Adding value to ERP expertise

The ERP marketplace may be suffering from post-Y2K blues but rumoursof its demise are greatly exaggerated, say those recruiting in thesector.

Mary-Sue Rogers heads PricewaterhouseCoopers’ technical solutions team forthe consumer and industrial products sector in the UK. She says: “We havebeen very busy since March. Post-Y2K, a lot of clients have kicked in withmajor ERP implementations.” While many of these are driven by a bigbusiness change such as a merger or demerger, she says, quite a few majorcorporations are starting from scratch in terms of what they are doingwith ERP. “A second driver is the e-thing. Everyone wants to be on the weband we are doing quite a lot of e-enabling legacy systems for clients whodo not want to do a complete upgrade.” A lot of clients are also doingextensions in HR, MS systems, CRM integration and e-procurement.

“We are seeing it in all three sectors we focus on – SAP, Oracle andPeopleSoft,” she says.

Many of the projects being undertaken by PwC are sizeable jobs, she adds,requiring 50-100 people over the course of 18-24 months. And PwC is notthe only big consultancy bidding for such work, she says, adding that thetraditional ERP vendors are also closing big deals.

Duncan Prior, business stream head for communications and commercials atDruid, says: “There were major questions at the end of 1999 about thefuture of ERP: the argument was that most companies had implemented ERPand that it wasn’t producing the benefits touted for it, while on thehorizon other ideas like CRM and e-business loomed. But ERP is not dead -far from it.” However, he sees changes in the market.

“Several years ago one of the main drivers for ERP was Y2K compliance butnow clients are looking for demonstrable business benefits. UKmanufacturing productivity growth, year on year, is 1%-1.5% – people arelooking for jumps in that figure and know that IT investment canhelp.”

A second shift in the market, he says, is client demands for what he calls”ERP plus” projects. “These focus on greater internal harmonisation, orlinks up and down the supply chain. A firm which implemented an ERP systemtwo years ago, for example, now wants to hook into its suppliers, in salesor production planning, product lifecycle management or shared design andR&D.”

Mike Milner, a recruitment consultant with ERP specialist MJM Recruitment,agrees. “ERP software alone no longer provides competitive advantage.

The real advantage as far as the user is concerned derives from orderfulfilment.” While Milner still gets demand for pre and post sales ERPskills, he is also seeing demand for skilled people to sell and deliversolutions for an emerging market of start-ups and pre-IPOs focusing on thee-fulfilment process, which sits on top of the conventional ERPplumbing.

“Such companies are looking for people with a fundamental understanding ofERP and how to sell complex solutions into the enterprise – and explainthe corporate benefits,” says Milner.

i2 Technologies has evolved from the ERP arena over time. Stuart Mclean,recruitment manager for Northern Europe, says: “Our bread and butterstrength is in the supply chain management arena in terms of the solutionswe’ve always had there, but we have moved to an all-encompassing solutionwithin the B2B market, creating portals for public and privatemarketplaces. Our industrial solutions use our supply chain knowledge andthe deliverability of the Internet.”

The firm has grown rapidly this year, from a European headcount of 350 inFebruary to 570 now, but recruitment is not an easy process, saysMclean.

“We are looking across the board for pre-sales, post sales andimplementation consultants, and sales people. Growth has been in sales andconsultants – people who can sell multimillion deals in our marketspace.”

Recruits typically come from ERP competitors – i2 competes directlyagainst the likes of SAP, Oracle, CommerceOne, Baan and Manugistics, saysMclean.

“Occasionally we get people from the transportation industry, withspecific industry knowledge. Such people would be supply chain managerswho have been involved in implementations within their own company, orwould have specific product knowledge,” he adds.

Direct headhunting has been i2’s most successful method of recruitment sofar but the firm is now building an internal resourcing function to reduceagency usage, given the costs at its current level of growth.

Mike Kensington of recruiter Prism says ERP vendors and consultancies arechasing a very finite population. “They are looking at ERP from adifferent angle now. They are looking to integrate it with the web,front-office applications and CRM. They want people with experience ofusing e-modules or integrating these products.” Lots of consultancies arelooking for experience of Internet offerings from the big ERP vendors,such as “And,” he says, “Siebel consultants are in hugedemand.”

While there has been a surge in demand for ERP front office applicationsexperience – data warehousing, CRM, HR self-service and applicationsservice provision – Kensington has seen a massive decrease inconsultancies looking for traditional ERP skills. “PwC is the best exampleof a major consultancy doing big amounts of bog standard SAP recruitment,”he says. “The other big consultancies aren’t looking in the same way. Butconsultancies across the board want ERP skills with some exposure to newproducts such as Broadvision, Vantive, Clarify, Siebel and CommerceOne.And such people are like hens’ teeth.”

As a result, he says, the consultancies are becoming more open to peoplefrom a corporate environment. “For example, someone who has implementedSiebel at a big blue chip would be snapped up assuming their age andqualification profile was right. It is a great time for people moving intoconsultancy.”

PwC is looking for staff in all ERP areas, says Rogers. “It is a moremature marketplace and we want people who have ‘been there and doneit’.

We are not looking for foundations to build on but implementationexperience of any of the big packages. Experience of an older version isOK, and someone with JD Edwards skills, for example, coming in to do SAPwouldn’t find it too big a jump.”

Like the other big firms, PwC has struggled with recruitment over the lastsix months, she says. “The market is very hot and it is not easy to findthe right sort of people. In more traditional ERP areas we havesignificant chunks of work that I can’t resource without hiringcontractors.” An issue here, she says, is that the ERP sector is no longerseen as sexy.

She ascribes much of this to the press. “The press and recruiters hypede-business and tried to build an early grave for the ERP side, but ERP isalive and kicking. If you don’t get the ERP right, e-anything is not goingto work because it relies on having a solid data model and set ofprocesses to put the next layer on.”

Kate Curtis, recruitment manager at FI Recruitment, part of FI Group,recruits for both subsidiary Druid and external customers. She sees hugedemand for people with genuine, proven implementation experience who canadd value back into project teams. “If I have seen a difference in thelast six months, that is it. People with application knowledge who canpoint out potential pitfalls, and where the concentration in terms of riskanalyses and impact should be, are much in demand.” But it is quitedifficult to find such people. In fact, says Curtis, some clients havedelayed implementation of these types of systems through lack ofqualified, experienced human resource rather than any problem with thetechnology.

In addition, she says, “a number of customers who have implemented ERP arefinding that they haven’t locked knowledge into the company because theyrelied on the contractor model.” Such companies are looking to bring instaff with in-depth knowledge of the technologies and implementation, shesays. “Sustain and optimise skills are required – and there is huge demandfor people who can use the ERP backbone to deliver the e-businessrequirements of the corporation.

PwC’s Rogers thinks the opportunities for people with ERP skills are good.She would advise anyone in the contract market to take a serious look atgoing permanent. “Contractors use the skill sets that they are best at andthose skill sets will ultimately diminish in value without the trainingand investment that an organisation can provide. I use in-house staff forany leading edge stuff.”

Druid’s Prior agrees that skill development is essential: “There isdefinitely still a requirement for ERP skills but you need to keep themalive – and know how to deliver business benefits.”

Mary Huntington is a freelance journalist

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