ERP systems are expanding in just about any industry. Are you ready to position yourself as one of the leaders in the multi-faceted expansion of business models?
An ERP software package helps organisations in effective and efficient management of available resources such as machines, material, manpower, inventory, etc. A unified database serves the needs and requirements of various departments, leading to optimised functioning. The aim of a business in using an ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) system is to bring all its departments to a common platform, such that the departments can easily share information and communicate with each other.
To elaborate, in ERP, a single software package has modules customised to the needs of different departments-financial accounting, production, distribution, marketing, inventory control, data warehousing, etc. ERP is, in sum, an application for effective and efficient management of the resources of an organisation.
Let's say the human resources department keeps a record of the attendance, performance on the job, contribution, and such for every employee. A software module will keep these records and save it in a unified database. When the employees are to be remunerated, the finance department uses the same database for calculating the employee's salary after the necessary costs, rates, and taxes have been applied.
ERP systems have been used for ages, and software packages provided by the vendors have undergone several changes. Today, ERP is used by large corporations as well as small-and-medium businesses; almost every sector has some form of ERP implemented.
Earlier, ERP was confined to the manufacturing sectors. Its success led to a further demand for it in industries such as automobiles, media, pharmaceuticals, textiles, telecom, heavy machines, and many more.
"The growth of ERP as a business solution has fuelled the adoption of upcoming technologies and implementation of ERP packages in several companies across various industries. This has also spawned the growth of IT consultant firms that specialise in helping organisations both in India and abroad in implementing ERP solutions. It also requires organisations where ERP has been adopted to develop teams for ongoing maintenance of the applications and providing support to clients," says Jason Gonsalves, Vice President, IT and Corporate Planning, Kansai Nerolac Paints, a leading paint manufacturing company.
The implementation of ERP passes through a number of stages-analysis of the business process, the drawing up of plans for the ERP, installing and configuring the ERP package, and, finally, support and management.
Thus, the demand for ERP professionals is, naturally, in companies who have adopted or are planning to adopt ERP applications. There are several options for those who have specialised knowledge in this field-through either education or work experience. The increase in adoption of ERP by various industry verticals has led to an increase in demand for trained, skilled, and experienced ERP professionals.
"ERP consulting and solutions are people's business, where interpersonal and intrapersonal skills are equally important-besides basic qualifications and certifications"
Chief Technology Officer,
Patni Computer Systems Ltd
The Basic Requirements
Anyone aspiring to pursue a career in ERP systems should have at least a Bachelor's degree from either functional or technical academics. The qualifications required vary according to the role to be played. The roles in this field are broadly divided into Functional and Technical, so the basic requirements are as follows.
Functional: The qualification required is a Bachelors or Masters degree, which is to be pursued depending upon the function to specialise in. Someone willing to specialise in finance must have an academic background in finance: MBA (Finance), Chartered Accountant, Cost Accounting, Financial Analyst, etc.
Freshers are not likely to be selected directly from campuses. It is advisable to pursue further formal education in the respective functional area (finance, materials management, production management, etc.) and acquiring experience of working in the domain of their interest. After gaining sound knowledge of that particular function, they can pursue training by the ERP software vendors, who have specific course modules for professionals in a specific domain.
Technical: This deals purely with the development of software. For that, a minimum of a Bachelors or Masters degree from an engineering background, specialising in computer science or software engineering, is preferred. Students pursuing degrees in computer applications and IT are also eligible. Candidates should possess strong programming skills with a constant urge for learning, as they may have to work on multiple applications.
Courses in specific domains are offered by ERP vendors such as Oracle and SAP. Education and training can be acquired from ERP vendors' authorised centres and authorised training partners: the certifications they provide are accepted by various industry verticals. These courses are usually short-term, and a bit expensive.
The industry prefers to recruit professionals who carry a vendor-specific degree. A number of private training institutes have cropped up, and impart training on ERP products. However, "Unless authorised by the ERP product vendors, it is not a wise to opt for an unauthorised institute. There are many institutes that are not authorised and use pirated software for training," says Nilanjan Chaudhuri, Vice President, Marketing, PSI Data Systems, a software development, solutions, and consulting service provider.
Hands-on skills are looked upon as the basic benchmark for the assessment of a suitable candidate. An ERP consultant should be dynamic and able to adapt to constant change. One must possess good soft skills, too.
Functional: In a company such as one that provides consulting and solution services in ERP, consultants have to interact with clients from various industries. Understanding the client's needs, drawing up plans, and communicating these to the implementation team are typical duties. Soft skills such as being a patient and attentive listener, good communication skills, presentation skills, team-leading ability, and the ability to persuade clients are important. Good logical thinking is a must.
Technical: Those on the technical side are into programming and application development, so hard skills are valued: problem solving skills, good logical thinking and analysis, communication skills, and being a good team player.
The Importance Of Training
Every organisation has training programmes of their own for fresh recruits, irrespective of work experience and educational qualifications.
"Training programmes are important, as a shortage of trained and experienced professionals is always faced. Training helps professionals gain hands-on experience and more understanding, which will help them in the execution of their job. Though training freshly recruited staff is cost intensive, it is looked upon as a long-term investment in them," says Chetan Pathak, Vice President, Enterprise Solutions, Ramco Systems (India) Ltd, a company that provides enterprise IT solutions and services.
"At Wipro, we have an internal Talent Transformation Cell, where we train people recruited to work with ERP systems on platforms of vendors such as Oracle, SAP, MS Dynamics, etc. After the training, they get certified on their respective modules and are exposed to hands-on projects-to learn the functional aspects of business design and adopt best practices in the ERP package," says Krishna Kumar Tirumalai S, Head, SAP Delivery, Wipro Infotech Ltd.
For in-depth and hands on expertise, companies also conduct training programs addressing specific roles in ERP. "We have a career development framework, through which specific training is delivered to the candidate depending on the job experience the candidate has acquired over the years and on his or her aspiration and capability," says Suman K Mazumder, Director, Application Services Global Delivery, IBM India.
This training period varies depending upon the role of the individual and the organisation. On-the-job training is also common in many organisations, and some are flexible enough to allow and encourage employees to pursue education related to their job function.
"ERP consultants need to keep themselves updated with new applications and evolving technologies. Quitting their official obligations and pursuing full-time study is not a wise choice. The concept of part-time module courses has therefore evolved-to help them keep pace with changing trends," says Anand Ekambaram, Director, Education Services, SAP India Ltd.
The Growth Path
Managing Consultant/Project Manager
VP, Consulting and Business Solutions
Senior VP, Consulting and Business Solutions
Trainee Software Engineer
Senior Software Engineer
Associate Software Consultant
Senior Software Consultant
Lead Software Consultant / Product Manager
Senior Technical Advisor
Chief Technical Advisor / Officer
Careers for ERP professionals lie in product development, implementation, maintenance, and consulting. Within these, there are multiple options available. Industry verticals often refer an ERP professional as a consultant based on his or her role and area of expertise in that organisation. The ERP employment scenario offers career options that can be classified primarily into Functional, Technical, and Training.
The ERP functional consultant interacts with the client organisation-he understands their business processes, requirements, and problems. He then analyses and builds the process flow of the functions, and recommends a cost-effective implementation of an ERP solution package.
The Technical Area: In ERP software companies, the individual can be involved in development of various applications on different platforms-an ERP package or specific modules within a package. They work on ERP applications like mySAP, Oracle 11i, PeopleSoft, and J D Edwards, to name a few. These professionals-often referred to as consultants-code the requirements of the business and integrate them to form a plan for implementation of ERP in the clients' business process models. In organisations that provide consulting services, the technical professionals are also required for the implementation team and maintenance.
The Training Area: After relevant industry experience and pursuing training through vendor-specific courses, training can be a good career option. Organisations looking to train their freshly-recruited ERP staff always need training professionals. Experience of working on different platforms and knowledge of many domains are important for a trainer.
Freelancing: Many ERP professionals provide freelance consulting to client organisations. It is mostly small or medium businesses who hire freelance consultants for implementation or maintenance for their ERP requirements. As a freelancer, one can perform any role from the bottom to the top level, depending, of course, upon the years of experience and specialisation.
The Growth Path
Since ERP systems are implemented across different industry verticals, different designations are awarded to individuals in the ERP stream. See box The Growth Path.
One cannot become, say, a principal consultant in a short time-span. It takes years of experience in domains such as telecom, automotives, textiles, chemicals, etc. We can roughly say that the average time taken to climb each step of the designation ladder from the bottom is at least two years. To climb up to the position of Principal Consultant takes at least eight to 12 years with industry experience in particular domain.
It is difficult to determine the approximate salary range. The remuneration structure differs widely amongst companies, based on their size and policies. However, one can expect Rs 30,000 per month to Rs 45,000 and higher at the lower levels, that is, when advancing from Trainee Consultant / Trainee Software Engineer to Assistant Consultant / Software Engineer.
From Associate Consultant/Senior Software Engineer to Senior Consultant / Senior Software Consultant, one expect between Rs 45,000 and 65,000. From Lead Consultant / Lead Software Consultant to Principal Consultant / Senior Technical Advisor, between Rs 65,000 and 80,000 can be expected. As for the top-most designations in both the functional and technical areas, Rs 85,000 per month and above is a norm. However, these figures are indicative.
"Since ERP solves a business problem with technology, it is important to have a good understanding of either technology or domain, along with an appreciation of the other"
A lot of Indian companies have come out with highly customisable ERP package suites specifically for small and medium enterprises in various domains. These have a product life-cycle, and need to be constantly upgraded to keep pace with the technology and business requirements. Opportunities in such organisations are very healthy, both in India and abroad.
A self-assessment of one's strengths and areas of interest must be clearly conducted before opting for this field as a career. Once that's done, the world awaits you!