of a passionate topic because, to me, there is a big difference. First, you’ve got to define what these two terms are. I think the word “consultant” is just vastly overused, not just in the SAP market, but really in any form of professional services. The person who might be working in your yard is now a “landscape consultant” and somebody who plans weddings is a “wedding consultant.” So it seems to be this natural upcharge or way to justify rates.
I’m really not sure what it is, but I don’t think that “consultant” means the same thing today that it meant 20 or 30 years ago. Back then, you had to be a true expert: you had to have a deep, expert-level knowledge about your area – it could be engineering or accounting or medicine or, in our case, IT, the SAP arena. I think we really need to remind ourselves of the reality of that situation. In today’s market, particularly in the IT market and in SAP in particular, being a consultant doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ve achieved that level of expertise.
So, more so in the past years, SAP customers seem content to be contracting out large parts of their SAP responsibilities to contractors. Those people still have a key role in the SAP ecosystem and they are, a lot of times, responsible for a lot of the run-and-maintain responsibilities of the applications, which is certainly important, but it’s not necessarily the same role that customers are coming to and they’re asking advice for how to adopt an eSOA strategy, how to upgrade to NetWeaver 7.0, what they should bite off, what they should not bite off.
That kind of strategic advice for planning, the proper roadmap, getting requirements to develop an appropriate solution – those are completely different skillsets. Then the ability to actually articulate that as a strategy or plan that the customer can follow and develop real solutions, those skills are different, so it’s a key point.
In terms of the significance of it, I think it becomes obvious in that if you’re a contractor versus a true consultant, you don’t quite have the responsibility, you don’t have the visibility, the voice, the role; the customer is not going to rely on you as much. In a knowledge-based industry, everything actually gets tied to your knowledge. He who knows the most has the higher rate, the greater job security, more choice of projects, greater variation in their work, they have more challenges. It’s all tied to that, so people need to keep that in mind when they’re talking about those two terms.
If you are a contractor and you want to be a true consultant, the first thing you’ve got to do is bite off that knowledge. You’ve got to climb your way up the SAP knowledge curve, which is really kind of a mountain because it doesn’t matter how well you articulate your answers or what your place is there on that particular project if they don’t really trust that you know your area. Whether it’s SD or Basis or Security, you’ll just never get to that place where you’ll have the bigger role, the bigger visibility with the project. You’ve really got to focus first on being a knowledge expert. That’s hopefully where communities like BPX and ERP at BPX can help out.
Reed: Based on your description, I definitely want to be a consultant, not a contractor, and it sounds like some of these online resources can help with that. As you’re getting more involved with the ERP at BPX community, what do you see as the potential of the community and what do the participants, as well as SAP, need to do to reach this potential?
Genez: I think in terms of potential, it’s really quite large because, in spite of some of the newness of some of the other SAP applications, the cornerstone of the company has always been ERP. Really, the closer you can get to the transactional system where these business processes are occurring, the closer you’re going to get to being that business process expert. I think it’s a natural alignment of saying we have business process experts, but we also want to focus on ERP being the flagship transactional system that SAP has.
I also think that there’s just no doubt that the dominant trend, at least here in the U.S., has to do with the economy, and everybody is curious how the fourth quarter is going to play out and what SAP software sales are going to pan out to be – what they’re going to report. If it does go down at all, history has shown us that customers are not going to go out and adopt something that might be more obtuse, say an eSOA strategy; they’re going to focus on their bread and butter, and those are the items that are as close to the business processes as they can get.
That’s stuff like voice verification, it’s GRIR, it’s intercompany reconciliation, it’s other functionalities that they’ve already purchased and they just haven’t implemented them yet because it is such a deep application. All of that is in ERP: it’s in that dominant application that’s really been the cornerstone for the company’s success. I think in terms of potential, that’s just a lot of attention and market for the ERP at BPX to tap into.
But to get there, as with any other knowledge-based industry, they’ve got to show some support of that. And when it is knowledge, knowledge becomes currency. If they really want to invest in this per se, then they’ve really got to get the people that are part of their knowledge constituency: their development team, their solution management team, product management and even SAP consulting. There are platinum consultants that have seen a dozen different interpretations of intercompany reconciliation in a given year, and they know what the best way to do it is. They need to get them involved in that.
As an example, when BI came out – 7.0 came out a couple years ago – during the ramp-up the regional implementation groups, the development RIGs, were heavily involved. The product management teams were all heavily blogged, and if you search on any of those guys’ names, you’ll get a lot of blogs out there and a lot of threads that they’ve responded to. But in this area, it’s a little bit light: outside of the blog series I mentioned earlier from Thomas Weiss, there’s not as many pragmatic experts that seem to be really invested into it. I know that they’re out there, I know that they are probably willing to, but I don’t know what they’re waiting for to get involved.
Maybe they need something more official from SAP, but I think if they really invest in that, they’ll get more attention than they can handle. SDN is really taking off, and given the prominence of ERP and no matter what we talk about – Portals or eSOA – SAP customers are running ERP. If they can focus on that, they’ll just get more attention than they need.
Reed: Hopefully this podcast is a good next step in building that momentum. While preparing for the podcast, you used the phrase “your network knows more than you do.” What do you mean by that, and how does BPX factor into this?
Genez: Like I talked about earlier, about meeting other resources and how valuable they are: no one person, no matter how experienced he is in his area, if you had to aggregate his knowledge versus two or three other consultants, the greater good of the network is always going to know more. There’s just too much variation amongst the SAP customer base. Even two international oil and gas companies that are running SAP for 20 years, they do things slightly differently. So, you can’t be at all places at the same time. It’s such a wide customer base: every country, every language, every currency, every release, every industry – they’re all there. So your network will always have seen more and know more than you do.
It makes me think back to when I used to work at Amoco Oil, which is where I got started with SAP. When I went into consulting, I got partnered with a guy who was in his late forties and had been in and out of IT consulting all throughout Canada and the U.S. He was just getting into SAP, and he asked me, “Do you know what the definition of a junior consultant is?” and I said, “No, what is it?” and he said “It’s somebody with six months’ experience. Now do you know what the definition of a senior consultant is?” I said, “Twelve months’ experience?” He said, “No, it’s a junior consultant with contacts.”
Ever since then, that’s always been a cornerstone of my career, and I’ve seen it as a cornerstone of other people that are successful. You’ve got to make connections and keep them, and that’s where something like ERP@BPX can help out.
Reed: Thanks, Nathan, for those insights into integrating BPX into your consulting work. Elke, before we wrap up, do you have any plans you’d like to share about what’s next for ERP@BPX?
Simon-Keller: First of all, thank you very much for having us, Jon and, of course, thanks to Nathan for being here and giving us his feedback about what this network means to him and how it should be improved. We will definitely make sure to leverage his input and try to engage in an active discussion about further developing the community, but also recruiting people who are SAP experts already to start their own blogs. Those people know how customers use SAP ERP; they just have to also express that.
I am grateful to Nathan for stressing that and also, of course, the networking aspect of the community. That is really an important aspect, and if the community has helped him with improving his personal network, it proves that it makes a lot of sense to have it and it also makes me feel confident that the community is on the right track.
As for us, the ERP@BPX team, we just came up with our latest key topics: operational excellence and ERP market trends. We will continue to add more of those, so if you’re listening and thinking there is something that really should be included, or if you actually have a topic you want to include, feel free to contact us via our page at BPX.SAP.com. Just click on the Enterprise Resource Planning topic. Other topics we would like to cover in the near future will, of course, be the upcoming release of Enhancement Package 4, so make sure you are following up on that.
I would like to make our contribution to better energy saving and sustainability by encouraging experts to blog about that topic. If there is anything you would like to contribute, just contact us or start your own blog. There are lots of people out there, as Nathan mentioned.
One last thing I also want to mention is that we have been following the TechEd around the globe this year, so community members were able to participate virtually and, for the first time, we also had a speaker, Christian Oehler, who is a thought leader and a real expert about enhancement packages. He has been represented at the Las Vegas, Berlin and the Bangalore community, and he will come to Shanghai in November as well. He is actually blogging on his topics and publishing the Q&A section online, so if there are any questions, they can be published up front and he will surely cover those during the session and follow up in his blog as well.
We are currently looking at bringing more events online, such as SAP Insider or user group meetings. We are learning as things progress, so we are a young community. I know we still have a long way to go, but I believe – and Nathan has proved it just now – that we are on the right track, and we hope that everybody who listens and is interested in becoming a member of the ERP community will sign up at bpx.sap.com. We are always happy to hear your input about what we are doing and how to help us grow and constantly develop because it’s really you out there and all the community members and the future community members that are making this community happen.
Reed: Excellent. One point I took from my visits to ERP@BPX is that innovation is not just about cool, new technologies like eSOA, it’s also about getting the most out of your core ERP functionality, so hopefully we can pursue these themes at ERP@BPX.com. I’d like to thank Elke and Nathan for joining us today and, as a reminder, you can sign up for all three of SAP’s online communities in one registration process. Or, if you’re a member of one, you can easily alter your profile and just check the boxes for the other communities including BPX.
On that note, I’d like to thank our listeners for joining us today for this BPX community podcast and, with that, this is Jon Reed of JonERP.com signing off. We’ll see you online soon at bpx.sap.com.