Eursap’s Ask-the-SAP-Expert: Jawad Akhtar

Eursap’s Ask-the-SAP-Expert: Jawad Akhtar

Eursap’s “Ask the SAP Expert” is designed to give you up-to-date information on the latest SAP news, featuring key thought leaders in the SAP space, as well as regular interviews with the best SAP consultants in the business.

This month, we feature Jawad Akhtar, a prolific SAP S/4HANA SAP Press author, having written no less than EIGHT books on subjects as varied as Materials Management, Quality Management, Production Planning, Document Management, Kanban and Customer-Vendor Integration with SAP S/4HANA. He has also been an SAP consultant for over 20 years with SAP partners. With an extensive following for his updates on LinkedIn, Jawad is a highly respected mentor in the SAP community. Let’s see what makes him tick…

Hi Jawad, thanks for taking the time to talk to us.

Hi Jon, thank you very much for inviting me to have this amazing conversation.

To begin with, would you be able to give our readers some background information on yourself?

Due to my father’s job, I’ve spent more of my earlier years in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, from where I completed my high school education. From Dubai, I went to the USA to pursue a chemical engineering degree that I earned in 1996. Since then, I’ve been living and working in Karachi, Pakistan.

Did you always envisage going into SAP as a career, or did SAP as a career find you?

Initially, my intention was to pursue a career in the engineering field. But during a recruitment drive in 1997 by a potential SAP partner, I was one of the few engineering candidates selected to pursue a consulting career in SAP. So, yes, SAP found me, and I too have enjoyed every bit of my 20-plus years of experience – and am enjoying it now as well! Fortunately, I am still able to put some of my engineering knowledge and education to decent use by working in logistics and supply chain management domains of SAP, such as in SAP production planning. I’m able to connect the dots well.

You’ve been an SAP consultant for many years now – what changes have you witnessed in the industry during that time?

There’s been a tremendous awareness of SAP as an enterprise solution in large and mid-sized national companies. Owners of many of the family-owned big businesses invested in their children’s education and they understand and appreciate the importance of having a world-class ERP solution, such as SAP S/4HANA, which is needed to capture greater market share and even venture into newer markets. Previously, it was only multinationals that would either implement SAP as a part of their global implementation roadmap or had SAP for country-specific rollouts to bring an entire business to SAP. Additionally, over these years, several large public sector (government) enterprises have also started to adopt SAP as a solution to improve business processes and bring in greater business efficiencies.

Being based in Pakistan, how is the SAP market for consulting there? How has the market changed over the years? Presumably the pandemic has had a significant effect?

SAP has been making great inroads in Pakistan, primarily since the Country Manager of SAP Pakistan (Saquib Ahmad) and his team are working hard to bring many large business houses and conglomerates to use SAP. The SAP partner ecosystem too has significantly grown over the years, and so have the demand and supply of SAP consultants.

Like the rest of the world, the initial days of the pandemic were not only challenging due to a sudden shift to remote/off-site working but also due to the uncertainties at all ends – for companies if they wish to still proceed with implementing SAP due to a changed/challenging business environment, and for SAP consultants if they’d be able to hold on to their current jobs or secure new contracts. The pandemic ended up a blessing in disguise as companies realized that the entire SAP project can be delivered using the hybrid (on/off-site) delivery model. SAP consultants also benefitted by getting many more freelance and remote consulting roles to add to their experience and earnings.

You’re also very active on keeping your skills up to date with online courses. Any you would recommend in particular?

I’ve been a life-longer learner and avid reader for as long as I can remember. I strongly believe that learning should never cease, else the professional growth will cease with it too. My favourite learning platform has been OpenSAP courses but I equally take advantage of other SAP resources, such as, SAP Press books, Expresso Tutorials, SAP Learning Hub, and a sheer volume of free resources available to SAP consultants on SAP PartnerEdge (an online portal for SAP Partners).

Now let’s come on to your SAP Press work. Eight books…very impressive! How did you get started on your relationship with SAP Press?

My relationship with SAP Press dates back almost a decade now! As you may know that in the SAP consulting world, there’s always a feast-and-a-famine situation when it comes to having SAP projects to work on. In one of those ‘lean’ periods, when there weren’t any SAP projects to work on, I started exploring options to stay busy and also to keep learning. So, I researched online and started getting writing projects on freelancing websites, and initially earned a ‘handsome’ amount of US$8 per article of 500 words!

I again started looking for ways to expand my writing and earning horizon, and came across a website “Make a Living Writing” by Carol Tice. Carol stressed the need to ditch low-paying freelancing websites and to reach out to ‘higher paying’ and more prestigious websites that publish SAP content – such as articles, columns, tips, training videos, ‘ask-the-expert’ columns etc. Hence, my writing journey skyrocketed when I started writing for top SAP websites, such as, SearchSAP (where I contributed over 200 articles), SAPexperts, SAPtips (now defunct), Michael Management Corporation (where I’ve created several online course), ERPfixers, and even Eursap (where I’ve contributed a few blogs).

A decade ago, the acquisitions editor of SAP Press, Katy Spencer Johnson, was looking for an expert to write a brand new book on the topic of SAP Production Planning, which until then was a German translated version available in English. After seeing my online work for several other SAP publications and websites, Katy reached out to me to see if I’d be interested in authoring a book. It was the beginning of an amazing journey that continues to this day! After my first book became an instant bestseller, SAP Press and I have collaborated over the last decade to work on many more exciting writing projects that continue even today. I have also been very fortunate to have been offered the writing project by SAP Press to update the SAP Press book ‘Materials Management with SAP ERP (4th Edition)’ by the SAP industry legend,  the late Martin Murray. Two of my SAP Press books are also reprinted in India, which itself has a very large SAP users base. In addition to eight full-length books, I’ve also authored seven E-Bites for SAP Press.

And do you have any future plans for SAP Press books which our readers might find interesting?

Yes, I’ll continue to write for SAP Press in the foreseeable future. Be it a brand new topic, a new version of my existing books or even expanding an E-Bite to a full-length book, my collaboration with SAP Press will remain strong. An interesting E-Bite topic that I’ve just submitted a manuscript of is on the topic “Manufacturing for engineering and operations (PEO)’ and is slated for publication in November 2022.

Working with SAP Press over the years and the exciting unpredictability it offers, there will still be more topics that aren’t even discussed yet but may materialize with time and with more discussions. For example, initially SAP Press and I agreed to work on an E-Bite on the topic “Document Management with SAP S/4HANA”. But the SAP Press editorial board recommended a ‘deep-dive’ into this topic. Hence, suddenly an E-Bite project of 70 pages became a full-length book of 460 pages!

I am also highly grateful to our readers for their encouragement and support all these years that has kept me going despite all the sacrifices, hard work, and long hours that goes into authoring big books. It’s an enormous sense of satisfaction and achievement when my readers inform me of how my books have helped in furthering their SAP careers.

You’ve worked with other SAP gurus, websites and organizations, such as Michael Management and the American SAP User Group (ASUG). Can you let our readers know a little about your involvement with ASUG and how it came about?

I was approached by a fellow SAP Press author, Paul Ovigele, founder and CEO of ERPfixers, who was hosting an event for ASUG to see if I am open to an interactive session. It was an amazing event and it even provided some great feedback on the topics that the participants wanted to see in my upcoming books. Lately, my SAP Press book “Materials Management with SAP S/4HANA” made it to the top-5 bestsellers list for 2021 and ASUG featured an article on it. Here’s the link:
https://www.asug.com/insights/asug-asks-the-authors-best-selling-2021-releases-from-sap-press

Let’s talk SAP S/4HANA. What innovations are your particular favourite for this technology?

In SAP S/4HANA, apart from the amazing user experience (UX) of SAP Fiori, my interest is in the ‘embedded’ solutions of SAP S/4HANA. Since I am a logistics and supply chain consultant, hence some of the embedded solution that are of greater interest are manufacturing for production engineering and operations (PEO), production planning and detailed scheduling (PP-DS), and also demand-driven replenishment (DDMRP). It’s quite interesting to not only ‘deep-dive’ into these new embedded solutions but also how they integrate with the core SAP components, such as, sales and distribution, materials management, quality management and production planning.

On the cloud front, I am deeply interested and invested in learning the latest cloud solutions, such as SAP integrated business planning (IBP) and digital manufacturing cloud (DMC), as they are a natural extension of on-premise SAP production planning component in SAP S/4HANA.

Do you think that businesses are starting to get the message with migration to SAP S/4HANA now? The increase in organizations on the S/4HANA platform is steadily rising.

Every business using SAP ECC over the years has opted for significant customizations to the SAP ECC solution, added newer but standalone SAP solutions, such as warehouse management (WM), advanced planning and optimization (APO), or customer relationship management (CRM). Adding to this complexity of interfacing third-party (non-SAP) solutions with SAP ECC, businesses find themselves struggling on how to migrate to SAP S/4HANA without business disruptions but also ensuring no loss of functionalities of the already-developed and in-use solutions.

Unfortunately, no two businesses and their current infrastructure landscape is the same to provide the necessary case studies or success stories that others can emulate. While there’s still some reluctance to migration, fortunately SAP SE has been consistently providing tools, accelerators, and even business scenarios recommendations (BSR) that companies can consider when migrating their current SAP ECC systems to SAP S/4HANA. Still there are a few companies with SAP ECC that are opting for greenfield implementations of SAP S/4HANA so as to get a fresh start of an ERP system with no or minimal customizations.

What challenges do you think businesses face when considering upgrading their ECC6 systems to SAP S/4HANA? How can they mitigate those challenges?

Even since SAP SE announced a deadline for all SAP ECC customers to migrate to SAP S/4HANA by the year 2025, companies are generally struggling on this front. As just discussed, since companies has been using SAP ECC for several years or even decades now and have added a large number of customizations, bespoke solutions, varied architecture, and integration of third-party solutions, they are finding it hard to develop a roadmap for a successful transition from SAP ECC to SAP S/4HANA. So far, there are only a few industry-specific case studies available on successful conversion projects. Hence, the confidence level is not very high – or maybe the ‘wait-and-see’ approach is still more prevalent. Adding to this quagmire is the number of choices when it comes to choosing between private cloud, public cloud, hyperscalers or on-premise SAP solutions. Additionally, enough details and visibility of converting the existing licenses of SAP ECC to SAP S/4HANA isn’t there.

Lastly, there is still a tremendous fear of business disruption as a large number of migration steps need to be performed. One such example is customer and vendor master records in SAP ECC will need to be grouped as ‘business partners’ in SAP S/4HANA. This means that becoming S/4HANA-ready requires reworking the existing customer and vendor master records in SAP ECC to ensure the master records correctly migrate into S/4HANA as business partners. My SAP Press book ‘Business Partners with SAP S/4HANA’ tackles this migration / conversion topic in detail. Additional consideration is the mandatory activation of ‘material ledger’ functionality in SAP S/4HANA that was optional in SAP ECC. So, businesses need to do significant work and even adopt some change management before they are successfully able to transition from SAP ECC to SAP S/4HANA.

The growth of the Software-as-a-Service offering from SAP and other ERP providers has been impressive in recent years. Can you see more and more of the larger organizations following this trend too, or do you think that on-premise solutions from SAP are here to stay?

SAP SE and even other ERP providers have certainly made impressive inroads into the cloud offerings. The trend is not only expected to continue but to gain more momentum as companies are beginning to finally realize the importance of moving the current Capex-oriented on-premise solutions to Opex-oriented cloud solutions. The fact that SAP SE is pursuing a ‘cloud-first’ approach is also enabling it to offer faster innovations every quarter as compared to on-premise where a newer version is released annually. Apart from offering SAP S/4HANA cloud, several next-generation, cloud-based solutions, such as, SAP SuccessFactors, SAP Integrated Business Planning (IBP), and SAP Ariba are good pointers to the cloud-first approach. Interestingly, several large companies in general and even public-sector/government entities in particular are also either already adopting or considering adopting cloud offerings.

Finally, a question we like to ask our interviewees. As someone who has worked in the SAP industry for so long, what advice would you give to any new consultants just starting out in the industry? And the same question for existing SAP ECC6 consultants struggling to come to terms with SAP S/4HANA?

My advice to new SAP consultants may not be very different to what other SAP experts may have already shared. Continuous investment of time, effort and resources in self-learning and self-enablement in your SAP component/area of interest will always reap enormous benefits. Learning by doing things hands-on ensures the knowledge is retained for a much longer period of time. Similarly, sharing knowledge with a wider SAP community is not only a way to give back but also it helps when the users ask questions that prompt the contributor/author to look for answers that may have been missed or not considered.

Although I have shared my thoughts on this question in this Eursap blog (https://eursap.eu/2018/09/19/blog-transition-your-sap-career-to-s-4hana/), briefly, it all comes down to the same advice given earlier – that is, to keep learning, reading, exploring, and staying up-to-date. Not just theoretically but also checking out the features, functionalities, tools, and innovations in SAP S/4HANA – all the while gaining as much hands-on and practical experience as possible.

Jawad Akhtar talked to Jon Simmonds

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