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Kartik_Dua
Contributor

Early last year, I wrote a blog article titled “At the crossroads of your Career? These ABCDs will help you choose the right path”. Today, I had the opportunity to interview Mr. Narasimha Prasad Bhat, a fellow SAP Champion and a super talented SAP Solution Architect.

Our conversation was extremely organic and candid. We talked about the challenges and excitement a career change brings. Narasimha shared the secret recipe to his Success when we moved from Business oriented profile to SAP Functional Consulting role. He was very kind to share his experience and journey, which I feel will help many of us, especially the ones looking to change career paths. You may be looking to switch from a Technical role to a Functional role (or vice versa) or maybe looking to expand within SAP by learning other modules, or you may be moving from one IT role to a different one altogether. No matter what your situation is, there is a learning for everyone from this blog interview.

So, without further ado let’s jump right in.

Kartik: Narasimha, can you share your journey on how you transitioned from a business role to a successful SAP consultant? What were the key factors that contributed to your success?

Narasimha: My transition from business to SAP consulting was a natural progression, largely influenced by my comprehensive understanding of business processes and IT aptitude. The crucial factors that contributed to my success are:

  • Industry Insight: My profound knowledge in the Oil & Gas industry, along with exposure to various other sectors around the globe, gave me a deep understanding of diverse business needs. This industry insight has been pivotal in delivering successful SAP IT solutions.
  • Technical Expertise: Leveraging my SAP IT skills, I have been able to architect solutions that directly address these business needs, making the solutions valuable and effective.
  • Continuous Learning: Keeping up with the rapid evolution of SAP technologies through regular training and certifications has been an integral part of my journey. It not only enhanced my technical expertise but also enabled me to provide the most contemporary solutions to clients.
  • Networking: I regularly participate in SAP forums and events, which has helped me expand my professional network. This networking has significantly contributed to my learning journey, providing me with a global perspective on SAP technologies and applications.
  • Thought Leadership: By writing articles, blogs, and papers on SAP technologies, I have managed to share my insights and expertise with a wider audience. This has not only solidified my reputation as a thought leader but also facilitated in-depth discussions and knowledge sharing within the SAP community.
  • Recognition: Winning prestigious accolades like the SAP Champion Award and Best IT Blogger Award by Globee provided external endorsement of my skills and contributions. This recognition boosted my credibility and validated my expertise in the field.
  • Experience Across Industries: Having worked on SAP projects in different industries across the globe, I've learned to appreciate and leverage the nuances of each sector. This hands-on experience has provided me with invaluable insights, accounting for 70% of my success as a proficient IT consultant.

Through this blend of industry acumen, technical prowess, continuous learning, networking, thought leadership, and broad cross-industry experience, I've managed to carve a successful path in the SAP consulting landscape.

Kartik: Great call on Continuous Learning, Thought Leadership and Recognition. Fortunately, I share the same experience as yours and closely resonate with all 3 factors. I was awarded as an SAP Champion last year and I was selected as the Finance Market Leader for the ASUG Philadelphia chapter in early 2022. Both these recognitions have given me numerous opportunities to Network and Learn through various channels, one of them being interviewing & learning from industry experts like yourself. Great going on your professional front and Congratulations Narasimha for all your successes.

Moving on, Narasimha what do you think are the most important skills and qualities required to excel in the SAP profession, especially for someone coming from a non-technical background?

Narasimha: To excel in the SAP IT profession, especially for someone with a non-technical background, a few key skills and qualities are essential:

  • Business Acumen: Understanding business beyond your immediate role is crucial. This helps you appreciate how various parts of the organization interconnect, aiding in more comprehensive SAP solutions.
  • Hands-on SAP Experience: As an end user, immersing yourself thoroughly in SAP provides an invaluable foundation. This practical experience can give you unique insights into the system's functionalities and its real-world application.
  • Regular Learning: Regularly visiting platforms like blogs.sap.com is vital for staying updated with recent developments in your SAP module. This helps not only in gaining knowledge but also in understanding common challenges and their solutions.
  • Active Participation: Try to answer the questions posed on these platforms based on your experience. This engagement can enhance your understanding and problem-solving skills in SAP.
  • Certification: Finally, acquiring a certification in your SAP module can formalize your knowledge and increase your credibility. It also proves your commitment and readiness to take on professional SAP roles.

Balancing these skills and qualities will create a strong foundation for a successful career in SAP IT, even if you're transitioning from a non-technical background.

Kartik: I love the Certification point you bring up. I was at Sapphire this year and one of the big announcements was around SAP Enterprise Architect | SAP Learning certification, which I feel our audience should definitely explore.

Narasimha, can you tell us about the challenges you faced during your transition to the SAP world, and how did you overcome them?

Narasimha: The transition to the SAP IT field presented a few key challenges:

  • Accessing Configuration Screens: Initially, gaining access to the SAP configuration screens was a hurdle due to the level of permissions required. To overcome this, I volunteered as a super-user, which allowed me to understand the system configurations better while offering value to my team.
  • Understanding Customizations: Grasping how customizations were coded was another challenge due to my non-technical background. I addressed this by enrolling in a basic ABAP debugging course, which provided the necessary understanding and skills to decode these customizations.
  • Choosing the Right SAP Module: Finding the appropriate SAP module for a career focus was also complex due to my diverse business experience. I began with a module that aligned closely with my initial business role. Over time, as I gained more understanding and proficiency, I expanded into other modules that matched my evolving interests and expertise.

These challenges were significant, but they also provided opportunities for growth and skill development, shaping me into a well-rounded SAP IT professional.

Kartik: You made me nostalgic about the days when I was in the same shoes as you. I was starting my career at the time, so things were slightly different. However the point you make about opportunities for growth and skill development, couldn’t have agreed with you more on that.

So, tell me Narasimha what advice would you give to someone who wants to break into the SAP profession from a business role? Are there specific certifications or courses you would recommend?

Narasimha: Breaking into the SAP IT profession from a business role requires a strategic approach:

  • Industry Mapping: Align your industry with its corresponding SAP solution - for instance, IS-Oil for Oil & Gas or IS-Utilities for the Utilities sector.
  • Role to Module Mapping: Map your role to relevant SAP modules. For example, procurement experience aligns with SAP MM, and indirect procurement suits SAP Ariba.
  • Certifications: Always pursue relevant certifications. They offer a comprehensive understanding of SAP tools beyond what you might use in your business role, revealing best practices specific to your industry.

In essence, thoughtful industry and role mapping, along with pursuing certifications, can set a strong foundation for a successful transition into the SAP IT profession.

Kartik: Very well stated.

Narasimha, can you provide an overview of the various SAP modules and their relevance in today's business landscape? Which modules do you think offer the most opportunities for someone transitioning from a business role? 

Narasimha:

  • SAP MM (Materials Management): Essential for procurement and inventory management. Ideal for those in purchasing or supply chain roles.
  • SAP SD (Sales and Distribution): Manages sales and customer service processes. Relevant for those in sales or customer service.
  • SAP FICO (Financial Accounting and Controlling): Key for financial reporting and managing financials. Suitable for those with a finance background.
  • SAP HR/HCM (Human Capital Management): Streamlines human resource management processes. Useful for HR professionals.
  • SAP SuccessFactors: An integrated, cloud-based HR management system. Ideal for HR professionals seeking to leverage cloud technology.
  • SAP EWM (Extended Warehouse Management): Manages complex logistics execution in the supply chain. Ideal for professionals in logistics or warehouse management.
  • SAP PP (Production Planning): Manages production planning processes. Perfect for those in manufacturing.
  • SAP QM (Quality Management): Covers all aspects of quality in processes across a company. Ideal for those in quality assurance or control roles.
  • SAP Ariba: A cloud-based innovative solution for handling all procurement processes. Excellent for procurement professionals.
  • SAP SM (Service Management): Covers all aspects of service management, from planning to execution. Ideal for professionals in customer service or service management.
  • SAP IBP (Integrated Business Planning): Used for real-time supply chain planning. Ideal for professionals involved in strategic planning or supply chain.

Choosing the right module depends on your background. Modules like MM, SD, FICO, EWM, QM, Ariba, SuccessFactors, and IBP typically have broad applications and offer ample opportunities for those transitioning from business roles. Always align your choice with your expertise and interests.

Kartik: I am real live example of this. I have a deep liking towards Sales, Marketing and Business. This is why I chose Sales & Distribution as my primary module when I started off my journey. A key thing to remember is we will have opportunities to expand later in our career. So, we shouldn’t bind ourselves or add pressure on us by thinking that if we make a choice now, we are stuck with it forever.

Narasimha, how do you stay up to date with the latest trends and developments in the SAP ecosystem? What resources or networks do you recommend for someone starting in the field?

Narasimha: To stay abreast of the latest trends and developments in the SAP ecosystem, I follow a multi-pronged approach:

  • SAP Community Network: Registering at people.sap.com is my first recommendation. It's an invaluable resource where you can tag your interests, follow discussions, and engage with SAP professionals globally. It helps in understanding real-world problems and solutions in the SAP ecosystem.
  • Blogs: I regularly read and follow blogs on SAP websites and other reputable tech platforms. These blogs provide updates on new features, best practices, and trends in SAP.
  • openSAP: This is SAP's free knowledge platform where you can enroll in courses on a range of topics. It's an excellent way to get updates on new SAP subjects and refresh knowledge on recent changes in SAP.
  • SAP Learning Hub: This is a comprehensive learning platform that provides a wealth of resources for mastering SAP. It includes training materials, interactive sessions, and SAP experts to guide your learning process.
  • Webinars/Forums: Participating in webinars or forums is another way to stay up-to-date. These platforms often host discussions on the latest developments and trends in SAP.

In summary, continuously learning and engaging with the SAP community is vital. As a beginner, familiarize yourself with these resources and utilize them to their fullest to stay informed and enhance your skills.

Kartik: There are so many free resources out there, which we could take advantage of, to Learn and Grow exponentially.

Narasimha, in your experience, what has been the most rewarding project you've worked on as an SAP consultant? What made this project stand out and what lessons did you learn from it?

Narasimha: In my SAP consulting career spanning over 15 years, I've worked on countless projects, including more than eight end-to-end implementations. Each project has been a unique learning experience and has enriched me professionally. However, if I were to choose the most rewarding ones, a few stand out.

  • In the Oil & Gas sector, I had the opportunity to delve into upstream business processes through the Production and Revenue Accounting (PRA) module, a shift from my familiarity with downstream processes. This broadened my understanding of the industry and added a new dimension to my expertise.
  • Working with a Malaysian Power company, I learned about Linear Asset Management. This project required me to grasp an entirely new area, and the knowledge gained here has been invaluable.
  • A project in Australia allowed me to learn Railway functionalities, another industry transition that enriched my experience and widened my skill set.
  • Lastly, my work with a Fortune 50 HVAC discrete manufacturing client in the US over the past eight years has been exceptionally rewarding. It was a perfect blend of understanding business functions and aligning them with the SAP tool.

What made these projects stand out were the opportunities to dive into unfamiliar business functions and industries while leveraging the SAP tool. Each of these experiences helped me broaden my knowledge, enhance my skillset, and reinforce my versatility as an SAP professional. The primary lesson I've taken from these projects is that every engagement offers a chance to learn and grow. Embracing new challenges and being open to continuous learning is the key to success in this field.

Kartik: Seams like you are strong believer of Continues Learning. Kudos to you for that!

Narasimha, can you discuss the importance of soft skills, such as communication and teamwork, in the success of an SAP consultant? How have you honed these skills throughout your career?

Narasimha: Soft skills, particularly communication and teamwork, are indispensable for the success of an SAP consultant. We work in diverse, often global, teams that span multiple time zones and cultures. Clear communication is crucial to ensure everyone is on the same page, understand project objectives, and effectively coordinate efforts. Speaking in a 'business language', translating complex technical concepts into easily comprehensible terms, is essential when interacting with stakeholders or clients who may not have a technical background.

Teamwork is equally vital. An SAP implementation is a collective effort requiring the contribution and collaboration of numerous professionals with varied expertise. Being able to work effectively as part of a team ensures the project moves forward smoothly.

Throughout my career, I've honed these skills by consciously putting them into practice. Working in various roles and on diverse projects, I've had to collaborate with professionals from different backgrounds and cultures, which has enhanced my understanding and appreciation of effective communication and teamwork. Regularly receiving feedback from peers and supervisors has also been instrumental in improving these skills. Continuous learning and deliberate practice are key to mastering these soft skills, which are as important, if not more, as technical proficiency in the SAP world.

Kartik: “Teamwork”, I love that. In my career, which spans over a decade, I have been fortunate to work with many versatile and extremely talented teams and one thing I can vouch for is the success of any project or company depends on how a team bonds together and works together.

Narasimha, what are the common misconceptions people have about transitioning from a business role to an SAP role? How can one address these misconceptions to ensure a successful transition?

Narasimha: Common misconceptions about transitioning from a business role to an SAP IT role include:

  • It's Only for Technical People: Many believe that SAP is exclusively for those with a technical or coding background. However, SAP is much more than coding. It integrates business processes, and therefore, professionals with a business background can provide valuable insights.
  • In-depth Business Experience isn't Necessary: Contrarily, in-depth business experience is invaluable in the SAP world. The ability to understand and streamline business processes with SAP tools can often be more beneficial than merely having technical expertise.
  • Transitioning is Difficult: Many perceive the transition as a daunting task. While it requires effort and learning, with the right approach, training, and support, the transition can be relatively smooth.

To address these misconceptions:

  • Engage in Continuous Learning: Equip yourself with SAP knowledge through certifications, training courses, and online resources like SAP Learning Hub or openSAP. Understanding the technical aspects enhances your ability to leverage SAP tools for business processes.
  • Leverage Your Business Experience: Utilize your business knowledge to provide context to SAP implementations. It aids in the customization of SAP systems to align with business processes and goals, thereby delivering the most value.
  • Seek Support and Guidance: Look for mentors within the SAP community or your organization who can guide you through the transition, share their experiences, and provide valuable insights.
  • Patience and Persistence: Like any transition, moving from a business role to an SAP IT role takes time and consistent effort. Patience, perseverance, and a proactive learning attitude are key to making a successful transition.

Kartik: One of my personal success mantras is: Patience, Perseverance & Perspiration are secrets to being Successful in Life! So, couldn’t have agreed with your thoughts more.

Finally, as an SAP consultant, how do you balance your technical expertise with the need to understand and communicate with business stakeholders effectively? Can you provide any tips for building strong relationships between the IT and business sides of an organization?

Narasimha:  Balancing technical expertise with effective communication with business stakeholders is a crucial skill as an SAP consultant. It's not just about understanding SAP systems, but also how these systems can be optimized to add value to the business.

To achieve this balance, here are a few strategies:

  • Speak the Language: Use business terminologies when communicating with stakeholders. Avoid technical jargon that can be confusing to non-technical individuals.
  • Listen and Understand: Take the time to understand the business needs, objectives, and challenges. Ask questions, invite feedback, and encourage discussion. This not only fosters engagement but also allows for better alignment of SAP solutions with business goals.
  • Demonstrate the Value: Whenever presenting an SAP solution, focus on its business benefits. Whether it's increased efficiency, improved data accuracy, or enhanced decision-making, highlight how the solution addresses business needs.

Building strong relationships between IT and business is essential for successful SAP implementations. Here are a few tips:

  • Encourage Collaboration: Foster an environment where IT and business teams collaborate and share knowledge regularly. This helps both sides understand each other's perspectives and challenges better.
  • Shared Goals: Ensure both IT and business teams understand the shared goals of the organization and how their collaboration contributes to achieving these goals.
  • Involve Business in IT Decisions: Involve business stakeholders in IT decisions, especially those that directly affect them. This promotes a sense of ownership and mutual respect.
  • Regular Communication: Maintain regular communication between IT and business teams to keep everyone informed about progress, changes, and any issues that may arise.

Remember, the goal of an SAP consultant is not just to implement SAP systems, but to bridge the gap between technology and business, facilitating a mutual understanding that drives value for the organization.

It was great chatting with you Narasimha. Good Luck with your forthcoming endeavors. I am positive our readers will have many things to take away from this post. Thank you for spending time with me.

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