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Protecting knowledge or wasting it ?

I have spent the last few weeks since my last weblog, with the SAP Community, the online one on . I have been a member of the community for quite some time now, but after I joined SDN, I felt the need for an increased level of involvement with my peers(OK, the reward program at the community and the nifty pen also tempted me, so?). This led me to my sudden deep exploration of the SAP community, more specifically the community forums. I have always felt that a forum always serves as the mouthpiece of a community; A unique kind of democratic environment that allows people observing it to judge, in a few minutes what the entire community is feeling and what it wants to talk about. Though NetWeaver and other core SAP specifics dominate the noise on the forums, what kept me riveted to the forums was the sheer amount of discussion on topics related to SAP Careers.

It is definitely a crowded place out there, with people jostling for attention, topics with very similar titles being posted and reposted till they get worn out and end up inviting replies that contain links to older discussions about the same thing! The signs are clear, more and more people want to be here, now. Why ? Now that is a profound question, and I don’t think I know the complete answer to that, but seeing the crowds at the doors to the SAP world sure does make me feel happier about being part of the SAP community! Gone are the days when somebody asked me what I did for a living, and I desperately looked for quick ways to explain the meaning of ERP and why SAP is actually five words and not three, without looking as uncomfortable as a Windows user on UNIX. For obvious reasons, I left most of those who asked me that question feeling pretty convinced that I was actually unemployed and was making all this up to confuse them. After all, why would somebody be so bad at talking about his own job? I’m so happy that all that is in the past. Now, SAP is the kind of stuff that everybody who has anything to do with any industry loves to talk shop about. This, it can be easily noticed, is reflected in the SAP Forums as well. So where am I leading this to?

My two bit conclusion: SAP is no longer just a representative of one of the many product lines in the ERP segment of a very fragmented Information Technology Industry. Today, as far as careers are concerned, to a lot of people, it means a full-fledged profession.

Picture a group of third-graders talking…
First kid : “I wanna be a fireman!”
Second kid : “I’ll be a fighter pilot!”
Third kid : “I’m gonna be an astronaut!”
Fourth kid : “I’m gonna be an SAP Consultant!”
… end of discussion. You can’t be much smarter than that, can you?

All right, I plead guilty! That was a case of severe exaggeration… I must have watched too many commercials last night. But anyway, the misplaced point I was trying to make was that more people are seriously planning a move into SAP careers than ever before, and are spending a good deal of time, money and research in an effort to taking the best steps to do it right. And they’re looking for help… unfortunately too many of these people get misled, due to too much incorrect information floating around and too few really experienced people willing to set the record straight. How many of us have seen somebody with several years of manufacturing experience trying to make it as an SAP FI consultant ? Or a professional accountant whose only exposure to programming has been AUTOEXEC.BAT, trying to be an ABAPer ? In my few years with SAPient Colleges in Asia, I have seen more of these people than I ever expected. It’s not that they never make it. While some of them do, a few among them actually do make the big time. But all of them struggle… the important thing is that they need not, because if the right people had advised them about the things to do(and not to!), they would end up walking through the right doors and soon, somewhere, somehow, make a small but tangible difference to the quality of the SAP world. And who are these right people, you may ask? Slightly rhetorical question, since most readers would know the answer.“Say, Pal! D’ya have a mirror around you?”
It may have something to do with how busy we are as members of the SAP community, but it is generally felt that we protect our experiences and our knowledge a lot more in this community than in most other technical and non-technical communities. I remember the hurt I felt when I read a post(not on the SAP Forums, though) that accused senior members of the community of trying to close doors on the faces of greenthumb consultants. So what exactly led to this extremist outburst? A little investigation revealed that the writer in question had posted an innocent, though urgent request for information about a specific R/3 application. Though his question was not exactly rocket science and could have been answered relatively easily, nobody actually bothered to reply, even after he repeated his request several times…

I wish there was some way I could exhort more of the wiser, more experienced members to contribute more to laying a path for newer, inexperienced members of the SAP fraternity (definitely not third-graders, but still not very sure-footed). I don’t know if I’ll succeed, but I’m going to try and take some time out every now and then and dive in the forums doing just that… helping a few newbies make the right moves, helping a few more of the right people come in through the right doors!

P.S.: One of the best things to happen to SDN was the ABAP Programming Forum. I’m going to be there when I don’t have to be anywhere else…

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  • Is a great idea.  Would be nice to have it here as well to increase the traffic and amount of postings in the forum.  (I´m waiting for my pen to arrive from SAP 🙂
    • How effective the reward program is in enriching intellectual profits for both requesters and contributers depends completely on what rewards are there for… I see a few people(obviously lusting for pens, and other nice things up for grabs!) breaking one elementary question down into ten ridiculous separate posts, each one showing up as a new topic! When I think of spending some time with the forums to answer some questions and probably ask my own, more often than not, simply observe conversations to keep my finger on the pulse, I don’t find it very useful to see a subject that has been discussed to death being raised again simply to earn the reward points. Also it’s strange to see comments like “Thanks for your reply…” from people who haven’t asked the question in the first place and they don’t even mark your reply as useful!
      But this is true of any democracy and it’s the population that make the rules and…. bend them!

      I’m waiting for my pen too 😉


  • Hello,

    can moderating the forums solution? It’s rearly annoying when the same questions appear daily or weekly. A moderater can filter the messages and put freqently asked question into an FAQ. The sender should be informed with a link to the FAQ. I think that without this ambient noise also experts with less time will find there way to the forums.

    Another point are the search functions. I think it would be a good improvement to the SDN if the forums are searchable on there own. In the SAP comunity there is no search function avaliable at all!

    Best regards
    Gregor Wolf

  • Well…the blog is underlining a very important issue, one that is mentioned in the subject of my reply. I am fond of this topic and was recently  reading a research paper on the subject which defined the term “Asset” as something like:
    “any thing that is of some value that can be materialized…”. The words were not exactly the same but the theme was.
    Any way, the paper tried to highlight the problems that are faced in capturing and reusing intellectual assets and one of them was that, as the asset is shared more, its value depreciates many-folds. As an example, if the chef of a restaurant knows the recipe of a product that is very famous, he remains important as long as only he has that recipe. The moment any other chef knows about it, the value of both the asset and the person who held that, depreciates. And if a customer of that restaurant gets to know it, the value of restaurant depreciates as the customer may not even come back to eat it.
    Perhaps, as suggested, a reward program may stimulate people to start sharing knowledge; perhaps it may not. I have seen a lot of posts on the SAP community forums that say nothing. Just one line sentence that says that they like the discussion and the writer should keep it up…
    I think that the fear of loss of value should be taken more seriously. Rather than a material reward, something that would enhance the intellectual assets of the contributors may be a solution. A program that would, lets say, reward contributors in terms of getting access to latest research notes, books, articles etc. But the criterion should be based on the quality of input and not the quantity.
    • Hi Shehryar,

      A good restaurant often brings out a cookbook and people go out of their way to visit them and taste the original even though they may try it at home too.

      Same with a bakery, they will usually give you a bit of their sour dough, if you ask nicely. Even though they know that you will do your own bread, at least for a while, until you realize how convenient a fresh made bread is and you come back to the baker, now being a lot more loyal and with a greater appreciation of what he is doing.

      We are in the early stages of developing a  reward program within SDN and inputs regarding one line “drive by postings” is opening our eyes to what to look out for. We should figure out a way to reward people for the quality of their posts.

      Tips and pointers to community sites where they have solved that problem in a good way are very much appreciated.

      All the best, Mark.

      • Innovation is one thing that I left out deliberatly in my last post. A cook would only be scared of sharing his recipe so far as he is not working hard to come up with something new. People tend to hold back knowledge only when they see that someone else will use it in an effective manner and get ahead of them. The soluton, “INNOVATION” if I may say, is not easy to come by. It requires constant strive to be among the best and remain ahead of the rest.
        I am definitely looking forward to see an innovative approach from the SDN team to resolve the problem of knowledge sharing. All the best…Shehryar