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Lack of Skills are Putting the Brakes on SAP

Simon Ratcliffe

Simon Ratcliffe
Principal Consultant, Advisory

Wherever we look in IT these days we hear a constant refrain: the skills crisis is holding us back.

It is undeniable that there is a shortage of skills in many areas, with an increasing shortage of skills for perceived ‘legacy’ environments but a large part of the problem we face is how we are adapting our workforce to meet changing times. SAP is a classic example of an environment that has existed and developed inside many organisations over time.

SAP is business critical to the majority of organisations that run it and, as a consequence, is not an area where experimentation or radical change is encouraged.  The predominant effort in SAP over the last decade or so, has been focussed on enhancing and improving what exists, making small incremental changes and fine tuning. The majority of SAP environments are currently deployed either on dedicated internal IT infrastructure, co-located infrastructure or on private clouds. In essence, they are deployed in a highly controlled environment where changes are made safely and cautiously.

This approach makes perfect sense when dealing with such a critical component of an organisation’s technology, but it creates an unintended consequence.  This consequence is a generation of staff who are comfortable in their knowledge and seek only irregular functional upgrades to their knowledge in much the same way such upgrades are applied to the environment. There are occasional periods of radical change when, for example, an acquisition is made and systems require merging, but these tend to be predicated on low risk programmes designed to restore stability as quickly as possible.

A transformational shift
Arguably then, SAP is one area where the so-called ‘Skills Gap’ doesn’t really exist because skill development is as reliable and steady as the systems themselves and that is a perfectly satisfactory approach until we face a revolution.  Or rather two parallel revolutions. The emergence of S/4 HANA, described by SAP as the biggest update to its ERP strategy in over two decades, represents what Gartner analysts described as a ‘transformational shift’.  S/4 HANA requires a significant change in skills and approach and the implementation, conversion or transformation to S/4 HANA is perhaps the biggest investment SAP users will have in terms of skills and knowledge.

The parallel shift is the emergence of public cloud technology for which S/4 HANA is ideally suited.  Much has been written of the lack of skills in public cloud and this combined requirement for radical changes in skills is undoubtedly creating a major problem for many organisations. After years of quietly investing in incremental skill updates and having created a pattern of behaviour in their organisations that reflects this, there is suddenly a huge uptick in the need for transformational skills development in both SAP and public cloud. The problem does not end here though, as there is a separate skill set that is much in demand and those are the skills to convert or transform current environments, especially on-premise environments to S/4 HANA in the public cloud.

This perfect storm of need inevitably competes for very limited skilled resource and, therefore, the cost of the resource increases and projects become financially difficult to justify. The other issue is that the skills challenge is not limited to a simple lack of technical knowledge. There is a need to adopt a whole new approach to designing, implementing and managing SAP in a public cloud arena, especially as many of the SAP-connected systems that feed the SAP engine, such as the Internet of Things, Artificial Intelligence/Robotic Process Automation and Blockchain all tend to rely on public cloud infrastructure and the tools add functions that come with that. Maintaining a traditional, stable, low change on-premise SAP solution is becoming less viable and a change in approach is needed.

A new way of thinking
We must adapt our culture as well as our technical skills if we are to maximise our investment in SAP, especially in S/4 HANA and that is likely to be the biggest challenge.  We can provide technical training to boost our teams, but we must also look at how they work.  Simply picking up SAP and putting it down again on a public cloud will work but it misses the purpose of the new SAP environment and the public cloud.  We need to re-engineer not only the technology, but the people and the processes if we are to close the ever-widening gap between the skills we have today and those we need tomorrow.

Simply encouraging staff to learn S/4 HANA technical skills or bringing in new cloud technology skills is not enough.  We need the business itself to learn that a new approach is required, and they need to empower the technical staff to adopt the new approach without fear of failing.  S/4 HANA on cloud cannot be seen as a project intended to deliver a new environment that can be run in the old way. It is a new way of thinking and that is the key skill we need in our SAP teams.

For further details on Ensono’s Managed SAP on Azure visit our dedicated Simplify your transition to SAP on Azure page here.

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