SAP is the world's largest business software provider. Based in Germany, the firm's software is used by mid- to large-size companies for everything from financial operations to personnel data to supply chain tracking to asset management. While heavily used in large global companies, SAP does have scalable solutions for small to midsize businesses.

An SAP human resources consultant specializes in helping companies evaluate, implement or upgrade SAP products that support HR-related tasks and information. That is the short answer. A longer answer to the question depends greatly on where a firm is in the process of considering or maintaining software purchased from SAP because there are numerous types of consultants that may be needed.

SAP HR Products

SAP markets software packaged for either large or small businesses that can automate and track routine HR processes. These include maintaining employee data, running payroll, handling compensation changes and tracking timekeeping. There are employee self-service and manager self-service modules for updating addresses, banking information, travel and expense management, approval workflow and more. SAP also offers products that deal with performance planning, succession, and work force planning. In addition, there are numerous other HR modules, including products for recruiting, training, and both project and risk management.

SAP Consultant Roles

Companies implementing an SAP HR solution usually need consultants to help them. A new endeavor – particularly software changes that require as much testing as HR data or payroll – requires more staff support and expertise than are probably available in-house, even if the firm has other SAP software in place.

The roles that consultants play can vary greatly based on the client company’s needs. Some employ consultants as partners in every aspect: product selection, project planning, implementation, testing and production support. Those consultants need in-depth consulting skills, deep knowledge of the business’s industry and expertise in the specific technology being considered.

Companies with in-house expertise may evaluate products themselves and add SAP HR consultants for specific project segments. Consultants commonly are used to conduct a gap analysis between the processes in the software and the processes the business already uses; design and configure software, which requires thorough knowledge of the specific SAP module; develop customizations or enhancements to the software where needed; handle testing, including functional test cases, quality control testing, and user testing; and strategize organizational change management methods to engage stakeholders and facilitate adoption.

Knowledge transfer is one consultant role that is often overlooked until the end. Yet in-house support needs to maintain the system in the future. They need to know the process, how things were configured, and how to test the software so future upgrades go smoothly. SAP software is an expensive company resource, so make sure the company has staff to support it going forward

Hiring Consultants

Large HR software implementations can require a team of experienced partners. Many large consulting firms, such as Deloitte and Accenture, have extensive SAP implementation practices. Global technology consulting firms, such as Infosys and Covansys, do as well. Another option is to choose a smaller firm, specializing in the SAP HR products being implemented.

Check experience in your industry or with comparable-size firms. Ask consultants for references and their experience level. Verify that previous clients were satisfied. Find out if the work will be done offshore or in the area; this can impact costs, as well as responsiveness.

Cost Considerations

Pay attention, prior to project launch, to make sure the plans have holidays, delays and adequate testing time built in to avoid cost overruns and delayed launches. Experienced consultants can help draft a realistic project plan and labor budget.

Consultants can be expensive, but the most effective way of keeping costs to a minimum is choosing consultants with excellent technical skills and business process knowledge. To keep an eye on costs, consider a fixed contract rather than time and material.