Computer Applications Engineer
Computer applications engineers work on the applications used directly by various professional disciplines, including accounting, inventory management, procurement and customer relations.
They adapt off-the-shelf software supplied by publishers such as SAP, IBM and Oracle, configuring it using data specific to the company. Computer applications engineers interface directly with users and must meet their needs effectively by finding affordable ways to give them competitive advantages in their work.
They act as advisors — on how to improve processes, for example — and are also expected to come up with new ideas and recommendations.
In addition to their information technology skills and qualifications, they must know and understand the issues and challenges of the functions in which their users work. That is why computer applications engineers always specialize in one or more specific functions, such as finance, procurement, production and marketing.
Computer applications engineers start out as junior engineers on a team dedicated to a major company function such as procurement, marketing or finance. They learn how tools work and what their potential capabilities are through everyday use and involvement in projects, as well as formal training, some of which may be offered by publishers or other companies. They must become familiar with the professional processes of the function they work with. They also help out with support and maintenance.
After two or three years, computer applications engineers may move up to a position as manager of an application or module, with the skills to handle the cost, quality and lead time of some or all of a project. They may acquire expertise in a specific subject and/or move into a supervisory role, but over the years they will gradually learn to see the technical "big picture," in order to focus on team and project management.
Computer applications engineers may move into other fields in the Information Systems & Technology Department (IS&T), such as quality, project management and internal control, or into a profession they learned about while working in their field.
A computer applications engineer job can eventually lead to team management and thus to responsibility for an entire function, such as procurement, finance and industrial maintenance.
• Engineering degree (civil engineer in Belgium - five years of post-secondary education in France), with a major in information technology, electromechanical engineering, electrical engineering or applied mathematics, or in sales engineering (management information technology).
• Team player, analytical skills, good interpersonal skills in a multicultural environment, open-minded, critical thinker, able to rethink personal assumptions.
• Fluent in French and English; Dutch a plus.
Experiences of Sandrine D.
Belgian, age 26
Computer Applications Engineer, Information Systems &Technology (IS&T) Department, Total Petrochemicals
Sales Engineering degree, University of Antwerp, Belgium
I didn't study information technology at school, but when I started my career at Total Petrochemicals I was working in the department that manages IS&T's finances. I was a controller and as such I used IT tools a lot, especially SAP and Lotus Notes. So I learned not only to be proficient in those applications, but also to think about how to optimize them.
With that end in mind, I worked with my colleagues in the Business System Department, prompting my supervisors to offer me a job on that team. I had helped set up a method for monitoring project budgets and as a key user, I'd had a lot of contact with the person who held the job before me.
Level 2 Support
For the last nine months I've been an SAP Process Expert in the Investment Management & Process Systems (IMPS) field. I manage the SAP module used to monitor the budgets of major industrial projects using the Petrogate method, which calls for proceeding one phase at a time.
Ordinarily, when people run into a problem with an application, they call the helpdesk, which forwards the request to the Business System Support team. The latter provides broad Level 1 support for SAP. But when problems require making changes to the system, they hand things over to Level 2, which is my level.
Never a Dull Moment
What's interesting about my job is the management of system optimizations and the different types of enhancements. Some changes are managed the same way as a full-fledged IT project. The other really interesting thing about this job is that I'm always looking for ways to optimize processes and information flows as much as possible.
To that end, I'm in touch with the process experts for the other SAP modules, such as procurement, management control, finance and maintenance, and of course — and most importantly — with users. Rush jobs often throw schedules off. It's not always an easy thing to juggle, but at least there's never a dull moment.
Experiences of Olivier B.
Belgian, age 28
Expert Process Engineer in the Business System Department, Total Petrochemicals' Information Systems & Technology (IS&T) Department
Electrical Engineering degree (majoring in electronics), Catholic University of Louvain + Master's in Industrial Management, Catholic University of Louvain, Belgium.
From Business Game to Hire
During my Master's degree year, I competed in a business game with Total as my team's sponsor. It was a simulation game: we had to make the right decisions based on new background facts that were provided each week. It put me in very regular touch with Total Petrochemicals' IS&T Department for six weeks.
After that experience, Total offered me a job and a few weeks later I took a position in Total Petrochemicals' IS&T Department in Feluy. At first I was responsible for logistics applications on the Industrial Research & Development Systems (IRDS) team, specifically the ones used to manage truck and railcar loading and offloading at plants.
“My Field Is Really Project Management”
I spent 80% of my time managing projects that lasted about a year: I'd go to a site, meet the staff there to talk about needs, work on the application with a team of IT specialists, then return to the plant to install the new application. The remaining 20% of the time I spent on maintenance, support and recurring tasks that did not need to be managed like a project.
Initially, I didn't plan to work in information technology and I didn't study subjects that particularly focused on IT at school. But after listening to and analyzing what I wanted, my interfaces at Total offered me this first job, which was a good fit for me. Besides, I don't really do IT work. My field is really project management.
It's interesting and diversified, especially since it draws you into a variety of areas. A year ago for example, I moved to the Business System Department. Now I'm working on SAP-type applications, in particular two modules: Sales & Distribution and Customer Relationship Management.
A Profession That Lends Itself to Occupational Mobility
My new job is somewhat similar, with two differences: I spend half my time on projects and half on recurring tasks. And for the project part, my contacts aren't based in plants: they're more likely to be sales and marketing people, logistics specialists and managers. I go out to sites less often, but I still travel quite regularly. Just recently I went to see our vendors in Asia. My profession lends itself to the occupational mobility Total encourages. After a few years in the Business System Department, I'm thinking of moving out of IT into other fields. There are so many possibilities: I could switch to management control or strategy or return to plants.