ASUG Tech Connect entered its third and final day Thursday, Nov. 9, with technology and community top of mind for the developers, practitioners, enterprise architects, and global IT leaders who convened in New Orleans alongside SAP experts and industry leaders to share knowledge and build valuable SAP skills. 

Following an exuberant opening performance by the Kinfolk brass band, ASUG CEO Geoff Scott and Kelly Dowling, Director of Content Strategy at ASUG, took the stage to salute attendees and reflect on the first-of-its-kind conference. "If you were not at ASUG Tech Connect this year, you missed out on three tremendous days of learning," said Scott, announcing that the conference will return in 2024. 

Scott was then joined on stage by Matt Schwartz, Global Head of AWS SAP Alliance and Partner Network at Amazon Web Services, and Max Wessel, Executive Vice President & Chief Learning Officer of SAP Learning, to discuss how organizations can develop, capture, and retain the skills and competencies needed to thrive during business transformation.

In their keynote discussion, recorded live as a special-edition episode of the ASUG Talks podcast, all three leaders reflected on the widening technology skills gap and correspondingly increasing need to impart SAP skills to younger generations.

Future-Proofing Skill Sets

Schwartz advocated for more college recruiting, stressing the importance of individuals engaging others across their organizations to oversee and facilitate such initiatives. “SAP is an incredible career, and it’s a great place to start your career; there’s a tremendous amount of opportunity for people in this space,” he said.

People in job functions such as finance and supply chain, meanwhile, possess domain knowledge that’s highly applicable in transitioning to learning and developing SAP skills, he said. “We need to make sure we’re upskilling our seasoned professionals to learn new technologies, because the domain expertise they have today is incredibly valuable,” Schwartz added. “They’re the ones who know how things have been done, and they’re the ones who are going to make sure things can transition correctly.”

With SAP committed to upskilling 2 million professionals by 2025 through an integrated series of certification programs, courses, and enhancements to the SAP Learning Hub, Wessel reflected on the evolution of the SAP Learning site, which launched in 2021 with seven learning journeys for developers and now offers more than 140 journeys for different roles and skill levels.

Shifting from product-based certifications to role-based offerings to better equip learners to navigate the dynamic and ever-evolving job market, SAP Learning recently introduced role-based certification opportunities for backend developers with ABAP Cloud and is soon to launch another certification for backend developers using the SAP Cloud Application Programming (CAP) model, both built in collaboration with ASUG.

“We need to give every single SAP professional out there the opportunity to future-proof their own skill set for the next decades,” Wessel said. Previously, SAP Learning introduced role-based certification for enterprise architects; Wessel also noted the recent arrival of a new developer’s guide for SAP Business Technology Platform (SAP BTP), to supplement the SAP BTP Guidance Framework.

Schwartz discussed openSAP courses from SAP and AWS, focused on accelerating the adoption of SAP S/4HANA and SAP BTP on AWS and developing joint reference architectures for innovation on SAP Business Technology Platform with AWS capabilities; one current openSAP course focuses on building resilient applications on SAP BTP with AWS. "People want to experiment, to understand when and where to use BTP," Schwartz said, noting that AWS has a goal of educating 29 million people with basic cloud experience by 2025.

"Don't be afraid to fail," Schwartz advised those in the audience. "Pick small projects, try them out. If you fail, try again. But give your teams a chance to learn—and learn from success, but also learn from failure. But don't wait. Don't be afraid to try to start leveraging BTP right now."

Added Schwartz: "It's hard to get projects approved, but it's a lot easier if you go to your leadership and say, 'Look, we want to experiment, we want to pick a very prescriptive pain point, we're going to leverage BTP on AWS, and we're going to go solve it.'"

"How Do We Impart Wisdom?" 

Discussing the vast potential—and potential pitfalls—of generative AI for business, both Wessel and Schwartz expressed the need to tread carefully while moving forward, to ensure that AI is effectively augmenting human ingenuity and accelerating education, rather than in any way reducing the need for hands-on learning.

"There’s a danger, if we super-charge people's capability, that we take away some of the interaction that made them expert in the first place,” Wessel added. “For everybody in this room, what we have to think about is, ‘How do we impart wisdom, the right way of asking questions, and the right context, to a generation of folks who are going to enter the workforce with tools that we only wish we’d had?’”

Wessel, Schwartz, and Scott all affirmed that technological evolution is inevitable, and that upskilling one's capabilities with emerging technologies is an exceptional opportunity to advance a career or pivot between professional pathways. 

"Learn to be curious," Schwartz advised attendees, noting that he's never rejected training requests from anyone on his team who's presented a basic business case for what they want to learn. 

"And learn about the cloud, even if it's not your primary role, because it's going to help you understand everyone," he said. "Play with all these tools, as much as possible. Learn them, because your customers are going to ask you questions about these technologies."

Schwartz sees generative AI as a valuable asset both for the business value it can unlock and for the role it can play in combatting an SAP skills shortage. He recommends leveraging the new technologies to help recruit people into the SAP ecosystem.

“In order to be effective with the new technologies, you have to learn the foundations," he said, "and you have to learn the foundational technologies of SAP.”

For more from ASUG Tech Connect, read our coverage of the day-one and day-two and keynotes, an interview with Jabil's IT Director Cynthia Kendall on Jabil's S/4HANA migration, new columns by the Boring Enterprise Nerds and the SAP Customer Evolution team, an interview with enterprise architect Sylvain Garneau of Resolute Forest Products, and our pre-conference interview with SAP CTO Juergen Mueller.

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