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Update, July 18, 2008: those of you who are interested in the topics in this post and the value of SAP certification may want to check out my in-depth podcast with Sue Martin of SAP on the latest developments in SAP certification.

The value of SAP certification has been a continuously hot topic in my email inbox since I started writing SAP career newsletters in 1995. I think this issue has come to a head a bit lately because SAP is moving to enhance its certification program through a new three-tiered certification program. In this blog entry, I’ll link to some of the most recent discussions on SAP certification and then provide my own views.

The so-called SAP skills shortage, a major topic at this year’s ASUG/SAPPHIRE show which I addressed in a Is There Really an SAP Skills Shortage?, also brings up the topic of certification in the context of bringing new consultants into the field. SAP customers are understandably wary of returning to the days when “certification only” consultants found themselves in over their heads on project teams. On the other hand, for a person with a deep and relevant industry background, sometimes SAP certification is enough to jump start an SAP career and make a positive contribution to a project.

After the conference in Orlando, I did a “Sapphire in Review” podcast with David Foote which gets into an exploration of the “SAP skills shortage” and David’s recommendations for SAP consultants who want to stay marketable. We do touch on the topic of SAP certification towards the end of the podcast, but I hope to return to that topic in more detail on another podcast soon.

Demir Barlas, SearchSAP.com Site Editor, raised the hot button topic of “SAP Certification for Freshers” in a blog entry in March, and before long there were more than fifty comments. Certainly, those who are trying to break into SAP are more vulnerable to the “SAP certification solves all your career problems” sales pitch and need to better understand how to apply SAP certification strategically.

Last week, I posted my own blog entry on JonERP.com summarizing my views on SAP certification, framed in the context of “Is SAP Certification Worth the Money?” Then, Demir Barlas responded with another interesting post summarizing the new SAP certification levels. As you can see from my comment to Demir’s latest entry, there is still some confusion even amongst those who have researched this topic as to which of the new certification levels are going to involve a component measuring hands-on SAP project experience.

For many, working hands-on SAP project experience into the higher SAP certification levels would be a great way of establishing a certification process that truly measures the value of a consultant to a project team – something you can’t really measure in a classroom. And of course, of special relevance to the BPX community is the ongoing discussion, led by Marco ten Vaanholt, to establish the BPX Education and certification.

There are already some components in place, but as you can see from the discussion, there is an issue there also in terms of how a BPX certification can truly measure the effectiveness of a “Business Process Expert” – as opposed to tying the BPX certification to knowledge of a couple of proprietary tools, for example.

So that’s a good overview of some of the discussions taking place online right now pertaining to SAP certification. For those of you who have a little more time to burn on your lunch break, if you read on, you can get more detail on my views on the value of certification.

I’ll start with some excerpts from my JonERP.com blog entry on the question, “Is SAP Certification Worth the Money”:

This is a very hard question to answer, in part because money is relative. If you have plenty of cash stashed away, then you can never go wrong with an investment in SAP certification. But, few of us fit into that category. That means we need a clearer understanding of how SAP certification fits into our career strategy. SAP certification is full of controversy because of the contrast between the importance of certification versus hands-on SAP skills.

Certification was also a hot topic at Sapphire again this year, in part because of the desire on the part of the SAP community to understand SAP’s new three-tiered certification strategy. Some people like to frame the SAP certification issue in terms of whether SAP certification is a rip-off, and I have done that before myself.

But I think the best way to look at SAP certification is to ask if it’s overrated or not. And the answer to that question is, “it depends.” In terms of a “quick fix” to immediately break into SAP or change your SAP career fortunes, I think SAP certification is overrated. But in terms of a savvy way to enhance your marketability in a long-term sense, I think SAP certification may even be underrated.

Here are some highlights from the first comment I made to Demir’s entry about certification on SearchSAP:

“SAP training and certification is a significant investment for an individual SAP professional, and to this day, I feel that too many people dive headlong into that investment without weighing their options carefully. (Of course, some people are fortunate enough to get their training and/or certification paid for by their employers, in which case, it is more of a no-brainer to go ahead and do it).

There is obviously no one right answer to the question of the value of SAP certification. You can find examples of those who have had success with SAP certification and at the same time, you can find plenty of examples of those who invested in SAP certification and ultimately could not land an SAP job based on that certification. I’ve heard from those folks, and they are not a happy group.

It’s helpful to understand how SAP certification fits into the supply and demand of the marketplace. Back in the 1990s, it was possible to land an SAP job with “certification only” because there weren’t enough experienced consultants, and “Big Six firms” on large project sites were able to field teams with plenty of junior-level consultants who did not have any hands-on SAP experience other than their classroom certifications.

The power of certification in the SAP market has changed largely because most of these “entry level” consulting positions on client sites are gone forever. Most SAP customers are sophisticated enough to expect more seasoned SAP pros with actual SAP project experience. And there are fewer “big bang” type implementations where companies just open the floodgates and hire hundreds of consultants regardless of experience level. As a result, even though the SAP consulting market is very healthy, the power of SAP certification to land that all-important first project has diminished over the years, and I don’t expect that power to return.

Before we go further with my comments, it’s helpful to understand that SAP has also been adding to its certification levels. The classic level of SAP certification is now called the “Associate” level. SAP is now rolling out the “Professional” level certification in many areas. This is a more rigorous certification program and as such, may eventually carry more weight in the marketplace, we will have to see. There is a third level of certification on the way also, called the “Master” level. It is rumored that this level will likely involve some measurement of project experience. If this comes to pass, I would not be surprised if this higher level of certification carries much more weight.

Certification is interesting from the vantage point of hype. Sometimes I have found that SAP hypes its own certification, but often, I find that it’s the job seekers themselves who latch onto certification and hype it for themselves. Demir is absolutely right in his post: many aspiring SAP professionals view certification as the easy (if expensive) way to open a door into the SAP field that is not always easy to open.

When we consider the value of certification, I think the biggest determining factor is: how many SAP jobs require certification? The answer is: only a small percentage. Project references are so much more important, as others commenting on this blog entry have noted. And even those jobs that require SAP certification also tend to require a number of years in the SAP field as well.

Here’s a few comments I made on a previous SearchSAP post on certification: ‘I will tell you that I rarely encourage SAP certification for those who are tight on costs. I feel that in many ways, a better use of time is to focus on marketing your existing skills to customers running on SAP and break into SAP from the inside. Remember that SAP consulting is really not a certification-driven market the way that some other software and hardware markets are.

Project experience is the key, and investing time in books and research into companies running SAP in your field could be a better option. I’m not saying don’t get certified in SAP, just be realistic that it may not be the key to landing an SAP position. I think knowing how to make your current skills appealing to SAP customers and their IT departments may be more important.

The key to breaking into SAP remains hard work, good overall technical and business skills, and savvy self-marketing. Certification can help too, but the other areas I just listed are more important in most cases.’

Certification is only one form of self-education – there are now so many of those to consider in the SAP field: all kinds of trade shows, hundreds of affordable books, online training courses, and SAP’s own dynamic online communities, SDN and BPX. You might get a lot further networking with SAP customers at Sapphire than investing in a piece of paper and framing it on your wall. The SAP market is vast, but it’s still about relationships.

In life, we often have maddening cases of situations where the “rich get richer,” and the same is sometimes true of SAP certification. I find that SAP certification has been more powerfully used in recent years by experienced consultants than “freshers.”

For experienced SAP consultants, certifications can reinforce your project experience, and I have seen certifications serve as a tie-breaker in hiring situations where two SAP consultants were equally qualified from a project experience standpoint.

I’ve also seen SAP veterans use certification as a way to transition into new technologies while remaining billable. Perhaps you could say that SAP certification is the icing on the cake of quality SAP project experience. Without the cake, the icing slides through your hands. The SAP market can be frustrating that way: on the one hand, some consultants are thriving, others are on the outside looking in. The good news is that sites like this offer a great value in assessing your skills and coming up with a strategy for breaking into SAP and succeeding once you get there.”

So that was my first post to Demir’s blog entry. It’s a pretty good summary of my position on the subject. Then, Demir made that new post I referred to which talked in more detail about the three SAP certification levels. Demir and I seemed to have some different information on the hands-on component required.

Here’s a brief excerpt from my comment: “One thing that needs some more exploration is the higher two levels of SAP certification – in terms of what is currently available. I do believe there are some of the second professional-level certifications now available in some areas. I don’t believe any of the master-level certifications are yet available. Also, at last year’s TechEd, I was told by an SAP rep that only the highest level, master-level, would require SAP field/project experience, but in your writeup, and in the material you quoted, it implies that the second level, professional-level, also involves, potentially, some verified field experience.”

So, I thought I would post this in my BPX blog as a way of summarizing some of these issues. Perhaps together we can get to the bottom of some of these new developments in SAP certification, and encourage a dialogue the helps all SAP folks make the right certification choices in the context of a well-thought SAP career strategy.

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10 Comments

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  1. Mark Yolton
    My personal opinion is…

    From the perspective of the employee: It’s worth the money (and time/effort) if it gets you the interview you wanted, the job, extra credibility on the job, the promotion… 

    From the perspective of the employer: It’s worth the money (paying more salary to someone with  certified skills, investing in a current employee) if the team performs more efficiently, or more effectively, or innovates in an area that matters, or is connected with others who can lend insight …

    I hear and read reports of an SAP skills shortage in the marketplace … customers and partners want more people with SAP skills and experience on their teams.  In that climate, even someone with basic SAP skills should be able to land a good position; someone with certification and experience should be able to do very, very well.

    Regards,
    Mark Yolton

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    1. Arun Varadarajan
      I would say that a certified consultant is expected to bring in a certain amount of knowledge to the table. And also this implies a bit of rigor in terms of proving yourself as certified in terms of the work done. Mainly to avoid questions like ” I did not expect this from a CERTIFIED consultant like you “!!!!

      My 0.02
      Arun

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  2. Susan Keohan
    Thanks Jon. 

    I would certainly take a Workflow Certification, but alas, it’s not available.  And I am not a consultant, but a full-time employee.

    I ran a short informal survey to determine if people in my business (consultants and employees) would be interested in Certification.  The results are posted here:
    Workflow Certification (Informal Survey Results)

    Of course, the material probably needs to be updated for the latest technology.

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  3. Jon Reed Post author
    Hey folks…thanks for the comments so far.

    Susan: yeah, certification is not something some employees can get. But you can still take the training courses, so that part of the option is still on the table. How much the training is worth without the certification is an interesting subtopic in and of itself.

    Mark: when you say, “someone with basic SAP skills should be able to land a good position; someone with certification and experience should be able to do very, very well.” I think you nailed it. Once you reach some basic SAP skills level, certification can add some punch to your skill set. But it also really helps advanced consultants break into new areas. One such example is a senior Product Costing consultant I know who got a BW certification and then broke into BW/SEM and what became the Integrated Planning component.

    Where I hear more frustration about SAP certification is at the so-called entry level, which was what Demir had addressed in the SearchSAP.com blog entry I linked to. I also get emails from so-called “freshers” who got SAP certified and are still having trouble finding SAP projects. This is not an insurmountable obstacle but there are definitely some misunderstandings about the limits of SAP certification versus hands-on skills, and it’s better for folks to understand that BEFORE they invest in certification rather than after.

    Also, there is a big difference between becoming SAP certified in a whole new area for your skills, for example, a non-SAP programmer who gets APO certified, versus getting an SAP certification that is more relevant to your background – say, a data warehousing expert who goes out and gets a BI certification. This second example reflects more of a well-thought career strategy and that to me is the key.

    Christian: “Motivation is high after visiting high buildings in Walldorf.” I love this line! So much that it inspired in me a desire to definitely make a trip to Walldorf one of these years myself! But when you say that SAP certification is easy, that raises an interesting question – is SAP certification actually easy? Most folks I’ve heard from say it’s not super challenging but it’s easy. But if it was easy, is that a good thing? Or do you lose your ability to use that as a credible differentiator if it is easy to obtain.

    Obviously, SAP is trying to address this with the three level plan, so that each level will have increased difficulty. I realize you were probably commenting somewhat in jest, but you’ve raised an important question in my mind, and I’m not so sure if I had SAP certification I would want to think it was easy or for SAP customers to think my credential was easy to obtain. I don’t think that’s the general perception now, but it definitely made me take note when you said that.

    – Jon Reed –

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    1. Jon Reed Post author
      Clarification: the sentence in the second to last paragraph should have read: “most folks I’ve heard from say it’s not super challenging but not super easy.” Thx and pardon the correction.
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    2. Michael Nicholls
      Hi Jon
      Most of the entry certifications are based on attending the training courses to get access to the materials. If you were to read every single page/sentence/word of the course materials, and remember it(!), then you should be able to pass.
      Of course, being able to regurgitate materials doesn’t prove you will know it 6-12 months later, so hands on exposure is necessary to keep yourself up to date.
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  4. Ramasubramanian D
    DATA: BEGIN OF Certification,
          fresher LIKE jobless-platform,
          experienced LIKE job-advantage,
          money(fresher) LIKE cost-tomuch,
          END OF Certification.
    SELECT fresher money FROM life INTO Certification.
    WRITE  Certification-fresher.”lose the life

    WRITE certification-money.” survey in platform

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  5. Ramasubramanian D
    DATA: BEGIN OF Certification,
          fresher LIKE jobless-platform,
          experienced LIKE job-advantage,
          money(fresher) LIKE cost-tomuch,
          END OF Certification.
    SELECT fresher money FROM life INTO Certification.
    WRITE  Certification-fresher.”lose the life

    WRITE certification-money.” survey in platform

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    1. Jon Reed Post author
      This is a very creative post that I don’t fully understand, but your subject header, certification is worthless 4 fresher, gets your view across pretty well.

      I do tend to agree that SAP certification is much more effective, in general, as a way for experienced SAP consultants to get a further edge and break into new areas, but sometimes I do think certification can work out for a person new to SAP. I’ll give you one possible example: a Business Objects expert who gets a BI certification. I could see this background being a very good way to break into SAP in the months and years to come.

      On the other hand, getting a BI certification if your background is in the food service industry -well, it won’t have the same value. That’s why it doesn’t make sense, to me, to make blanket statements about the value of SAP certification one way or the other. It’s much more important to develop your own SAP career development plan, and then, on an individual level, put certification in the context of your own plan, along with many other aspects of that plan, including involvement in SDN, attendance to SAP trade shows, and other self-education components.

      – Jon Reed –

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  6. Jon Reed Post author
    Hey folks…those of you who enjoyed this blog entry and discussion might want to know that today, I posted an in-depth podcast with Sue Martin of SAP on the latest developments in SAP certification on the JonERP.com web site.

    I will attempt to link directly to the SAP certification podcast here. If that link did not work for you, then you can find the podcast in the podcast section of JonERP.com.

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