Every client will have a different approach regarding dealing with SAP professionals. Some organisations choose to invest heavily in SAP and build a strong team of internal SAP professionals. Normally these teams consist of a varied range of skills in terms of both experience and functionality. In the main these organisations look internally for support, change and advice and do not use contractors or SAP Partners. Other organisations have a very small SAP team and regularly use a combination of contractors and consultants. Each of these approaches has their pros and cons and I don't profess to have a simple algorithm to determine the correct blend.
What type of skills do you need within your team?
If we ignore modular, technical and system wide skills there are three key categories.
Risk mitigation - Ensuring the system is up, jobs are running and data is flowing through the system. Typically this is part of a help-desk function as well.
Value-add - Once you have a stable solution you can look to grow your SAP instance to add value to your business. There is no point making change for change sake, any change should have an associated business benefit and a clear objective around the change
Strategic advice - The first two normally have a very short term view to them. There is also a requirement to know what is new in the SAP world. By understanding what challenges they will face as well as new tools becoming available a SAP strategic plan can start to take place.
Who is best to perform which role?
Before I continue I feel that I should point out that most of my SAP experience has been gained as an internal SAP professional working for the business directly and not as an SAP consultant. I have worked across all three key categories in both my time as an internal consultant and an external consultant.
The risk mitigation role in the main is best performed by internal team members
The key to this is the in-house knowledge and ability to quickly react to issues. A typical external help desk function will have a large pool of consultants working across a number of clients. As such, their lower level knowledge of the system, processes and business context will always be lower than the internal team. By dealing with common queries and errors the internal team can be more reactive, ensuring that their cost is lower and productivity is higher.
The value-add role is the most interesting and contentious
Within organisations that have a large SAP team, part of that team should focus on working with the business to identify requirements and solutions. My view is quite simple here. If certain tools or functions do not change that often, and there is no appetite for change, there is little benefit in having in-house highly skilled SAP professionals to perform this role as generally they will use their spare time assisting the risk mitigation role. The other variable to consider here is the experience of the consultant providing the value-add.
The Strategic advice role in the main should be performed by external consultants
That is not to say that it cannot be performed by internal consultants however, after a while an internal consultant will be influenced by politics within the organisation and may lose focus on new solutions and ideas. The real benefit an external consultant can provide an organisation is insight into how other clients use new functionality and lessons learnt. Having an external party pass recommendation, even if it is the same recommendation that the in-house team would have made, the independence of the external consultant will add extra weight to the recommendation.
Due to the varied size and objectives of an organisation, the way SAP consultants are consumed will be different. There can be no magic answer to the size or make-up of the team. When reviewing your internal team or how you engage with external consultants, looking at the type of service you require is the key indicator as to the balance, size of the team and skill-set of the consultants.