Strong demand for SAP skills in Asia

Consultants face rosy job prospects, including good career advancement opportunities beyond the SAP field, industry observers say.

Regional job prospects are looking good for SAP consultants, with hiring companies willing to offer attractive compensation packages just to get the best talent.

According to Kelly Chua, consultant for the IT and telecommunications practice with Hudson Singapore, demand is "strong" in Singapore, Malaysia, China, Thailand and Australia for SAP functional skills such as financial accounting and controlling (FICO), materials management (MM), and production planning (PP).

"Overall, the demand for such expertise is higher in discrete and process manufacturing industries, where the companies usually utilize a wider spectrum of SAP modules for different business areas," Chua said in an e-mail.

Although there is little difference between entry-level positions across the different technology areas, experienced SAP consultants generally command higher paychecks than the average IT professional, she said.

"SAP consultants are paid a premium for their specific SAP project experience," said Chua. "Career prospects and development are good since there is a demand for these skill sets and companies are willing to pay good money for the best consultants."

How much one earns depends on several factors including the specific modules of specialization, as well as market demand and supply.

"In Singapore, for example, an SAP HR (human resources) consultant may be in the lower payscale compared to SAP SD (Sales and Distribution) where the general demand for SAP SD is higher," said Chua.

There is also a difference between working for an IT consulting company and in an end-user environment, and compensation also depends on the amount of travel required and the country of work.

Chua said a consultant can choose to continue to specialize and hone his skills as a SAP subject matter expert, take up managerial responsibilities, or even lead a team and work his way up to senior business or application management.

"If you are already in an organization that implements SAP software, you can explore opportunities for internal transfers to get the relevant experience. Once you have clocked one to two full-cycle implementation projects, you can be considered as an experienced SAP consultant," she noted.

Manvinder Malik, assistant sales director for IT consultancy Genovate Solutions, said SAP consultants can hail from different walks of life; one can have functional skills or domain expertise.

"A HR manager can take up a course, and find a job as a SAP HR consultant either in an end-user environment or a consulting company," said Malik. "As you gain project experience, say, six months to a year, you can expand into other areas."

Career advancement opportunities are also not limited to the SAP field. "A consultant can take on a project lead role and later move on to become an IT head or CTO," said Malik.

And how important is obtaining professional certification? Chua said: "SAP certification is definitely nice to have, but it does not guarantee a smooth transition to a SAP career.

"Ultimately, companies are still looking at specific and related work experience in SAP," she explained. "Strong communication skills and industry background will serve as a good foundation for an SAP consultant."

According to SAP, there are more than 8,000 SAP customer installations in the Asia-Pacific region, including Japan, and the German software giant has about 1,600 SAP consultants based in this region.

Senta Ritter, who oversees SAP's global HR field services, said the company continues to ensure it has a strong pool of consultants who can serve the market. Training is also provided at boot camps where participants pick up tips on strategy, consulting and change management, Ritter said.

"Every region has a training budget that ensures re-skilling and training," she said, adding that new roles and career paths are continuously defined and mapped out for SAP staff.