In this special blog entry, I’m going to share what I learned from Steve about ASUG EDGE. I will also offering my own preliminary take on how I think ASUG EDGE might impact SAP staffing, and the pros and cons of this service as I see it so far.
A few key facts about ASUG EDGE to keep in mind: this is not a free service that anyone can access. ASUG EDGE is a paid, subscription-based service that charges an annual fee for access. SAP customers that are already members of ASUG get a discounted annual rate for ASUG EDGE access. If you’re not an SAP end customer, you can get access to ASUG EDGE by becoming an ASUG member. (By the way, if you’re not crazy about how often I’m capitalizing EDGE, neither am I, but since ASUG formally capitalizes the entire product name for some reason, I’m sticking to their format).
There are actually four types of ASUG EDGE subscription types, which allow everyone from SAP customers to individual consultants to get access to ASUG EDGE. To the best of my understanding, the pricing is $995 annually for ASUG members who are SAP customers. The same price applies to ASUG Associate members. Non-ASUG members who are SAP customers get annual access for $1495, and non-member SAP Solution providers can get a 30 day limited trial and then must become ASUG members to get the annual subscription access. You can check this link out for more pricing info, but you do have to fill out some information to get the pricing details that are appropriate for you.
When you think about the potential impact ASUG EDGE can have on the market, I it’s much more than the convenience of being able to search for SAP consultants based on release number, industry, or solution expertise. It’s the consultant ratings system that is central to the ASUG EDGE design. All the consulting firms (and individual consultants) that are registered with ASUG EDGE are formally evaluated and rated by SAP customers.
Those who have access to ASUG EDGE will be able to see how each consultant (or consulting firm) in the system has been assessed by other SAP customers. In fact, and this is a very important point, there is no way to get into the ASUG EDGE database except by being evaluated by SAP customers. So, like other ratings-based web sites like Amazon or eBay, there is no way to avoid being rated. If an SAP customer wants to add their perceptions of a particular firm or consultant to ASUG EDGE, they can do so, and the firm in question can’t do a thing about it. As Strout put it to me, “The intent was to not allow a company to opt out. Rather, it is the opportunity for a member to actually be pro-active and say ‘Yes, I used this company,’ and ‘Yes, I used this particular consultant,’ and ‘Here’s what I liked and here’s the rating I would give them.”
Those who use ASUG EDGE will not have to pay ASUG any transaction-fees for consultants they hire through the system. The only fee is the annual subscription fee; once you find a consultant you are interesting in hiring, you contact that firm or consultant and work out the rate details with them directly. ASUG is not a part of any individual staffing transactions.
As for the question of whether ASUG EDGE can help to address the so-called Is There Really an SAP Skills Shortage? I think it’s too early to say. On the surface, ASUG EDGE seems more about validating the existing SAP staffing market than beefing it up. After all, ASUG EDGE won’t be adding any new consultants to the marketplace. On the other hand, it’s very important to be able to hire the most capable SAP talent for your project.
It’s not easy to evaluate SAP consultants based solely on their resumes, and we’ve all heard stories of SAP consultants who ace their interviews but don’t perform so well once they get to the project site. There should be a name for people who specialize in charming their way through interviews but can’t roll up their sleeves once they get the job. What we do know is such people are a nightmare for hiring managers everywhere. Another point that Steve Strout made is that ASUG EDGE could be a huge help when companies are looking for rare niche skills. Its powerful screening system should be a good option for those hard-to-find SAP skill sets.
This kind of community ratings system, while subjective, could be a real asset to SAP hiring managers. ASUG EDGE represents an automated way of sharing recommendations that historically have been limited to word of mouth. If ASUG EDGE catches on, it could truly help SAP projects to make better staffing decisions. This might not necessarily solve the SAP skills shortage, but it would surely add significant value to the SAP staffing process.
You may be wondering if being an early subscriber means waiting till the system reaches critical mass. I was impressed to learn from Steve Strout that 400 service providers had already been evaluated by ASUG Edge, with more being added every day. One of the cool things about ASUG EDGE is that it presents a great opportunity for SAP customers to “reward” those firms that do quality work on their projects. And for subscribers who have access to the system, you can actually contact the company who submitted the review of a particular service provider.
ASUG EDGE has figured out how to do this while protecting the anonymity of those who submit the reviews. This has the potential to enhance accountability on all sides. Those who enter reviews know they are accountable to follow up inquiries, and those who are being reviewed know that they are facing another level of scrutiny that can either be an asset or a liability, depending on how they perform.
Steve told me that all firms being evaluated by ASUG Edge receive a letter grade, somewhere from A to F. Grades below C are not listed on a firm’s review. Those D and F grades ARE taken into account in the cumulative score for a firm, however. As I told Steve, the system they have put into place should help create a forum to share honest staffing experiences while discouraging people from taking potshots or settling scores. Steve responded: “That is one of the things we definitely wanted to take into account. We didn’t want a place where it’s ‘gee, let’s just bash somebody.’ Let’s make sure that it’s fair, honest, and accurate.”
Web sites that provide community ratings can be very powerful, but there are problems as well. For example, in attempt to cut back on brutal feedback wars, eBay has recently taken the major step of not allowing sellers to rate the buyers who in turn rate their transaction. I asked Steve how ASUG EDGE would resolve the inevitable flare ups over negative ratings that will occur, and what a firm that received a negative review that they felt was unfair could do about it. “We will communicate the fact to an associate member or to a vendor that they have somebody that scored them that low and allow them to provide their back end of the story,” said Strout. “We’ll take that into account, potentially get the two together and find out what is real. If it’s just a shouting match, then we don’t want to get in the middle of it, and we don’t want to post it on our site.” ASUG Edge may face some challenges with this kind of mediation, but they are certainly going into it with their eyes open.
I also asked Steve if they have identified any common factors that lead to a rating of “A” within ASUG EDGE. Obviously receiving plenty of “A” ratings within ASUG EDGE is going to be a coveted thing to obtain. Everyone will be interested to know if there are common ingredients for staffing success to aspire to. Steve saidthat this data has not been aggregated yet, but he told me that he was hopeful to pull such information together down the line.
ASUG EDGE has been officially out of beta and available for online use since July 1, so if you’re interested, you can go to the site now and learn more. As for how SAP AG feels about ASUG EDGE, from the quotes I have seen to date, ASUG EDGE seems to have SAP’s full endorsement. Here’s one quote from the ASUG EDGE press announcement: “Building a network within the SAP ecosystem can have far-reaching benefits, which is something ASUG members have known for a long time,” said Edwin B. Lange, executive vice president and chief customer officer, SAP Americas. “By allowing customers to make critical connections with experts that can save them time and money in the implementation process, EDGE provides a valuable service to the broader SAP community.”
In conclusion, I would like to offer a few thoughts on how I think ASUG Edge will do in the marketplace. My first thought is: ASUG EDGE is here, like it or not. Those who are steadfast in their commitment to quality services should welcome it. For those service providers who are skimming off the SAP market but not adding real value, the introduction of ASUG EDGE is one more nail of accountability in the coffin of SAP service scams that thrived in the mid-90s but are getting much harder to pull off these days.
I have already had a couple of staffing firms ask me about ASUG EDGE. I’d like to share a few excerpts I sent to one SAP Partner that asked for my take on ASUG EDGE:
“This kind of SAP consultant peer review system has been tried by a couple of smaller web sites, but it has mostly been on underfunded sites that have not gained traction. Web 2.0 peer review sites have been a driver for a number of successful businesses, and I expect one of them to take off in the SAP consulting community. There is a strong demand for a ratings system for SAP consultants.
This is reinforced by the understanding that even with the Is SAP Certification Worth the Money?, certification will never tell the whole story when it comes to assessing the relative hands-on value of particular consultants or firms. ASUG Edge has the advantage of being well-funded. However, tying this system into ASUG membership and putting some gates around access will make the challenge of broad acceptance a bit tougher than if it was a completely open system. Of course, if it does not gain broad acceptance, then the ultimate impact of ASUG EDGE will be less than what it could be.”
I do believe, however, that there will be real marketing advantages to those firms and consultants who obtain significant amounts of positive ratings in the early phases of ASUG EDGE. Of course, since individual consultants and firms cannot initiate this process, getting a rating on ASUG Edge is easier said than done. But if you know you’ve done some solid work for an SAP customer, now is a good a to encourage them to put in a good word for you on ASUG EDGE.
From what I can tell, I don’t think ASUG EDGE has a pricing plan yet that will be appealing to individual consultants. Even the most successful independent SAP consultants are going to think twice about paying more than $1,000 a year to have access to this system, unless they are suddenly in a position where they need another searchable source of SAP talent to place some colleagues on a project. If ASUG EDGE wants to get more individuals to join as subscribers, I’d recommend some kind of monthly credit card installment plan. One would hope, if ASUG EDGE is successful, that anyone who is making a positive contribution to SAP services will have an affordable way to get access to the system and help it to grow.
In closing, I would like to thank Steve Strout for taking the time to speak with me about ASUG EDGE. Thanks also to Jim McClure of Tech Image for facilitating the interview.
One of the benefits of the “SAP Ecosystem” is the chance to instantly discuss and refine this kind of breaking news. So along those lines, I’d like to welcome all readers to comment on this story. Perhaps those who are involved with ASUG EDGE or who have access to the system can offer their own experiences or clarifications on what I have written here. I’m sure there is much more to say on ASUG EDGE that I have yet to touch on.