By popular demand, I have relented and finally started publishing lists of hot SAP skills. I have published a list of "SAP Skills You Want to Have," a ranking of the SAP Functional Modules, a list of Hot SAP Technical Skills, an SAP Industry Solutions skills ranking, and there are more lists to come.
Lists are fun, and they can be informative, but they are like junk food and not to be taken too seriously. Hot skills lists do not take the place of a well-balanced diet of solid career planning.
After SAP Certification, the most common question I am asked is, "Which areas of SAP are the hottest?" There is a fundamental problem with this question. Yes, it's a good idea to track skills and technology trends. But chasing hot skills is a big mistake.
Let's go through the disclaimers about my hot skills lists you should keep in mind:
1. There are "hot" areas of SAP across the board. Almost every area of SAP has areas that are hot and areas that are not. For example, there is a popular misconception that Basis is not a hot area. But if you are a Basis person who has transitioned into a true "NetWeaver Engineer," with skills installing and integrating the latest SAP Components like XI/PI and Portals, you are in pretty good shape.
2. The version of SAP you are working in has a lot to do with how hot your skills are. An SAP Financials consultant working in ERP 6.0 who knows how to configure the new General Ledger is much more marketable than the 4.6c FI/CO person. So, simply saying, "FI/CO is hot" doesn't make us smarter or more career savvy.
3. "Hot" skills are a function of supply and demand. This might seem obvious, but consider the case of ABAP. There is a misconception that ABAP is dead. On the contrary, the reason most ABAP skills are not that "hot" right now is because there is a global labor pool of ABAP programmers that companies can tap into for offshore projects. Again, however, savvy ABAP programmers who know how to stay marketable by applying the latest eSOA and object-oriented development concepts are still very much in demand.
4. Chasing hot skills doesn't work. I'm not a fan of chasing hot SAP skills wherever they might be. "Hot" is a fickle thing indeed. Since there are hot areas of SAP across the board, often there is a hot area right in your "skills backyard." Some of the least marketable SAP people are those who jumped from FI to BW to CRM in search of what was hot at the moment.
5. There is a difference between a "hot" skill and an "emerging" skill. It's important to track where SAP is headed next, but it's a mistake to focus too much on emerging areas of SAP where there is not a significant level of consulting demand yet. In the "SAP Skills You Want to Have" list, I intentionally focused on emerging skills. But in other lists, I focus on what is "hot" now. One example: SAP Master Data Management is emerging pretty strongly, but the demand is not intense enough yet to sustain across-the-board demand. BI, on the other hand, is definitely across-the-board and qualifies as a "hot" skill.
5. The winning approach is to combine a core expertise relevant to your background with an emerging area that is hot. The "core" skill plus "edge" skill approach is the winning strategy inside and outside of SAP. This approach is relevant to BOTH "newbies" and experienced consultants. "Newbies" so often make the mistake of pursuing the area of SAP they think is hottest without regard to how their current industry strengths will play in SAP. If you have an accounting background, you are far better off pursuing an SAP Financials career - even if your friend told you that SAP CRM was the hottest area in SAP. Another thing to keep in mind is that the more "operationally strategic" your skills are, the better your future holds. In other words, if you know more about the strategic aspects of SAP Financials rather than just the core transactions in Accounts Receivable (AR), you're better off. And if you are an HR consultant, you want to strike a balance between mastery of core components like payroll versus more sophisticated Human Capital Management (HCM) areas like workforce management that are emerging.
6. The second key is to pursue an area of SAP you are passionate about. Perhaps "passion" sounds like a corny idea when it comes to SAP. Here's where passion comes in: passion results in going the extra mile because you find your focus area fascinating, and that results in a commitment to excellence. Because you can find successful areas of SAP to succeed in across the board, in the end, it's your commitment to excellence, fueled by your passion for that area of SAP, that lifts you to a level of mastery that will set you apart from the competition. I often think of this as the "airport test." If you choose an area of SAP that you don't mind sitting around reading about while waiting for your plane to board at an airport, then you have chosen the right area to pursue. Every area of SAP has a connection to emerging technologies like BI and eSOA, so if you're passionate about some aspect of SAP, you can connect it to marketable skills.
7. Without passion for what you do, you shouldn't be in SAP, or any other field. This may seem like another blatantly obvious point, but SAP still has a lot of residual reputation from the 1990s as a "gold rush" field, the top of the IT chain where you move to make the big bucks. I still hear from folks all the time who perceive SAP as the solution to their financial problems. In fact, SAP is a highly competitive field and if you aren't driven by some non-financial reasons, it won't be worth the decade or two you will be investing in it. Life is too short, for one thing, and for another, you won't have the kind of success you want due to the shortfall of genuine passion for the field of SAP. SAP is not a get-rich-quick scheme anymore. You can have a very rewarding career in SAP if you get into SAP for the right reasons. I know I would not work in this field if I did not have a genuine passion for how SAP goes about trying to solve business problems and the culture of excellence SAP is attempting to build.
8. "Hot" is also determined by whether you are seeking a "perm" or contract position. Due to the free agent economy we live in, and the need for most professionals to make self-interested career decisions to stay marketable, it's harder to get highly skilled SAP folks to take a "perm" job when they can get better money consulting. So, for example, an SAP customer in Idaho with a limited talent pool has fewer options to choose from in terms of employees who are willing to relocate to that area. Let's say you are an SAP HR professional with three years of experience. If you are looking for contracts as an independent consultant, you might be perceived as too "junior." If you are willing to look at a permanent job with a consulting firm, you might have a better shot. And if you are willing to relocate anywhere in North America, your marketability just shot through the roof.
9. My results are focused on consulting demand and are not driven by a comprehensive survey. Over the years, I have developed a unique methodology for analyzing which SAP skills are most in demand. This methodology involves talking to a range of people in the market, from recruiters to consulting managers to end customers. I try to focus on two things: the SAP trends that are emerging and the skills that are in demand now. The two are not often the same, and that's why it's important to hear from recruiters who are actually filling openings daily, because they have a very different take on what's hot than you might get from SAP itself.
For example, I challenge you to find the word "Basis" anywhere in SAP's online product literature, but there are still plenty of Basis openings out there. However, when you review my lists, you must remember that in addition to a healthy skepticism about hot skills in general, you should know that this is not a scientific survey, just my ears to the ground opinion, talking to as many folks as possible inside and outside of SAP. I also regularly review the job openings of my clients to determine hiring patterns, and I do frequent assessments of skills trends on SAP job boards as well. Job boards like Dice.com are a great corrective to the wishful thinking we sometimes get into about what skills are neat to have. Job boards show you what skills SAP customers need NOW.
If you want a more structured survey approach, you might enjoy the surveys of Foote Partners. I have done podcasts with David Foote of Foote Partners before and will do so again. David has an excellent survey methodology, but while you can view free samples, you do have to pay for his full results, and his information is based on surveying SAP end customers regarding their permanent hire needs. David's work is also informed by his surveys across the IT field. My focus is solely on SAP, and I try to take the whole view of the market with a primary focus on SAP consulting skills demand, because I believe it's the "hot" SAP hourly contract skills that are the best determinant of the skills that are hardest to find on projects today.