Rate the SAP Consultant: SAP User Group Launches Database to Help Companies Find Help They Need

In an interview, Steve Strout, the CEO of the American SAP Users' Group, talks about its new Edge tool, how it offers service-provider and consultant transparency, and what SAP thinks of it.

Steve Strout is a former CIO and CTO. He spent more than 25 years leading IT organizations and operations divisions at companies such as Thomson Learning and The New York Times Co.

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And since he joined the board of directors of the Americas' SAP Users' Group, or ASUG, and subsequently became its first CEO in August 2007, Strout has come to know a lot about SAP and its ecosystem—the myriad technology and implementation consultants, independent software providers and systems integrators all looking to grab their share of the business in SAP's channel.

He's also aware of the difficulties associated with finding, hiring and relying on those players in the SAP ecosystem, and the fact that it "changes so much," Strout says. (For more on the SAP staffing skills problem, see "SAP Skills Shortage Costs SAP's Customers, Partners and, Ultimately, SAP AG.")

So to help its 60,000-plus membership, ASUG formally released a new Web-based product in mid-July, called Edge, that is a searchable online directory of consulting firms and independent consultants who offer SAP services. Edge also provides customer-input reviews on those consultants and other service providers in the North American SAP community. The annual cost for the access to the Edge product is $995 for ASUG members and $1,495 for nonmembers.

On one level, Edge is not a technology solution looking for a problem; this is a serious problem in need of a solution because there are (depending on estimates) anywhere from 30,000 to 50,000 SAP specialists needed worldwide.

Steve Strout
Steve Strout, ASUG CEO

But will the user group's offering be enough? Not everyone, including David Foote, CEO and chief research officer at staffing researcher Foote Partners, thinks so. Edge doesn't solve the core problem, Foote told the IDG News Service, which is the need to quickly get more workers with SAP skills into play at systems integrators and software consulting firms.

CIO.com Senior Editor Thomas Wailgum talked with Strout about the Edge tool, what it aims to fix in the SAP ecosystem, and the unique relationship between ASUG and SAP.

CIO: Why did ASUG develop Edge?

Steve Strout: It's an outgrowth of some research we did about a year and a half ago. We went to the members and said: What is it you'd like to see from us? What aren't we providing that we should be providing? The members and partners both came back and said: "We really need to have a really good understanding of who it is we are hiring." So we set about building this product to allow people to do peer reviews, rate people and organizations.

Can this help with the SAP skills gap that currently exists?

Strout: There is a skills gap, but it is a very defined skills gap. The generic "R/3 people from yesterday" requirements are pretty much done. We now need very select skills. Being able to have a way to review who has demonstrated them well and who has succeeded is an important thing.

What were particular pain-point skill sets that you were hearing about from the ASUG membership?

Strout: It's definitely the newer stuff. Getting coders is not that difficult, but there is always a skills shortage of really good Basis [Administration] people. I'm not real sure why that is; it's just history within the business. When I was a CIO, it was always tough to find really good, talented Basis people, though you can find lots of mediocre ones. [The skills gap] is definitely on the NetWeaver stack and the newer stuff. I wouldn't say cutting edge, necessarily, but cutting edge in the SAP environment. The whole Java world is different for most SAP environments. Unless [the customer has] got a large Web presence, they don't have a Java skillset.... I think there is a skillset area that can be addressed, and certainly this tool allows a member to identify the consultant companies that actually have the best skills and then match their particular requirements.

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