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SAP Certification Survey Results – Data Matters

Hey folks – for those of you who watch the SAP skills and certification discussion closely, there is some new material to consider – mostly the new survey results on SAP certification now posted on SAP Mentor Michael Koch’s Pixelbase web site.

Before I get to that, I wanted to also briefly mention my new podcast on the impact of offshoring on SAP skills, as well as the importance of BPX skills for those SAP professionals looking to remain marketable in an era of “global labor arbitrage.” My guest for this podcast was new SAP Mentor and frequent SCN contributor Vijay Vijayasankar. We have now posted the podcast on SCN as well. This was one of my favorite podcasts I’ve done due to the honesty of the conversation and the importance of the topic. If you have any comments to add on this podcast, we’re The new realities of SAP consulting market – and survival tips so please post them there.

Now, back to SAP certification. I haven’t posted anything publicly on this topic since my last post in my career blog on SAP certification a couple months ago, though I did share some of my views of an SAP Mentor webcast on SAP certification when I appeared on Enterprise Geeks. Since that time, I’ve been gathering more info on SAP’s three tiered certification process. I plan on digging into this more at Sapphire in Orlando, so when I have something useful and new to add to the conversation you can expect me to chime in again.

One of my biggest concerns about the current discussion is that we were left with a lot of opinions and not much data. We badly need more surveys of SAP constituents about their perceptions of SAP certification and, more importantly, how it may (or may not) be connected to consultant quality.

I was really excited to get my hands on the survey results collected by Michael Koch (@pixelbase on Twitter), who conducted a survey of 130 SAP contractors and freelancers. I’m hoping to do a podcast with Michael soon to delve further into his results, which were compiled with the help of other SAP Mentors like Nigel James (@njames) and presented at SAP Inside Track London on March 4, 2009. Dennis Howlett (@dahowlett) posted a Inside Track London: Certification survey results discussing SAP certification at Inside Track London.

You can view the presentation and the survey results on the Pixelbase web site. As I reviewed the results, they mostly confirmed my discussions I’ve had with independents on this topic, but there were some interesting surprises as well. One might assume that independents, given that they often finance training on their own budget, might be very resistant to the idea of paid, formal certification. That’s not what I saw in the results though. What I did see, however, was a skepticism that I would call healthy about SAP certification when it does not include a component of field experience.

Almost half of the contractors surveyed (46%) were certified themselves. The estimated cost per certification was 6400 Euros per consultant, and 4500 Euros per certification. One result that surprised me: “SAP certification can be the deciding point when a client chooses you for a contract”: 31% either “agreed” or “completely agreed” with that statement. That’s higher than I would have thought, and good news for proponents of SAP certification in terms of its market traction. On the other hand, only 14% “agreed” or “completely agreed” with the statement “a lot of today’s SAP contract offers require certification.”

In terms of the importance of field experience, we can see that come out in the answer to this statement: “SAP certifications prove nothing, it’s project experience that counts.” 72% of those surveyed either “agreed” or “completely agreed” with that statement. Even more, 79%, agreed that “SAP certification is expensive.” Advocates of SAP certification should also be concerned that only 36% of those surveyed agreed with the statement “I would recommend SAP certifications to other colleagues.”

We should point out that these results are primarily based on a “historical” view of SAP certification, since the three tiered program is new enough that the results of that program cannot yet be measured. Survey respondents were asked for their input on the new three-tiered program, and the results were favorable in the context of incorporating field experience into certification. In response to the statement, “the new Professional and Master certifications will require proven project experience. What’s your view on this change?” The results were pretty conclusive: of the 133 responses to this question, 85 respondents considered this “an improvement.” One thing to note, however, is that I don’t believe that the Professional level currently includes a field experience component. If I am incorrect, hopefully someone can correct me. The Master level should include field experience however.

Conclusions drawn from the survey include:

• inexperienced consultants value certification more than experienced ones
• no push in the market (yet) demanding certifications
• SAP’s 3-tier approach move into right direction

There’s a lot more in this report that I haven’t gotten to, I’ll let you enjoy the full presentation for yourself, but hopefully this gives you a flavor of the sentiments of the contractors surveyed. The average years of experience of those in the survey was 8.5 years, so these respondents are part of a very influential and important SAP constituency.

I hope that we can compile more data to help us better understand how the community views certification, how relevant it is to consultant quality, and how it can be improved. I would like to see some data on SAP customers’ perceptions on SAP certification, and I’m pursuing some possibilities now to gather this information. I’ll plan on sharing more of my own views after I have had the chance to pose more questions on this topic in Orlando.

Finally, my experience has been that SAP Education values (and listens) to this input, so feel free to comment further on this post if you are so inspired.

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  • An excellent blog as always,Jon.

    I have a question to SCN readers, especially contractors. Do you actively market your SCN contributions – stuff like I wrote 20 blogs, was top contributor, or I am mentor, when you are looking for a project? and if yes, has that increased your chances of landing the assignment?

    maybe Michael or Jon can run a survey on that?

  • I think the key word is differentiation.  If having an SAP Certification would prove to be a competitive advantage and key differentiator in the consulting market than most independents would happily opt for it.  In fact, I think a great many consultants would quickly sign up for it.  Good consultants are always looking for something to improve their rates, lower their risks, increase their job opportunities, etc.  And I think a lot are willing to pay some $$$ to achieve those improvements.  But until customers see a benefit to a certified consultant over someone who is not certified and then start to require it, it won’t take root in the market.  I think SAP should be targeting the customers first rather than the consultants if they want us to participate in the certification crusade. 

    Another approach or item to add to the certification would be to follow the model that several US universities use.  Once you apply to a top-tier school and make it past the first round of evaluations you usually have to spend sometime with one of their alumni as part of an hour long interview.  Why couldn’t SAP use this for the highest level certification (master?)?  It would certainly provide the accuracy of certifying consultants who truly deserve that designation.  I don’t think SAP will do this because it borders on vetting the candidates and there might be some liability there…  but it’s worth thinking (or dreaming) about.

  • “SAP certification can be the deciding point when a client chooses you for a contract”: 31% either “agreed” or “completely agreed” with that statement. That’s higher than I would have thought, and good news for proponents of SAP certification in terms of its market traction. On the other hand, only 14% “agreed” or “completely agreed” with the statement “a lot of today’s SAP contract offers require certification.”

    This is what the (independent) consultants think, but what about the clients? Anyone ever asked them, if they select anyone for a project, the certification does play any role?

    One more thing: I would be interested in the survey result based on location (basically Europe vs. US). I am very keen to know if that makes any difference!

  • Great post.

    One of the concerns with the certification as it is in its current form is that one can crack the exam without really knowing/understanding any of the concepts – configuration / abap / basis. Preparing for the questions that are asked repeatedly ensures that a person can crack the exam without really being able to write code or configure SAP.

    One suggestion is to have a system exam where candidates are required to actually write code/ configure SAP based on the question asked. Then the code/configurations can be tested to see if they really work and were the correct solution or not.

    Also, SAP needs to stop using the same questions over and over again. It should come up with new questions and these can be from the Business Blueprint documents and functional specification documents from old/previous projects.

    Ensuring that the candidate is actually configuring SAP/ writing code which is giving the expected output according to real world specifications will set the bar a little higher in terms of the difficulty level of the exam and also that the candidate has practiced SAP in the system vs having only theoretical knowledge.

    As Nathan pointed out, having a two round certification with a second interview round is also a great idea, but it is resource intensive and again, unless there is a way to ensure that the questions being asked are not repetitive, it will become easy to crack.

    I read a blog post from Michael Doane and I agree with him that more than the individual consultant, the systems integration firms/sap implementation partners are the ones who need to be certified. This can either be a certification from SAP or a website like yelp where customers who have recently implemented SAP give a rating to their implementation partners and write reviews. This review can be broken into categories like consultants, project implementation methodology, cost/rates/fees/, training of users, critical issues etc.

    This will give users a general consensus about the implementation partner (eg 4 stars, great consultants, high fees, poor implementation methodology, project went live under time and budget without any major issues)

    Actual reviews will cover a lot more areas.

    And negative reviews should be allowed to be posted and should not be taken down. After all, if one customer has burnt his hands (and pockets) with an implementation partner, this customer should be able to tell his story to the rest of the world so that they can avoid a repeat.

    Just my two cents