The pitfalls of becoming an HCM SaaS consultant

Jon Reed Profile picture for user jreed December 19, 2014
Becoming an HCM SaaS consultant sounds nifty - but it's anything but easy. Fresh off our videocast, two SAP HCM pros who pulled off the SaaS consulting transition share their skills tips, and a wake up call to boot.

As I joked with Luke Marson and Jarret Pazahanick, some "legacy consultants" do make the cloud skills transition. Count Marson and Pazahanick as two who made the move from HCM consulting to cloud HCM via SAP SuccessFactors.

The obstacles to this skills transition are a frequent topic of LinkedIn banter. This week, we pulled together an evening hangout to break down the SaaS skills transition. The first video of our two part HCM SaaS skills shoot is up - here's a few high points.

The SaaS consulting skill set - deeper and broader

We kicked off with a review of a post by Marson where he argues that translating on-premise consulting roles to the cloud is problematic. As Marson sees it, while an on-premise implementation might have a range of different roles (authorization consultant, solution architect, functional consultant, technical consultant, programmer, data base administrator, etc.), that's not the case for a cloud delivery model.

Moving out of the on-site data center, some of the roles disappear or consolidate. But that's not the end of it.: a successful SuccessFactors consultant must then combine the skills traits of the remaining roles - not a simple thing for consultants who are used to narrower specializations. Marson concludes that an effective SuccessFactors consultant must be able to understand and manage:

  • Customer needs and challenges
  • Business processes
  • Product capabilities
  • Configuration
  • Security and authorization
  • Extensibility
  • Integration

And there's more:

In addition, they should be creative, a problem-solver, and understand logical calculations and rules if they are to create process or configuration workarounds or create complex business rules in SuccessFactors.

Marson then acknowledges: "This is a lot to ask of many consultants." Which brings us to our video, where Marson drives the point further:

[SaaS] consultants have got to have a really wide breadth of skills at a quite reasonable level of quality, which we haven't traditionally seen within the on-premise world, except for the super consultants. Now we're seeing that those super consultant profiles are the norm, really, with SaaS implementations.

Becoming an HCM SaaS consultant ain't easy

Pazanahick, who has 17 years of SAP HCM consulting experience, shared that his own SaaS consulting transition has not been easy. He points to key differences:

  • Juggling multiple projects simultaneously is the norm
  • Less on-site work requires skills in handling remote projects
  • Going from a waterfall to an agile methodology is a big mindset and skills shift

Pazahanick cautions:

People underestimate what it will take to become a cloud consultant and a few of the things that are just totally, totally different. Anyone who's looking to make the transition, they better realize that they're going to have work very, very hard to have the same level of consulting expertise that they had in the on-premise world.

Other themes for SaaS consulting success:

  • Techno-functional skill sets have the edge (Marson believes it's harder for a functional type to learn technical skills than vice versa).
  • More sophisticated project management skills are needed to manage multiple deliverables on projects in different stages.
  • Consultants must be much more aggressive about staying on top of new released. Workday updates two times a year; SuccessFactors updates four times per annum.

Pazahanick said that moving from senior to junior consultant was a shock to the system. His expert know-how wasn't enough, because companies aren't hiring SaaS consultants on the basis of process knowledge alone:

I don't care how much business process knowledge you have, customers aren't hiring people for business process knowledge. Now, obviously if you have that, you can be a lot better consultant, but most companies feel like they have that business process expertise. If I go into do a payroll implementation, they have a payroll manager.

Pazahanick's first three week SuccessFactors training was a real gut check:

There's just so much stuff to learn.. No one can lead a project after they've done a three week training course. I don't care how smart you are, I don't care how much knowledge you had. You need to go about it where you're a team member. You need to learn from someone who has more experience because the models are different.

And perhaps the most intimidating part - you can't hide on a "welcome wagon" team of junior consultants:

These aren't big teams of consultants that are coming in, so you're not just one of six people who can hide in the corner. You're one of the team of one person, or maybe two people - max - doing a lot of different things.

Customers will put you on the spot from the get-go:

When you have these workshops, they're intense, five, seven day workshops where they're asking you questions like, "Can the system do this? Can it do that? How would you recommend we set up this and that?"

Marson and Pazahanick don’t believe all consultants will make good HCM SaaS consultants. Pazahanick cited this example:

I’ll be sitting in a meeting and a client will ask an experienced SuccessFactors consultant a question about functionality and they’ll say, “Oh, no, the system can’t do that.” The system couldn’t do that six months ago, but it can do that now which is why continual education is a must in the SaaS world due to the rapid pace of innovation.

I've always known Jarret as a rock star HCM consultant, so it was a wake up call to hear him say:

It's very, very humbling. Even a year and a half into this, I consider myself a mid-level consultant at best. I still have so much to learn.

Final thoughts

It's not all doom and gloom for aspiring SaaS consultants - cloud growth is fueling skills demand for those prepared to seize the day. In the deeper discussion in part two of our video (soon to be released), we look at why the rapid innovation of SaaS projects resonates with customers, and, in turn, how customers should evaluate SaaS consultants. We also go into more detail into the role of training, certification, and how aspiring SaaS consultants should move forward More on that later.

But for now, Pazahanick's warning rings true:

If you're not staying current and you don't have that aptitude to a lifelong learner, you aren't going to be successful.  A lot of people say, "I'm too busy to learn." If you're too busy to learn, then you are not going to be a good SaaS consultant.

You can check out the first video on YouTube - alternately you can download the optimized mp3 audio podcast (direct mp3 link here), grab it on iTunes, or listen to the embedded audio version here:

Image credit: business man who is sinking in a desert © olly -
Disclosure: SAP and Workday are diginomica premier partners as of this writing.




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