Key Trends in ERP, Part II

By Dan Cobb

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In my last column I sat down with Brian Zrimsek, research vice president with Gartner, discussed key trends, budgets and the projects many companies are planning in the ERP space for 2005. This time, we delve into skill and staffing needs, as well as the impact of consolidation on end users.

Cobb: What are the typical skill sets most companies will need to complete their planned ERP projects and should they be considering staff augmentation or permanent employees?

Zrimsek: It depends on the project. If a company is building from bottom up, there are a wide range of technology skills required, including applications, database administration and integration.

Those positions are more technology oriented and fairly easy to transfer, meaning they can work with staff augmentation rather than permanent employees. In fact, that even applies to the next layer -- making the applications work, how to configure individual modules, etc.

Once you get beyond that, though, the requirements become a specialized combination of ingredients that are enterprise-specific. You also need certain skills throughout the project, such as project management, change management and configuration. After the implementation is complete, you will still need those skills, but to varying degrees, which means permanent hires may be necessary.

To me, calling it a "project" is a somewhat of a misnomer. The word project implies an end, and that's just not the case. Going live with an ERP system is like giving birth: sure, you're done with the pregnancy, but you now have to raise the child. Yes, you're done with the project, but there's still ongoing work to be done -- new functions, bugs to work through, adapting to changing business requirements, adding new customer ports, etc.

Skill sets need to be retained and developed during the implementation project. That's why it's critical to take a long-term view. Too often, companies think that once the implementation or upgrade is done, they don't need the added skill sets. Truth is, you're not done. You're never done. You need to plan accordingly.

Do you foresee any scarcity in talent that companies will need to address in terms of staffing-up for ERP projects?

The talent scarcity will most likely occur in those areas where there are new vendor offerings. The talent pool lags by about three-to-six months. That's why it's a continual challenge to staff-up with the skills needed to implement the latest and greatest offerings. Fortunately, most companies don't need the latest and greatest offerings when they're fresh on the market.

What impact will the PeopleSoft/Oracle merger have on the ERP space?

It will have a huge impact. There are a lot of decisions for customers to make.

How will PeopleSoft consultants be impacted by the merger and what steps can they take to remain marketable?

Needs won't dry up immediately around PeopleSoft, because those customers will still need upgrades and they'll have to migrate from the platform. But PeopleSoft consultants will eventually need to re-tool their skills as Oracle builds future products. And those skills will need to be balanced against market size.

When Oracle acquired PeopleSoft, the market sized doubled, but the skills were there at the time. Soon, consultants will need to ramp up.

In short, there's a place and a viable future for IT professionals with PeopleSoft skills. However, consulting firms will need to make an investment in their people because there will eventually be an end to the PeopleSoft road.

Dan Cobb is vice president, national sales, with Kforce Technology Staffing, a division of Kforce, Inc. He can be reached via email at dcobb@kforce.com.