In recent years, demand for SAP consultants has been growing as SAP increasingly becomes an important part of the ERP market. According the Oxford Index for Q1 2013, which surveys IT and engineering consultants about their need for SAP consultants, 33 percent of managers expected their use of SAP consultants to increase in the first quarter of 2013, while 41 percent expected no change. Only 23 percent anticipated a decrease. This is a trend that's persisted for a few years, and has left many working in or looking to enter the IT field wondering about whether SAP might be a good path to choose.

The question is, what are the skills required to become an SAP technical consultant in today's market? Will a certification in SAP-ABAP help? As with any major career decision, the questions are never ending, and in fact most people run into trouble when they get different answers to the same questions. Many believe that only those with a degree in computer science or engineering could get into - or exel - at this job. But while those skills are certainly very helpful, any student /professional who can understand the basics of code development and has an active and vivid interest in these things can take a stab at SAP. What matter most is that you have good logical and analytical skills. Here we'll take a look at some of the key steps to a career in SAP-ABAP. (Get more career tips in our Job Roles section.)

SAP-ABAP Certification: To Get It or Not?

The question of whether a certification in SAP-ABAP can provide a one-way ticket to a rewarding career is one that troubles a lot of people looking to enter this field. A certification does look great on a resume and can help you get a jump-start on some important skills, but it is also time consuming to complete, and may cost you some money as well. If you can afford these costs, go for it. If, on the other hand, you don't think you can afford the time and/or money involved, don't worry. A lack of certification isn't a deal breaker. Look to gain the experience you need first. That way if you do pursue certification, you will have some of the skills to make it much easier. Some people are even lucky enough to start a career as a junior SAP-ABAP consultant in various services/product-based companies and work their way up without certification. (For related reading, see How I Got and IT Job Without a Tech Background.)

Another workable solution is to move into the technical side of other ERPs and then use that experience to move into SAP-ABAP. As you get to know the fundamentals of technical concepts and business areas, employers will be more receptive to considering you for a position in SAP, because less training will be needed. Add a certification to this experience and you should be well positioned to land a job in the field.

Building Your SAP Skills

SAP also provides a handy, tool, the Internet Demonstration and Evaluation System (IDES). IDES supports demos and self study based on model companies designed to demonstrate relevant business processes. For SAP-ABAP enthusiasts, the best part is that unlike other functional modules of SAP, which require Hugh configuration, the components of technical programming are easier to learn and practice in the IDES system.

Like most programming languages, ABAP also has executable programs, which are classified into reports and module pools. The data used by SAP is stored in data dictionaries and is accessed by programs using SQL-like statements. Understanding these programming concepts along with the SAP architecture and landscape provides a basic foundation for any SAP technical consultant. Once these are learned, you can progress to more technical things, like SAP workflows, enhancements, SmartForms, SAPscript, Idocs and Web Dynpro architecture.These areas are mostly proprietary to SAP, and require extensive knowledge of its underlying functionalities. Understanding the business and how it is translated in technical terms in SAP will also help in gaining expertise in one or more areas.

Digging Into Programming

Every SAP-ABAP consultant starts his or her career by focusing on programming. Beginners may not able to understand the total picture of the functionality or requirements, and are therefore essentially ABAP programmers. Your grasp of programming concepts, syntax, semantics and keywords needs to be sharpened. Completing developments in a timely manner is another area to focus on at this stage. It would also be a good practice for beginners to understand the different ways of implementing logic, thus strengthening their command over coding practices.

As time goes on and you gain more real project experience, you'll be expected to understand the key functional areas of SAP and the related developments. You should also be able to able to design and evaluate solutions, understand higher levels of business requirements and communicate more like a business key user rather than a programmer. Working on different implementations, upgrades, support and roll-out projects should provide the grooming required to be an SAP technical architect. It'll also provide a much-needed proficiency in different areas of the technical side of SAP.

Finally, if you want to work in SAP, you need to understand the true goal of an SAP technical consultant. Many people believe it is to handle a team to work on technical developments, and provide support and suggestions while evaluating solutions. Although these are part of the role of an SAP consultant, he or she is also expected to ensure best practices in the development methodology and industry, as well as provide the metrics and time lines needed for different projects.

Why SAP?

There is a great demand for SAP technical consultants, especially if you can learn super-specialized topics related to SAP like Idocs and Web Dynpro, and gain an understanding of the business world and how SAP ERP can put companies on the cutting edge.Today’s SAP consultants are expected to be capable of meeting client expectations by completing developments in a timely and responsive manner. But don't discount technical skills for the more basic ones that are so essential in all IT jobs, such as analytical and problem-solving skills and a desire to learn and improve along with technology.