SOAs may spawn 'Business Process Experts'

New skills emerge from SOA.

The emergence of services-oriented architecture (SOA) from traditional object-oriented programming means that system design now requires a different approach, and therefore a new combination of skills.

That new role is someone with one foot in IT and the other in business -- a duality necessary today as SOA and the business process platform increasingly gain traction. Fuelling the need is "this notion that you can use technology more as Lego blocks instead of just building standard applications," said SAP AG's Marco ten Vaanholt.

ten Vaanholt is the global director of a community built around a role that SAP has coined the Business Process Expert -- or BPX -- where members can acquire skills training and interact with other BPXs. The SAP BPX Community, which started in 2006, has almost 350,000 members.

But the role of a BPX is quite different from that of a business analyst in that a PBX must have the ability to gather not only business requirements but process requirements. The differentiator is the ability to talk with an enterprise architect and model IT landscapes, said ten Vaanholt -- or in other words model the Lego pieces into a comprehensive solution that supports a specific business process.

Among the other skills that form a BPX are knowledge and practical experience of business operations and core processes.

Not surprisingly, soft skills like communication and collaboration are must-haves in order to act as moderator or "marriage counsellor" between two warring parties, most often IT and business. But besides the ability to converse at a more granular level among peers, BPXs must also have the wherewithal to sell a solution to high-level executives.

Knowing how to use tools of the trade is essential but so are tools like the applications residing natively on the platform and the Web 2.0 extensions they can integrate with.

An understanding of standards is crucial, said ten Vaanholt, because comprehending standards and best practices lets companies build business platforms across heterogeneous IT environments.

Although the goal of the community is to preach the sharing of business process knowledge, ten Vaanholt doesn't deny that the dissemination of SAP technologies forms part of that goal, joking that he's "preaching Christianity but I really want you to become Catholic." But he does envision the role of the BPX as being extensively applicable across other vendor technologies, and noted that community discussions are generally topic-specific than vendor-specific. In fact, the community is composed of 20 per cent identified customers, 17 per cent identified partners, three per cent SAP employees, and the remainder is the public.

Illustrating that point, ten Vaanholt noted that SAP has partnered with IBM to create an internal community for IBM employees to work with a variety of technologies including those of IBM, Oracle and SAP.

Sam Sliman, president of Irving, Texas-based Optimal Solutions Integration Inc., agreed that the skills of a BPX are not applicable solely to an SAP shop. Besides the emergence of SOA, he said, the proliferation of enterprise resource planning (ERP) technologies as the backbone of many IT infrastructures also makes a case for the PBX across many businesses.

Constant change in an IT environment, alongside SOA and ERP, is also fuelling a need for the PBX. "There needs to be someone who understands the entire process end-to-end to adapt to the changes that are driving it," said Sliman.

The BPX skills are "the ultimate career advancer" and a way for a person in an IT organization to distinguish themselves, thinks Sliman, because ultimately every organization will have to face the fact that technical and business skills are integrating, he added.

Businesses implementing ERP or components of the technology would hire BPXs, with large organizations leading the trend, followed by the middle-tier, he said. ten Vaanholt, who is a PBX himself, agreed that the qualifications will provide an "opportunity to move up the ladder" for either an IT or a business professional. "The goal is to create a skill set to provide thought leadership to help your customers or [those] inside your company," he said.

While the community provides e-learning certification for toolsets, it doesn't provide soft skills training because that's not the company's core mission, said ten Vaanholt.

Becoming a BPX, he said, is more like a four-year MBA program with skills that "can't just be learned in a 10-day course."

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