Should you be certified?
Earlier this evening, the Twitterverse burst into a short SAP frenzy when @jonerp (Jon Reed) dropped a couple of Tweets:
Zia Yusuf = strong keynote w/ good specifics. One point: SAP is going to strongly encourage customers to hire CERTIFIED consultants #pkom
Yusuf = emphasis on certified SAP consultants is part of overall SAP theme of year: Emphasis on quality, including quality resources. #pkom
Almost immediately @jspath55 (Jim Spath) @njames (Nigel James) @blag (err…Blag) @oliver (Oliver Kohl) @yojibee(Anne Petteroe) @grahamrobbo (Graham Robinson) and myself @dahowlett (apologies if I missed anyone – Twitter has limitations on what you can ‘see’) entered into an animated conversation about the usefulness and validity of a formal certification process.
Most of the participants were highly critical of such a move, suggesting that real world ability is far more important than the possession of a piece of paper. In principle I agree but have specific reasons for being a strong advocate of the certification system.
Last year, I was fortunate enough to get face time with Zia who at one point stopped me and Vinnie Mirchandani, one of my fellow ‘buy side’ advocates in our tracks. We were reprising a familiar – at least to us – refrain that despite years of experience and thousands of consultants around the world, SAP implementations are still proving troublesome. That costs time and money for everyone involved.n Zia’s words at the time: “Will you guys stop bitching and help me by suggesting what I can do?” It’s a valid point.
Like it or not, SAP is a magnet for such issues which often end up on the analysis pages of Mike Krigsman’s Project Failures blog. The LAUSD case is one in point.
As part of that discussion with Zia, I said that in my opinion, certification should be mandatory for anyone wanting to work on SAP implementation projects that involve Basis/ABAP/NetWeaver. It was a point I repeated on several occasions and which was picked up at TechEd Berlin, when Zia met the SAP blogger contingent.
That sounds draconian but certification serves important purposes.
I’m an accountant by trade and in order to practice as an auditor in many countries, you have to be formally qualified. That’s a combination of practical experience and certification by examination. That of itself is no assurance that a person is any good at these things but it is a measure of assurance that you are capable of completing work to a certain standard.
The certification naysayers argue that nothing can beat practical experience. That’s true in my profession as well. But if you cannot prove that you have been educated in first principles, then how can you claim to know how to approach certain tasks?
I also argue that THIS particular group is unrepresentative of many SAPpers. I’ve met nearly all of them and they’re of a calibre that puts them in a class apart. They are some of SAP’s rock stars. OK – enough of the mutual love in and please, if you are reading this and feeling inadequate then my advice to you is simple: get some training.
My point is that for this group, certification IS meaningless because they have many years’ proven experience that is often exemplified in their blog posts, wiki contributions and moderation. But that doesn’t negate the potential value of the certification process.
Here’s another benefit. I’ve argued that rather than be faced with the specter of continual blame among SIs/developers/consultants and clients, a certification process forms the basis for Centers of Excellence. If, as a customer you operate a Center of Excellence then you are demonstrating a commitment to your implementation that will save money in maintenance and upgrade costs.
If you’re an SI/developer/consultant then you are holding out to operate at a standard that clients can recognize and believe in. That will not guarantee trouble free implementations. Nothing can do that with a system as complex as R/3 or ECC6. But it is one way of providing a hygiene factor that SAP implementations badly need.
Too often when projects fail, SAP has to parachute hit squads of people who DO known what they’re doing to sort out a mess. While Mike Krigsman has a pet theory about this, it’s not fair on anyone. Certification could go some way towards curing the ills that bedevil our corner of the IT landscape.
Most important however is that there are direct economic benefits for everyone. Individuals have recognition and increased earning power, ecosystem partners are less likely to be slammed with penalties, SCN would likely have less run of the mill ‘how to…’ questions and SAP’s reputation as a quality provider woud be enhanced. If that isn’t a win-win-win then I dont know what is.
Is it all worked out? No. What for instance do you do about our rock star colleagues? How might you verify certification? (That’s easy – registration) Who will offer the training and how will that be monitored? What will be the financial burden for those going through the process?
Is the framework in place? Yes. Check here for information about the three levels of certification on offer.
SAP is committed to quality because it is profitable to do so. Zia has understood the problems and is addressing them. He will push through the kind of changes that such a program imply. It will not be perfect so please don’t think I’m ‘selling’ silver bullets. There’s a lot to do, mistakes to make and lessons to be learned.
Provided the detail is worked out appropriately then this represents the best opportunity to bring the ecosystem together I’ve seen in many years.
What is there not to like about that?
If this whole mess is your fault...Don't worry...I know you have enough valid points to defend this...So I'm just going to point out some of my thoughts...
I'm a ABAP developer with almost 8 years of experience, 4 implementation, 3 roll-outs and many many projects in my agenda. I haven't take the ABAP Certification for 3 simple reasons...
First, I already know almost everything that a Certification Course can teach me.
Second, the prize is very high at least in Perú.
Third, you may thing, come on, just do the exam not the whole course...Good point, but in reality, exams are too way read the book and answer everything you remember. I'm doing Laws here...I doing programming and the 99% of it is about understanding how to achieve things not how the work internally.
Anyway...If I'm going to be forced to go Certified, at least SAP could manage some special prices for SAP Mentors...That would make my day -;)
"What for instance do you do about our rock star colleagues?"
I'm not saying that you guys should have to go through the formal process as it is being laid out now. There can be a "certified by experience" approach.
That sounds very reasonable to me...But...How could you measure experience? Time working? Number of project? SCN Contributions? I have many friends with a couple of years of experience that doesn't qualify as good Abapers...Because are they simply stacked in old fashion way ABAP...
If could get a "Certified by experience", I would support it 100%...Till then...I' still angry with Zia -;)
Lots of good points made here. I can see the POV from Zia and it is right that he should push this but I do side with Rich Heilman and James Governor on the process. Is this a monkey test or a revenue stream?
There is also the problem of staying up to date and the issue of keeping the training / tests up to date?
What if I am certified today on a NW 7 system, am I qualified to work on a 46c system?
If these tests are sit in a room with a locked down computer and answer 80 question in an hour, I am scpetical. They should include a face to face interview and provide visibility of the breakdown of subject areas within that 80 questions.
See http://eliw.wordpress.com/2008/10/08/programming_certifications/ for this subject being tackled in the PHP/Zend world. I friend of mine who hires PHP Devs looks as certification as a negative if it is placed above experience in a CV.
I agree it helps and there is some level of confidence provided by certification but there are details to work out so that we know SAP isnt just trying to generate Eduation revenue and are sincere about a program that produces the type of consultant who is qualified to work on a system.
Food for thought.
I don't have any self interest in this...Otherwise I wouldn't been choose as an SAP Mentor, right?
Let me ask you a simple question...
Assume that John Smith has no ABAP experience...He took the course and get certified...Me on the other hand with almost 8 years of ABAP experience and almost 11 years in programming experience. We both go to a client looking for a project...Who will the client hire? John because he's certified? Me because I got a lot of experience? None, because client wants a certified guy with at least 2 years of experience?
Certification is not a bad thing...But experience can't be left aside...
In my particular case, I don't have a University degree...I got a college one...No client have asked me for what degree I have, but tend to assume that I had a University one because of my knowledge...Why I'm saying this? Because here in Peru, most companies think that a University Degree beats by 100% percent a College Degree...Some of my folks haven't been hire because of that, even when some of them are greatly qualified...A piece of paper doesn't change what you know...And doesn't change your ability to solve real world problems...I think that @Eddy's example was great...The guys knew everything about Printer Internals, but didn't knew how to print a piece of paper...
I have attended several trainings in SAP myself, but never bothered to get certified. And it has not hurt me one bit in my career - I have had excellent projects and opportunities all these years and have never been asked by a client or an employer whether I am certified.
that was my personal experience..
now - I have also recruited and managed several SAP consultants over the years- functional, technical, certified and non-certified. I have not seen any tangible difference between certified and uncertified people.
Now about parachuting hitmen - I have been one such guy for a good part of my career, being sent to fix problems in other projects. Those projects also had a mix of certified and uncertified people - and I have never noticed that the problems were caused by the uncertified folks.
It is an interesting comparison to accounting - I wouldnt hire a non-CPA guy here in the states. But that is not the only criteria - I look more at the firm that he works for. Also, professional courses have mandatory thins like internships and work experience. So if I hire an accountant straight after certification - I know that this dude has worked in real world for at least a small period of time under skilled supervision. There is no way I know that a certified SAP guy has ever worked on his domain.
When a client hires an SI - I have hardly seen any thing in RFPs that say consultants have to be certified. maybe independent contracts ask for that since there is no company backing up that person. But the majority of the people implementing and supporting SAP work for SIs. It is the quality of processes, industry experience etc etc that clients find value in.
So - what is to like about it?
However, I do say that having a system in place creates a different view - call it culture if you want - that could have a beneficial effect on the ecosystem as a whole.
I certainly don't think it changes things in the short term but does in the long term.
So in typical Zia Yusef fashion: I'll put the question back to you - in the jobs you have been involved with as a fixer - what have been the main issues. Not asking for specifics but am interested in what you see as general trends? Is it a question of project management? Is it a case of people being bogged down? Was the mix of skills wrong? (those are just ideas and not meant to lead your thinking.)
Could the issues you came across have been avoided if personnel had some training that might form part of certification?
Keep the objections coming!! I want to understand this.
The troubles I was sent to fix in my early career were more SAP issues - like inexplicable behavior of screens in the middle of integration testing, one SAP note corrupting another one..the list goes on. Solution invariably included poring over zillion OSS notes and debugging till F5 key stops responding.
The issue of quality has atleast two dimensions in general - one of implementors doing sub-optimal things to get a project go live, and another of SAP not getting things right the first time, and neding several releases and OSS notes to fix things.
In my mind there are a couple of things that need attention from both parties. SAP development as well as implementation projects should get into a habit of biting only what they can chew. More projects fail because of unrealistic scope.
the other issue is "talk to each other before problems take place". What I mean is - get consultants and end users to test new software before releasing it to the larger world. not just ramp customers - allow SCN community to test for example.
1. Document everything even from a technical nature. How well documented is the ODS Delta Perspective? In my opinion lots of processes and procedures that are required to run the system are not very well documented if at all. I can't count how many times I run into a situation and can't find any documentation on it. Example was "KM Bookmark". And what about all the documentation that comes with Function Modules? None! Don't you think the customer would be better served with the documenation for all of this considering what they pay for the software and have it maintained by staff/consultants? Don't you think they would have more time to build quality applications with the additional time not spent trying to figure out what a Function module does?
2. Training is too unrealistically expensive. A lot of the training is also just a line by line review of the environment instead of real world examples of how to do things. Simple examples of things would be like how to fix Delta Failures, load balancing Process Chains,
I've been here for many years and all of the tools have pretty much been really bad to work with over the years. WAD? Really Bad. What about all of the OSS Notes. I have a repartitioning note that says your indexes get corrupt if the InfoCube Name is more than 7 characters. Who tested that new functionality?!
Also, whats this I hear about BO trying to send letters to people that they can't make screenshots of their software with out prior consent legally. We all know this is true and like it's said SAP is trying to corner the training market on their products.
Want to be top notch worldclass? Make a top notch product and document it well for customers. Functional and Technical.
I hate to sound so negative since I work in the field and I want SAP to be the best so I can make better applications. I think if they address some of these points and make their training a litte more reasonably priced consultants and clients will want certified people and their will be more of them.
I contacted some friends at SAP last year already to ask which courses I should (or must) attend to be eligable to take the exam - the response I got was that I could give the courses...
I can understand the frustration with it (and it will cost me some money as well) but I think it is for the general good of increasing the minimum baseline working in an area.
I think the "Certified by proven experience" is a nice compromise as well, as it should not be a "regulated industry" (at least not voluntarily...) nor be misused as an excesively expensive cosmetic gateway into the SAPosphere.
Education is a long term investment, and should cover the costs + a reasonable margin. The main benefits are harvested down the line (both by SAP and customers and consultants).
I agree that higher quality should be a target for all companies but SAP should have concience that different geographic areas have different realities. The consulting company I work for paid for my certification and I´m certified now but to be honest, SAP training was not exactly the best course I have attended, it surely helps a lot for someone like me with zero knowledge of SAP Basis but I ended with lots of unanswered questions that I have cleared with experience, reading notes, reading SDN answers and so on. Paying so much money to get the knowledge you could get buying books and surfint the Internet for lots of people is not justified.
I agree also that for people like Alvaro and lots of experienced SAP consultants I know, trash their money that way is not fair so SAP should think in a way to give an experience based certification.
We recently also had the same experience already mentioned here where we had to "fix" two different installations done by a mix of certified and none certified people and in both clients the problem was project management, not consultants so from my point of view SAP is shooting to the wrong side.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts -:) After reading your posts I remember what my former boss told me, so months before I leave his company...
"ABAP Certification? Why I would pay for something you already know? You better teach the course instead of taking it..."
I do agree with you as far as the main aim is concerned: improving the quality of SAP implementations by raising the level of know-how amongst the consultants.
Where I disagree is the comparison between accounting exams/certifications and IT certifications. I think you will find that over the last 20 years accounting standards and practices haven't changed to the same degree as IT and IT skill sets. For example, I started as an IT apprentice in Germany 19 years ago and passed my exams after a 3 year apprenticeship. Today, this specific line of work doesn't even exist anymore. A lot of IT bosses in Germany wouldn't even recognize my credentials today.
We should never forget that a certification in general is just a snapshot. In IT, the half-life of knowledge is extremely short. Much shorter than in accounting.
So what would this mean? Consultants need "refresher" certifications every few years! I bet SAP would like that. 😉
Here in Switzerland, folks are required to take a "light" drivers license test every 2 years from the age of 70 onwards.
How about a "light" certification from the age of 12 onwards for IT folks, to check that they are still up to speed?
That said, I think you make some good points here Dennis, but I can't say that I agree with a certification solely based on facts and memorization. Hopefully, the certification process will evolve into something greater based on these types of discussions.
so once again you have hit the nail on the head and drive the discussion into the community so SAP can listen...good Mentor 😉
Before we start just for the record: I don't have any certification and never really had a conversation about the necessity of needing to have one for an employment or in an interview for an upcoming project. My last two companies I've worked for had between 60 and 150 employees. The projects I have worked for in the last 5 years have been mostly for large international companies. Again I can't remember a single discussion about SAP certification and mention this to show how I perceive this issue out there in my personal daily consulting work.
That said it is quite obvious that I don't have much knowledge about SAP certifications but I assume they are overall like most other certifications out there. They try educate a participant and verify his/her acquired knowledge in a specific (technical) area by providing a more or less big amount of valuable information. Tests mostly happen in the form of multiple choice Q&A and usually a high percentage of correct answers is required to pass the test and become certificated.
Reminds me a lot about how we get here in Germany our driving license. Although the topic isn't as complex as working "inside" of an SAP system and hopefully the mortality rate isn't as high as the rate of failed SAP projects, the procedure to become your license/certificate is basically the same. You learn your stuff to get fit for the test, high percentage of correct answers required. Except that after the theory you have to do a practice test next to a senior who looks really close to how you are doing in a RL situation. To train the practical part you have to take driving hours with a driving instructor who btw. is also doing with you the theoretical learning classes. Everything very well structured as we German tend to do these kind of things and also very expensive to get.
In my current company we don't put much emphasis into certificates either but what we do is internship and especially apprenticeship (usually over three years) as a "kaufmännischer Informatiker" . In this time these not even juniors do their professional school in which they learn the basics of programming and some business stuff, but during their internal time in our company we educate them in SAP technology, which includes the basic R/3 modules, programming ABAP (reports, dynpro, ALV, etc.) and in the last two years now Java and WebDynpro and some also basic J2EE stuff too. I got experiences with the first generation of our apprentices in a customer project and he did a great job and is now already with his third customer and well on his way to become a good SAP consultant...but no certificate. Does hi miss something?
As they say you only learn to drive once you have your driving license. You learn it by getting thrown out there, having been educated in most of the basic information to avoid a bigger accident. A mentor or senior sitting next to a junior in the beginning mostly to provide some advice and how to for customer contact and of course to provide answers to all the stuff he does not know yet, even after a three year apprenticeship.
Certification is a good concept but in my opinion it is not even close to tell the full story. Will the SAP consulting and project world be a better place if we all have our consulting license? Probably! Do I think that every consultant has to have one to get into a customer project? Of course not because there are so many ways to become a good consultant.
One thing still completely missing for me is any kind of recommendation system, based on the actual project work done over the years as a junior/senior consultant. Something we rely on in our daily social network behavior to get news and information from trustworthy sources. Where are these sources to rely on for recommendations for SAP consultants?
Certificates are only one part of the story. They may be important and currently undervalued but to make them a requirement would be wrong IMHO.
Just my two cents.
Oliver / @oliver
To me a certification thing is a stake in the ground from which reputation moves forward.
And yes - certs are only a part if the story but without them then what benchmarks does SAP have?
In another context, Microsoft certified engineers start from being 'trusted' so....
I sense you are describing the kind of principles of education that SAP certification envisages. The question will be how that is articulated in a way that both SAP and vendor/SI's can manage.
What would you suggest? How best might this work?
Great topic and discussion. I think transparent reputation will supersede certification.
Via LinkedIn your recommendation is made transparent. (It was the original goal of the SCN point system in combination with the business card too. We are not there yet.)
It is relative easy to game the certification process and hard to proof whether it was cheating or not.
It is harder to cheat a LinkedIn reputation, and easier to check. You have this glowing review on your LinkedIn page from Mike working at HellCo, do you mind me calling him to check?
Me recommending someone is putting my reputation on the line another great barrier.
Let's work on creating this transparency and forget certification or use certification only as an entry key to the game.
What do you think? Let me know, Mark.
P.S. Once that transparency is established, it will have enormous impact on higher education institutions, as you will not need a college degree anymore. As that piece of paper is nothing else but a different kind of certification and for I think ready to be kicked to the curb too.
But, in this economy, where companies are nervous and looking for security, a certification might add just that extra bit of trust. The certification, of course, has to be credible and not a joke.
It's the same with technical (Basis/NetWeaver) certification. Things will still break even if the best qualified/certified people are running things.
I want people who can show me what they will do to fix things that have gone wrong, not someone who has memorized a set of answers or can find the installaton guide for product X. Most of the current SAP certification doesn't offer this type of question.
Certification might be the final factor in deciding whether to take one of several candidates for a position, but I would always take experience over certification.
I believe, the certification (not all, but many) currently tests the theoretical knowledge but not the practical knowledge adequately. [just an e.g. ] An experienced person won't be able to memorize the names of all the choices available in a dropdown of a X tool, but he knows the strengths and limitations of that tool and what those choices does and how to configure them to make them work.
I admit, there is a limitation to the way the practical knowledge can be measured. Still, I have seen freshers getting certified (for business benefits) in many technologies before they are in a project. It really questions the very purpose of a experienced guy getting certified.
I truely agree with Rich. Not all solutions will be written in a book. A good consultant should think, analyse and act fast with information he can collect, meeting the deadlines. How to measure this is yet to be found out ;).
my 2 cents, - anto.
As reference, he was translating R/3 docs in q989 - ie he knows his s*it
My other issue with SAP certifications in particular is that they're release specific... if I'd paid the money to get certified for R/3 Enterprise, it would be outdated when ECC was released.... so I'm in this vicious cycle of paying to re-take tests every 2-3 years to stay "current".
I realize that there is a LOT of new technology and maybe it makes sense to occasionally "expire" certifications, e.g. when NetWeaver and the J2EE technology came out -- that was surely different enough from the 4.7 & earlier ABAP stacks to justify re-taking a test. But is there really enough of a difference between NetWeaver 04 and 7.0 to justify? I don't think so....
If you can make the certifications practical exams rather than multiple choice tests where we have to solve real world problems rather than regurgitate memorized answers, I'd be more than happy to sign up to take one. I had an engineering professor tell me once, "It's not what you know that matters in real life, but whether or not you know where to look the answer up." I think if the tests were more practical in nature, the "rock stars" would have no trouble passing, and the folks who zip through a few classes and try to memorize everything to cram for the test would have a very difficult time indeed.
But here's the reality. Any consultants certification would likely focus on their knowledge of core modules like FI or MM or on elements of Basis. Highly unlikely, any time soon, vertical or geography specific certification would be available. That's where the risks increasingly lie.
Second, product knowledge is necessary but not sufficient condition for project success. Program management, testing, change management, end user training and other phases in an SAP project call for different skillsets in addition to understanding product capabilities.
Third, most SAP talent is acquired in "bulk buys" not in individual staffing - as in project format from SIs like IBM and Deloitte and in multi-year production support format from firms like TCS and Infosys. Too many of these "bulk buys" run over budget, result in cancellations - are failures by most definitions. SAP needs to become more aggressive about certifying firms - not just individual consultants - and their practices (by industry, geography etc), publishing their track records and showcasing steps they are taking to improve quality and productivity.
Which will take SAP to finish off the Corleone quote with "...so don't tell me you are innocent, my systems integrator partner"
I am afraid we may have to wait for Godfather 3 - at least another decade - for that to happen.
Link to the full post: http://dealarchitect.typepad.com/deal_architect/2009/01/sap-consultant-certification-too-little-too-late.html
Thanks for your strong views on this. Pushing this discussion is important. When I posted those original Tweets, I thought I might get a reaction, but it was your views that really provoked the good debate. Certification is a hot button topic and like most such topics, I find that views polarize too often. Usually the best route is somewhere down the middle.
I've been a long time advocate of field experience over SAP certification in my writing, but that's mostly because all the aspiring SAP folks reading my stuff tend to get roped into this idea that certification will lead them into the promised land of a highly paid SAP career without much effort on their part. Obviously that's not the case. Excellence in SAP means total dedication and you can't "credential" your way into this field.
Dennis, one of the things about your argument is that project failures and the need for certification are getting lumped together. Personally I think it's a bit better to separate them to a degree. The reason being that SAP projects, when they fail, fail for a variety of reasons that tend to implicate all parties, from overzealous salespeople to a lack of internal investment in training to poor project management by either the internal PM or the external PM. And sometimes companies feel a need to blame external software for internal flaws in the business model or execution. The caliber of consultants has relevance to this discussion, but to me, certification isn't central to the dissection of problematic projects. Except maybe for BPX certification. More on that shortly.
On the other hand, if you want to take this discussion back in time to project failures in the 90s, I do believe a shortage of qualified SAP talent did contribute to project problems during that time - in a big way. However, certification was not the central issue there either. I placed hundreds of SAP folks in the 90s and I can tell you that certification was almost never a good indication of consulting talent. Believe me, when I placed someone who was certified in SAP but who didn't live up to expectations in other ways, I heard all about it.
I will say, though, that the consultants who had multiple certifications, like 5 to 10, did tend to be impressive, because in that case the amount of certifications reflected a total commitment to SAP and a real passion for excellence.
In my view, the biggest weakness of the traditional SAP consultant is that the technical folks tended to lack "big picture" business skills and awareness, and the functional folks tended to work in "configuration silos" without a broader view of the business process or a deeper technical know-how. The premium consultants were not like this, but there were never enough of those to go around. Others were not pressured to achieve such excellence because they could get great rates doing what they always did. The market pressures are different now as we all know.
Since the 90s, the amount of talent has increased and SAP has greatly improved in many ways, including a better implementation methodology and a user community ready to share lessons learned either here or on ASUG.
Since SAP certification did not ever do a good job of measuring the consulting qualities I mentioned a couple paragraphs ago, and since many certified consultants I knew were not necessarily that effective, I don't tend to see certification as a cure-all for SAP project woes today, and I know you don't either.
However, what is interesting is that the description I made of the flaws in the traditional technical or functional consultant is directly addressed in the BPX certification curriculum. Therefore, I see the BPX certification as especially important, as it is a means of formalizing the crucial areas that both technical and functional consultants can work to improve. And it would be a great certification for a younger professional, with a few years of experience perhaps, but looking to build.
I'd rather put such a young person through a BPX certification than an SAP Financials certification anyday. The Financials stuff they might pick up another way, even in a book, but the BPX certification would provide a real roadmap for future learning and expansion into that well-rounded consultant that is so important.
As I mentioned, the best consultants were always on top of many of these BPX skills, but I think the new BPX certification, and the BPX community as a whole, is highly beneficial to this whole discussion of project challenges and improved quality of consultants - SAP's stated consulting services theme of 2009. I'm certainly not the first one to suggest that BPX certification and awareness can make an impact on IT projects. I know Mario Herger brought this point up on a podcast I did with him, and Marco ten Vaanholt has mentioned this before during presentations also.
Also, I will be more and more of a fan of the SAP certifications as more field experience is incorporated into them somehow, as you suggest. I'm not saying this will be an easy task. But I think there must be ways of making the certification more real world accountable. The new three tiered certification is a good way forward along these lines. Someone from SAP can correct me if I'm wrong, but my understanding is that SAP's top tier, the Master level, is going to include a field experience component (the Master level is not yet available for most areas of SAP as far as I know, please correct me if I'm wrong).
The Associate level certification (lowest level of new three tier), which is the equivalent of the classic SAP certification, has never made a huge impression on me simply because in so many years of evaluating consultants, it never really seemed to be the key to who was a difference maker on client projects. However, the second tier, the Professional level, does strike me as more rigorous. I'd love to see the Professional level certification acquire more prestige as it gets more recognition in the SAP world. And as for the Master level, as one poster alluded to (can't see the names from this comment box), it would be great if SAP eventually achieved a Cisco level of prestige affiliated with that level of certification, or if not on that Cisco level, at least something with super clout!
This is probably way more thoughts than anyone feels like reading, maybe I should have done this as a blog entry instead? If I should move this to a blog entry let me know.
I have mixed feelings about SAP emphasizing the importance of certification to customers at this point, only because most folks are still only certified at the Associate level. I worry that hiring becomes overly simplistic when certification is the central point of emphasis. I would just hope that if SAP is going to emphasize the importance of hiring certified consultants,
SAP will also emphasize the importance of hiring well rounded consultants with deep industry experience, good soft skills, full life cycle experience, training and change management, business know-how, and some techno-functional skills. Yes, core technical and configuration skills are important too, but technical interviews are a better way to determine that, in my opinion, than an exam.
The reason is that a technical interview hones in on a particular person's qualifications for that project specifically. Certainly SAP customers who are not sophisticated in an internal competency center deserve and need quality support in such technical screening.
Oh, and one more thing. I think SAP should be emphasizing to its customers also that "community involved" consultants are the best ones to hire! As I Tweeted the other day, as a general rule, the better the network, the better the consultant. Nathan Genez made this case in a podcast I did for SAP BPX, and I totally agreed. If SAP is going to emphasize the importance of certification, why not also suggest looking at the extent of the community involvement of the consultant? I know I'm a much better SAP contributor based on dynamic back-and-forth of this community. Who can argue with this point? I guess a counter-argument would be that this is tough to measure, but I would say that it gives at least as good an indication of quality as a test score, if not more!
In sum, there's no one simple answer, but I believe in the BPX skill set as it is being defined and evolved. To me, right now, that's more important than anything. Give me ten of those kinds of consultants anyday! A BPX certified consultant - even cooler! Especially in this era, where most of the strictly technical or functional boilerplate work is going to be outsourced anyway, which presents a different case altogether in terms of best practices in management.
there are some very interesting points here, especially around the reasons for project failure. I agree fully - certification fails in its objective if we try to isolate it as the answer to all of our problems - just as it fails as a solid benchmark for decision making if it is considered as the ONLY benchmark. Your comments on the biggest weakness of the traditional SAP consultant, i.e.that the technical folks tended to lack "big picture" business skills and awareness etc. we have addressed with the new Professional level certifications. And I would like to confirm your comments about the inclusion of field experience into the Master level - that is correct.
Thanks for the valuable feedback on community involvement - this helps with some of the ideas we are currently investigating for aligning community points and certification status.
I read Dennis' post and the comments which followed with much interest.
I am totally unqualified to comment on this and would fail SAP 101 but that has never prevented me from commenting before 😉
Dennis (and Zia) are correct that a certification process would be good for SAP and for SAP consultants by extension.
A couple of points to note however:
1. Many of those voicing objections below are arguing against current or poor implementations and not the principle itself - it would seem that a certification with a heavy emphasis on problem-solving would be especially welcome. Call the grads Certified SAP Fixer or similar.
2. This could easily be seen as SAP trying to broaden their revenue base into training - to counter this, SAP should consider setting up a separate business unit (not-for-profit?) with open-book accounting which goes out of its way to help people trying to become certified.
3. One problem I see right now is the comments from people saying they have never been asked about SAP certification in job interviews or tenders. There are two aspects to this a) if there are a shortage of SAP consultants then you will take an SAP consultant if you can get one, regardless of certification and b) the current lack of emphasis on certification, leads to a lack of awareness and therefore demand! This last is harder to fix - will take time but a proper implementation and good marketing would go a long way.
Just my 1.5c for what it is worth 😉
At TechEd, you simply turn up, sit the test and away you go. No preparation is organised or (seems to be) required. Which begs 2 questions:
1. Does SAP expect consultants to have this knowledge at hand or attend training courses just BEFORE TEchEd? and
2. Doesn't this promote some sort of "get them while they're hot" attitude which devalues certifications per se ?
In general, I do strongly believe that certifications CAN be a way to improve consultant know-how and quality of implementations, but the quality of tests (not just multiple choice) has to be improved and other factors (community participation) need to be taken into account, too.
I have had the discussion whether or not this was really necessary many many times before, and in my opinion it was!
Up until then I had only worked as a web developer/graphic designer and the only database programming I knew was some SQL. With that background it wouldn't have been possible for me to get hired as an SAP consultant anywhere.
So for me the choice was either to do a couple of classes, learn the basics and do take a certification or do a type of education which Oliver's company offers.
I chose to take the certification road, feeling I was too old to start a three-year full-time education.
This certification by no means proved that I knew everything about what I wanted to work with, but at least my employer knew I really wanted to do this (why would you otherwise bother to get certified) and he also knew that the basics were covered. I have worked with people who hardly knew what a transaction was, which makes me wonder how they got a job in the first place.
So for me the certification was extremely important at the time, because it (partially) compensated for my lack of experience.
In the meantime with all the experience I have gathered I don't think anyone really cares if I have that piece of paper or not.
The certifications and the trainings leading up to them, are however far from good.
First of all it is far too difficult to do a certification. When I wanted to take mine I was self-employed, and therefore couldn't take one. Only SAP, certified partners and some other companies can register someone for a certification. Why not open this for everyone? Why shouldn't someone who works as a freelancer be able to take a certification like everyone else in the SAP ecosystem?
Furthermore the material and presentation is at times really really really bad. I once had a teacher who just sat there and read through a PDF for 5 days, now how are we supposed to train quality professionals from that?
The courses are often filled with too much theory. Why isn't there more demos or hands on exercises? And when the classes finally do have demos etc half of the time the systems are down or have response times which are unacceptable.
To improve the quality of the consultants, I also think it is important that business skills as well as technical skills are taught, whether or not you work as an application consultant or as a technical consultant. What I am seeing these days is that the traditional divide between suits and geeks is disintegrating and it is difficult to do one thing with no knowledge of the other.
"Furthermore the material and presentation is at times really really really bad. I once had a teacher who just sat there and read through a PDF for 5 days"
"The courses are often filled with too much theory. And when the classes finally do have demos etc half of the time the systems are down or have response times which are unacceptable."
This is what my experience was and also the opinion of my coworkers who attended to one SAP training course at any time.
Just two months after I finished the Basis SAP training course, the consultant company I work for was contacted by local SAP office to ask if I could go to dictate a basis course!!! How could I done that if I didn´t have experience at all? Of course my answer was No, that´s why I feel that this kind of certifications are not a guarantee of knowledge.
2. I think SAP certification potentially penalises makers and developers with a broad range of skills while benefiting implementers and configuration people with a more limited skillset. You'd need multiple certifications. As you know Dennis I am a developer advocate, and the best experience in that field is on the job.
3. You have positioned this as all stick, no carrot. Do this, or else. Never a good look, mate.
4. Its all about lowering barriers to participation, and i can't see how forced certification does that.
5. Certification should be aspirational, and it should be optional. Many failed implementations have i am sure been carried out by certified consultants.
6. In order to succeed this would need to be positioned as SAP certification gives you freedom. Like a driver's license. Sure you *have* to have it to drive, but every 16 year old wants one.
Why not? I used the analogy of me as auditor. Do you think for one minute that "I as auditor" am worth less than the make guys? My experience of those folk is that they are every bit as professional as anyone else I know. Are they not worth that recognition?
That's the key problem for certification in a nutshell. All that said, as mentioned above Cisco certification has some value.
Interesting suggestion. Certification by SAP Mentors for me equals a recommendation on LinkedIn. Everyone can do that, but it has extra weight in the SAP world, if an SAP Mentor is recommending you.
Let's focus on highlighting these recommendations and make it easy to get the status of the people that recommended.
All the best, Mark.
I use this all the time. I endorse, and get endorsed by others on linkedin and it has worked out well for all concerned.
If some one can make a public endorsement - it does carry a lot of weight and transparency. Coming from an SAP mentor, it should be a very solid credential indeed.
To me, a certificate is just a piece of paper that proves your company has paid a lot of money and doesn't say anything about the real skills.
Let's compare it with diplomas IRL and I'll demonstrate it with an anecdote. When I was finishing my college dissertation (20 years ago) for a university - strange combination, I know -, a student looked down on me because I would only have a college degree and he will have a university degree. He was showing off with his paper that explained with higher mathematics how a printer worked. When he wanted to print out this paper, the printer didn't spit out any paper and he didn't know what the problem was.
When I told him that he forgot to plug in the printer to the network he sang another tune towards me.
This example shows that things should be reduced to its real value.
I remember when at my first job as programer only with a Clipper course in my head after eigth months I became supervisor of two guys with University degrees, they just got the degree and sit ther thinking that that was all they need to be a good worker.
If SAP is planning to make a serious pitch to the market that all partners need certified people, I would take it on good faith that they will have similar high standards internally too. If not, it probably won't be well recieved in the market.
In current economy - may be in any economy, I don't see clients and SIs warmly embracing the idea of doling out lots of money to get several people certified. Maybe if SAP (or gartner maybe)conducts some transparent studies and prove to the world that certification helps improve quality significantly, then there is a fair chance that this will fly.
Certification must be professional and independent. In Dennis's case, his certification comes from a professional association, not from a vendor of accountancy services, and this is also the case in other areas such as medicine and law. Unfortunately, the "certification" offered by software vendors is in no way equivalent to this. In the UK, the relevant body is the British Computer Society (BCS), in the USA it's the Associantion for Computing Machinery (ACM), and so on. From the BCS website (http://www.bcs.org/server.php?show=conWebDoc.1104):
Chartered IT Professional (CITP)
If you have 8-10 years of IT work experience (this may be reduced depending on your academic qualifications), or if you are part of a BCS Accredited Professional Development Scheme, you may be eligible for Chartered Status.
To become a Chartered IT Professional (CITP) you should have spent at least the last 12 months in a role that demonstrates:
* Significant influence and responsibility
* A challenging range of complex work activities
* Full accountability
* Well developed business skills
Now, doesn't that sound like *real* certification?
The second point on quality is that, as already mentioned, most vendor-sponsored schemes involve passing a machine-administered multiple choice test - and in SAP's case, even that applies only to the specific curricula leading to certification. So what about the other 90% of courses that people take? In those cases, there is no testing at all, no check that anyone has actually taken on board the content of the course. If there is value in a vendor's offering, then I think that value lies in at least grading people who have taken a course into pass/fail - that is the only level at which machine-based testing makes any sense.
To summarise my point on quality: in an ideal world, SAP consultants would be accredited members of a professional body, and would be tested on every course they attend.
That leads nicely into my second point: a certification must be portable. Right now, there are two problems with SAP certification: The first is that the S-number (your SAP identity) that results from certification is tied to the company you are employed by at the time. If you change company or become an independent contractor, you lose that S-number and (officially at least) you are no longer certified. The second problem is that, as far as I am aware, there is no way of checking someone's certification.
There is a simple fix to the portability problem. Firstly, S-numbers must not be permanently tied to a given company- your identity in the SAP world must be portable. This means that, as an individual, you must at any time be able to disconnect your S-number from the company it is attached to. When you join another company, you can ask their SAP representative (normally a Basis guy) to attach your S-number to that new company. Secondly, anyone with access to the SAP Service Marketplace (i.e. SAP, customers & partners) should be able to enter an S-number at any time, and get back a name, photograph and list of passed courses for that person. That allows anyone to validate that their claimed certification is correct, and all any job applicant has to do is to put their S-number on their resume. Heck, you could even open this up to recruiters so they can filter out rogue candidates ahead of time. This kind of transparency would really increase trust in the system.
The third major element of certification is market demand. Of course, if you are a doctor or a lawyer, then you cannot legally practice unless you are certified, which certainly helps with the demand side of things. Unless professional IT certification is legislated (an unlikely prospect for the forseeable future), then certification will only succeed if customers demand it. This can be helped by the measures I outline above, but what is really missing right now is any actual evidence of whether certification makes any difference to project success. To my knowledge, no vendor to date has been brave enough to sponsor an independent survey to find out. It would certainly be illuminating if, say, ASUG were to sponsor someone like Mike Krigsman to do a formal study on this. SAP's cooperation would be required - there would have to be a truly random sampling from recent customer projects, and the implementation partners involved would also need to cooperate, along with their staff, to measure not only project success, but also how many of the implementing team had any sort of certification. Of course, one critical factor in project success is down to project management skills, and I am unaware of any SAP certification in this area.
What I am sure about is that if there is a proper certification process (an independent professional accreditation, plus a vendor-specific validated training program), and if there is independent evidence that this process correlates with project success, then demand will not be a problem. SAP will not have to enforce anything, because the value of such accrediation will be self-evident. That's the true win-win-win scenario here, but it is some way away from the present reality of vendor-based certifications.
I guess the most important one is the one I'll deal with first. What is certification for ? If its not a P***ing contest, then it about comapring like with like, so as to ensure someone gets the most apporpriate person to fill an open position. Remember, you don't always want a rockstar, they tend to want to change things a lot !!
Seriously, though, can there be an OBJECTIVE hiring criteria ? For example, several of the tweets Dennis refers to, and many of the comments below, mention preferring experience over certification. Yes, experience makes a difference, but do I have 10 years experience, or the same year 10 times ?
Regardless of how experienced you are with computing, you still need to know how the application works. Sometimes, though, SAPs own certification and training exposes this argument, as we can all quote some piece of formal SAP documentation that is eitehr ignored, or is just completely contradictory to what we do, in the field.
However, as I pointed out during wednesday's conversation, http://twitter.com/martin_english/status/1134762979 , "You need to know the rules before you can decide whether to risk breaking them". A better way of putting it is you need to know enough to understand the risks in your proposed action, before you take the risks.
That leads to the point that REAL certification implies knowledge and / or training. Sometimes this can be picked up in the field, sometimes in courses.
Which returns back to objectivity. After all, were the Satyam auditors "certified" ? whatever that REALLY means in Audit world ? The Darren Hague comment (immeadiately below as I write this) talks about independent verification. The IT industry hasn't been able to produce a working model, that encompasses formal AND informal training, plus experience, for any field, let alone itself, yet... yes, there's the Chartered IT Professional (CITP) Darren spoke about, but, certainly in Australia, the equivalent body seems mired in the 70's
THe cynic in me wonders whether the whole original beatup, based on Jon Reed's summary of Zia Yusuf's keynote (at a partner conference ?), is designed to promote awareness of the new Professional and Master levels of certification. These certainly haven't been highly spruiked here in Australia... My enquiries late last year about pre requisites and apporiate training (so I'd have the SAP approved answers - see above about breaking rules) to SAP Australia were met with a bit of a blank.
Jon Reed ( http://twitter.com/jonerp ) also talked about the value of networking in judging a Consultants commitment to SAP. Careful what you wish for 🙂 By volume alone, I have acces to thousands of SAP consultants inside my corporate firewall (whether or not I use them is another thing) and the same goes for employees of other large multinational SAP partners.
SAP specific partners may be able to direct internal resources to "apprenticeships", such as specified by Oliver / @oliver , but how relevant are these to anyone else (let alone a customer) ?
The problem here is measurement... of knowledge AND skill, AND networking AND product commitment etc..
whether via OPEN sources (twitter, sdn, blogs, linkedin), or via CLOSED sources, such as my organisations internal SAP wikis (multiple wikis, because we have globally distributed competency centres for different areas of SAP), annual perfomance reviews, dvelopment plans AND the enterprise (behind the firewall) versions of the tools already mentioned.
Talking about partners leads me to Dennis's summary of http://dealarchitect.typepad.com/deal_architect/2009/01/sap-consultant-certification-too-little-too-late.html - Without devaluing the ideas here, it does fail to recognise that some of the reasons for failure implied here (in short, partner mismanagement) are in fact symptoms of customer mismanagement, customer expectations, or just bad decisons by customers. Realistically, if the customer refuses our advice on timing, costs, resources, or strategies, we are usually still bound (legally, if not morally) to continue working with them.
BTW, As for market demand for certification, I know its soemthing my organisation's customers are asking for regularly, at least in Australia.
I read through the whole comment thread again, great stuff.
A few key points from what I've read:
1. Size of network not important, it's community involvement that matters. Martin English made the response my point about community involvement: "be careful what you wish for" re: having thousands in your network. My view is that a consultant that has a community orientation and involvement usually will be more effective. NOT about size of network...perhaps I can elaborate on how this could be evaluated at another point to make it clearer....which leads to:
2. Mark Finnern and James Governor are onto something, regarding the formalization somehow of peer evaluations. Note that ASUG is trying to do this for firms and individuals in terms of customer evaluation and accountability via ASUG Edge also, though that's too early in its rollout to offer many lessons yet. Maybe this kind of thing supplements certification or becomes a part of it, but whether SAP Mentors are involved or not, the notion of peer and/or customer review/recommend/accountability seems appealing to me, though with hurdles to think through. But clearly transparency and public respect mean something. Though I'd be wary of a simple solution like LinkedIn recommendations. It's not that hard to stockpile solicited recommendations.
3. Vinnie's comment via Dennis on accountability at the firm level "re: bulk loading of consultants." Not sure whether certification requirements help to address this either, but I will say that SAP customers should be vigorous about not accepting bulk on-site consultants. Each one should be screened according to their own specs and or an appointed outside technical screening partner they trust. Whether consultants are certified or not, hiring in my view should always be individual. It was not always that way, and in my view, that was part of the problem with the implementations that did fail in the '90s.
4. Darren's view on customer effectiveness of certification - Darren, very interesting point regarding independent evaluation of whether certification has had an impact on success of projects to date. Would be great data to have. My personal hunch is that the answer would be: minimal impact at best, but if the data contradicted that it would be useful to know. Even a 10 percent positive impact is still impact. I think the more rigorous higher levels of SAP certification might eventually have a bigger impact. But not widely adopted or used yet, too early for a study on those, so any study would just be for the "classic" certification and would not shed light on effectiveness of the two new higher levels.
- Jon Reed -
I've known career accountants and auditors that never sat for an exam, know their stuff and can recite the rules and the examples to support them backward and forward But stand them up against any CPA, CIA, CISA, CA or other similar designation and, in a blind taste test, a recruiting or hiring manager will pick the comparably tenured "certified" candidate nine times out of ten.
There's the potential abuse of any certification push by those holding the keys. A prep/testing/cert granting authority can be a real money maker. The tests can become irrelevant or obsolete with regard to practical application of the skills. The criteria for granting certification can watered down in a misguided effort to promote the profession. But I can't imagine that's going to be the case with SAP's push.
In the end, we're looking at more than a few years ahead of a competitive market for ERP software vendors, the integrators and the myriad of vendors who support the industry with training, sourcing and supporting professionals. I can think of much worse ways to spend down time than getting certified. I see only upside in this push, for the industry and its professionals.
But the ball is just as much in SAP's court to protect the reputation of certification as it is in those who want to be certified because there is sense in it and benefits from it, also the minimum baseline.
I think the gurus will show up for the advanced exams then as well.
The focus should not be a direct money making scheme though. The benefits are reaped down the line by SAP, customers, the territories, the Lone Ranger and Chuck Norris 🙂
I am a JAVA programmer .. I know JAVA very well and have been part of a couple of JAVA projects on J2EE. Now I feel that I need to step into the next level... I go through JAVA for ABAP Programmers and find that I can work in the SAP Field as well... I decide to go an get certified since I already have the materials with me... then ??
The good thing about this is that the talent pool is increased by more people coming in an adding their experiences ( good or bad )
the bad thing about this is that the perceived value of certification goes down because of people who come in ... why is this -- IMHO certification is being seen as a way to jump two rungs in your career ladder. Something like ,
I will get an overseas opportunity if I get certified ( From an SI Perspective )
I will become team lead if I am certified...
but then we should ideally ask ... who fans such flames that people try to follow the same as role models ...?
BTW - my area would be in SAP Business Intelligence and I have not been asked by many if I was certified but initially in my second project yes .... but then experience starts showing in your resume which avoids any questions on certification and versions...
good point - that came up in our survey of the certifying community a couple of years ago - and we took it to heart! You will find that our certification exams are available to everyone - with the responsibility firmly on the individual to ensure that the knowledge gaps are filled. The Professional exams measure application of skills eminating from project experience. There are no prerequisites so you do not have to pass an Associate level exam before attempting the Professional level - in fact, if you have been an experienced consultant (aka rock star) for several years but never certified - now is probably the best time ever. Hope that helps.
Think of it like a pilot who is used to flying propeller-driven manual planes saying that he can fly a newer jet using autopilot technology without having to do any training. Would you get in his plane?
Referencing Marilyn's recent blog called "Would You Take Training From This Man?", I'd have more peace of mind in a plane with a pilot who proved to be very well trained.
This is how it goes down:
1. Company "IwantSAP" wants to get an ERP system - oh, yeah ... lets have SAP.
2. SAP channel partner "IsellSAP" starts talking to "IwantSAP".
3. Sales person "Bigseller" from "IsellSAP" promises Best Practices implementation at "IwantSAP" within 3 month.
4. Company "IwantSAP" is impressed and agrees to buy SAP.
5. SAP channel partner "IsellSAP" starts the project
6. 2 month into the project, "IsellSAP" realizes they can't deliver and search frantically for another 3 consultants to help them out.
7. After 3 weeks of hunting around, they find 2 "experienced" consultants overseas and a seasoned consultant that was buried in another project.
8. The 2 "experienced" consultants turn out to be University Graduates eager to learn SAP.
9. The seasoned consultant soon realizes the implementation will take at least another 4 month due to factors previously ignored or unknown.
10. The project finishes 5 month late and 200% over budget.
11. Company "IwantSAP" blames "IsellSAP" for a shoddy implementation.
11. Leo Apotheker blames the shoddy consultant for the failed project.
Certification does not stop the attitude that many of the sales reps or the channel partners display. "Lets first get the sale, then we worry about the implementation". Maybe its time to certify the SALES people before we try and put the blame on those who have to clean up their mess.
It might also help to know the SAP certification program is changing rapidly and is being moved to a much more experience based approach.
There is an ongoing discussion about this in different parts of the interwebs. Check some of the links.
If you read the post carefully you might have noticed I said this is but one step on the road to quality. I did not say it is the be all and end all.
My take on this subject which I had blogged last year - Certification versus Experience