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Before you (Mr. or Ms. SAP Professional) go rushing off to get certified by SAP, it’s a good idea to consider the wide range of options available, and determine if certification is even useful.

What certification levels are available today?
Will being certified help you get your first SAP job?
Will it serve as a tiebreaker when you are applying for a position and face intense competition in a declining economy?
Has anyone ever done an objective study of whether SAP certified consultants perform better on the job versus non-certified consultants?
Do SAP clients care about certification?

Employers and recruiters will also benefit from this article—you’ll find some of your previous assumptions about the SAP certification process either challenged or reinforced.

We’ll cover all these questions and more—but first, a little background on the SAP certification program.

Who can be certified and at what levels?
The certification program is available for SAP employees, partner employees, independent consultants, and client employees. Already SAP is ahead of Oracle—Oracle’s certification programs for E-Business Suite, PeopleSoft, JD Edwards, and Siebel are only available to Oracle employees and partner employees.

About three years ago, after discussions with both clients and partners, SAP announced three levels of certification — Associate, Professional, and Master. Currently the associate level and professional level exams are available. The master level is still in development.

The SAP website defines these levels as follows:

Associate: “This certification covers the fundamental knowledge requirements for an SAP consultant, ensuring the successful acquisition of broad SAP solution knowledge and skills.”

Professional: “This advanced certification requires proven project experience, business process knowledge, and a more detailed understanding of SAP solutions.”

Master: “This certification, under development, involves demonstrating an expert-level understanding of a specific area of SAP software and the ability to drive innovation and solution optimization through in-depth knowledge and vision. Certification at this level requires broad project experience, comprehensive SAP product knowledge, and the ability to create a future IT vision within complex project environments.”

The Associate level exams test book knowledge. In most cases, this level does not require SAP implementation experience in order to pass the exams. Questions on the Professional level exams are designed to test the SAP experience of the test taker. The requirements for the Master level involve more than taking exams. As the SAP website mentions, the process of obtaining Master level certification is still being defined.

SAP takes care to point out that you don’t need to pass the Associate level exam before sitting for the Professional level exam. So you get to select which level you think you are qualified for and take that exam.

SAP Public Certification Information
We’ll begin at www.SAP.com/usa/services/education/certification/index.epx. The path is Home>Services>SAP Education>Certification Program. (The link and the path may vary for different SAP country sites.)

Here, you’ll find definitions of each certification level, with links to certification training, exam locations and schedules, and policies and procedures.

Let’s start with the “Find a certification” box in the top right corner of this page. I’m a former Sales Order and Pricing consultant, so let’s see what I can find. Under “select solution” I selected “SAP ERP”. Under focus area, I selected “Applications”. Under role, I selected “Application Consultant”.

After I then clicked “Find”, I see a page with links to 32 different certifications, ranging across all the ERP applications, at both the Associate and Professional level. I selected this link: SAP Certified Application Associate – Sales Order Management with SAP ERP 6.0.

Lots of good information is presented, such as links to the exam description, related certifications such as the Professional certificate for Sales Order Management, etc.

Fortunately, I’m guided visually to a colored box that has the certification that I am interested in. I click on the Certification Tests link on the right side of the page, and I see a list of competencies, weightings, topics on the exam and related classes I can take to prepare: http://www.sap.com/services/education/certification/certificationtest.epx?context=%5b%5bC_TSCM62_60%7cG%5d%5d%7c

I then drilled down on one of the list of topics covered by the exam to check out the details. I picked “Availability check” and clicked through to this page: http://www.sap.com/services/education/certification/globaltabbedcourse.epx?context=%5b%5b%7cTSCM60%7c%7c%7c%7c%7c%5d%5d%7c

Unfortunately, what I’m presented with is a course description for one of the standard Order Fulfillment classes. I’d rather see details about what specifically is covered on the exam under the topic of Availability check.

At this point, I need a break to regroup. I walk away with the feeling that SAP might be trying to sell me training classes to prep for the exam. Oh well, at least I’ve got the core list of topics that will be on the exam. (By the way, SAP told me that the intent of the certification pages on the website is not to sell training, but rather to provide information on the content of the exams.)

Some of the exam pages are more detailed than the one mentioned above. For example, the page for the Professional level exam seems to have more detail than the Associate level page: http://www.sap.com/services/education/certification/certificationtest.epx?context=%5b%5bC_TSCM62_05%7cG%5d%5d%7c

Certification Training
Just like SAP software, the SAP website has several ways to accomplish the same thing.

At one point (don’t ask me to retrace all my steps), I clicked through to this page: http://www.sap.com/usa/services/education/certtraining/curriculum.epx?context=%5b%5bSCM5_ORD_SOL_NA%5d%5d%7c
I’m greeted with over 20 days of training at SAP Academy (for consultants).

Are these classes required to sit for and pass the Associate level certification exams? No,they are not required. But if one knew nothing about SAP, then these classes should give you enough knowledge to pass the exams at the Associate level.

Another training option is the public class route: http://www.sap.com/usa/services/education/certtraining/curriculum.epx?context=%5b%5bSCM5_ORD2_SOL_NA%5d%5d%7c:

That path results in about the same number of days of classes, and essentially the same material as the SAP Academy classes.

Certification Guides & Sample Exam Questions
The following link goes to a list of links to sample questions: http://www.sap.com/services/education/certification/schedule/index.epx
I found ten multiple-choice questions on the Sales Order sample. They appeared to be good, solid questions–the kind of questions one would expect to see on a certification exam.

Some of the questions have multiple answers. SAP recently went to a “dichotomous scoring” technique, which means that partial credit is no longer given for partially correct answers. So if a question asks you to identify the two correct possible answers, and you get just one correct, you get no credit for that answer. Using this scoring method has resulted in SAP having to lower the passing score on exams—to sometimes as low as 55%.

Since 10 sample questions can’t give you an idea of the full range of topics covered by a certification exam, you’ll want to review the competency list provided for each exam.

A typical exam lasts up to three hours and contains 80 questions.

In India, and possibly in other countries, it appears that training is required to sit for the certification exams. Two big training partners in India are Genovate and Siemens. Let’s look at what their website verbiage indicates about training needs:

From the Genovate website:
Q: Can I take up the certification examination alone, if I have undertaken SAP Training in other institutions (other than the SAP Partners)?

A: SAP does not recognize trainings undertaken at any institute other than SAP Education Partners. Certification is not available to such candidates.

Nearly the exact same wording appears on the Siemens website:
Q: If I have undertaken SAP training in another institute (other than the SAP Authorized partners) can I pursue only the certification examination?

A: SAP does not recognize trainings undertaken at any institute other than the ones mentioned above. Certification is not available to such candidates.

Exam Creation
The SAP certification group creates the exams with the help of SAP Platinum consultants. The process used to create exams is oriented towards creating valid questions. SAP will likely do some field-testing of exams in the future.

Some exams differ by geography—for example, due to different Payroll functionality in different countries, the exams differ from country to country.

Exam Prep
It’s pretty obvious from my tour of the SAP certification pages that SAP hopes that a good number of people sign up for classes to prep for the exams. While I don’t believe that SAP regular classes for clients and consultants are oriented towards passing the certification exams (can you say “No consultant left behind’?), I have been told that some SAP instructors teach classes as rigorously as they can so that students can pass the exams. SAP does not offer classes specifically tailored to exam content—in my view that’s a good thing. I’d rather have a consultant pass an exam based on their hard earned knowledge and experience, than pass based on a review course.

Many test takers have passed the exams without taking any classes—they’ve either taken classes in the past or they rely on their years of field experience.

Other SAP Schools
It doesn’t take long to google “SAP certification training”, and you’ll find many companies that advertise SAP training for certification purposes. Here’s one of my favorite descriptions:

“We as stand for SAP Best Practices. Trained more than 3000 students either online or onsite. All instructors are certified and we prepare you for certification. Our Motto is your carrier.”

Sounds contagious. I think I’ll pass.

Much of the third-party SAP “certification training” action centers on Asia, especially India. Thousands of very smart people in these countries are taking courses at dozens, if not hundreds of training centers, and trying to break into the high-paying world of SAP implementations. Sadly, many are not having much luck finding such jobs in today’s economy. Then there are those who just don’t deserve to have any luck, as noted in this post to an IT-Toolbox forum:

“Hi everyone,
Please help me in taking a decision. I have knowledge of SAP & can show some fake experience of 16 months & now decided to do the MM Certification from Siemens… I am very worried, as I need to accelerate my career. Prior to this I worked in a call center for 2 years. I am Production Engineer & have theoretical knowledge of MM & PP. What should I do? Please help.”

(Name withheld to protect the guilty)

After several people wrote sharp rebukes to the idea of faking experience, this poster thought he could help with this reply:

“Its not easy to show fake experience on SAP. because its far different from general function. but if u have sound knowledge on your module then u can.”

Nice to know that it takes a special talent to fake SAP experience.

It would be a plus if hiring authorities could go to the SAP website and validate that certifications are authentic. This capability doesn’t exist today, and there are people submitting fake certificates. SAP has started legal action against some overseas certification programs that have issued fake certificates in the past.

Speaking of fakery, Jarret Pazahanick, an SAP HCM consultant, told me this little gem:

“Last year I got a call from a friend that works at SAP America when they noticed that a candidate they were reviewing had worked at some of the same clients I had and he wanted to get my thoughts. It turns out someone had taken my resume and changed the name and they were in the final stages of getting a job with SAP. Needless to say I was very surprised.”

BP-ERP Certification
Universities that belong to the SAP University Alliance program can teach IT/Business students with a copy of SAP software. These programs emphasize the SAP BP-ERP curriculum and certificate for which students can take the exam at the end of the course. I didn’t find the BP-ERP certificate on the list of SAP certifications discussed in this article. There are approximately 800 Universities (including 120 in the US and Canada) that teach this curriculum.

SAP itself is pretty conservative, and appropriately so, in describing the BP-ERP certificate:
”The SAP BPERP certification which is recognized globally is the first step for the University Alliances students to embark on a certification pathway to becoming a full-fledged SAP consultant.”

The BP-ERP certificate is also offered overseas by some SAP Education Partners. How’s this for a flyer headline? Be a Certified SAP Consultant in just 10 days! It’s a real stretch to call someone who passes the BP-ERP certificate exam “a certified consultant”.

Multiple Choice Format
Some leaders in the SAP community have criticized the multiple-choice format of the questions and answers. SAP is pretty quiet on the subject of adding essay questions, but if the College Board can add essay questions to the SATs, then it’s possible that one of the largest software companies in the world could do that as well.

I consulted with Jon Reed, of www.JonERP.com on the subject of the multiple-choice format. Here’s Jon’s response:

“I have a philosophical difference with SAP Education currently over the reliance on multiple choice questions to validate SAP competencies. This is a fairly complex topic…but the end result is that SAP Certification, on the Associate Level that is the first tier of the new three tier program, is comprised solely of multiple choice questions, and there are no plans as I know of to alter this format. I don’t personally believe that SAP certification can achieve the kind of market relevance many want it to have until the testing itself moves beyond a multiple choice format. Not everyone agrees with my position, and I’m willing to be convinced otherwise, but that’s how I feel currently. I would also like to see field experience taken into account at every level of SAP certification. Right now, the only plans to really reckon with field experience are at the highest (Master) level, yet to be rolled out, though the Professional level may take this into account a bit – again it’s mostly a multiple choice format at this point. It will be interesting to see how this issue shakes out.”

SAP has told me that essay questions are a possibility for the Master level certification.

Exam Logistics
SAP certification exams are available in major cities across the US and Canada. Associate level exams in the US cost $500 USD. Professional level exams in the US cost $750 USD.

SAP also partners with Pearson VUE testing centers: www.pearsonvue.com/sap/. There are more Pearson VUE locations than SAP testing locations. Pearson VUE charges the same prices for the exams as SAP does.

Exams are proctored (supervised) to prevent cheating. They are closed book, with no notes permitted.

Here’s a complete list of exams and whether or not they can be taken at SAP or Pearson VUE or both: http://www.sap.com/usa/services/education/pdf/US_List_of_Certification_Exams_070709.pdf

SAP has no current plans to offer exams online as security would be very difficult. SAP is very protective of the value they feel certification holds, and doesn’t want to risk the investment they’ve made in designing exams.

If you are wondering how many times you can attempt to pass a specific exam, the answer is:

“No candidate may participate in the same examination for the same release more than three times. A candidate who has failed an examination three times for a release may not attempt that examination again until the next release.”

A full set of exam policies and procedures are here: http://www.sap.com/usa/services/education/certification/policies.epx. There is also an FAQ link at the top of this page.

One of the rules is: “Successful candidates are not permitted to retake the same examination.”

Who wants to spend another $500 or $750 to repeat the same thing over and over? Are they hoping for a different result? Isn’t that the definition of insanity? Seriously, this is probably a security thing—SAP wants to ensure that no one can remember all the questions, write them down after the exam, and distribute them to others.

Is Certification for New Releases Necessary?
By now, you might have noticed that in some areas there are different certification exams for different releases.
From the SAP website: Certification is used as an essential benchmark for customers in times of increasingly dynamic market change. Therefore, we need to ensure that certification credentials are always up-to-date. With the new program, SAP will be able to monitor the level of certifications within the certification community, and contact professionals with outdated certifications for a reminder that there is a need to re-certify. SAP retires exams as soon as they are two releases behind the current release of the software for which a certification exam is available.

I looked up all the Procurement exams available today:
SAP Certified Solution Consultant SCM – Procurement with mySAP ERP 2005
SAP Certified Application Professional – Procurement with SAP ERP 6.0
SAP Certified Application Associate – Procurement with SAP ERP 6.0 EHP4
SAP Certified Application Associate – Procurement with SAP ERP 6.0
SAP Certified Application Professional – Procurement with SAP ERP 6.0 EHP4

Should you consider recertification in the same modules every time SAP issues a new release? I don’t think so. The experts I consulted suggested that anyone with a pre-4.6 certificate should consider their certification dated. Assuming your oldest certification is at the 4.6 level, you should consider adding to your bag of skills and getting certified in new areas.

Is Certification Perceived to be Useful by the SAP Community?
I posted the following questions on LinkedIn about SAP certification a few weeks ago:

“Is SAP certification important? I’m going to blog about this topic and I appreciate your feedback. If you are a client, have you ever required certification when hiring consultants or employees? Have you found that certification is a predictor of success? Do you offer to pay for certification exams for your employees? If you are a consultant, are you certified? By whom? Have clients asked for evidence of certification before hiring you? Was the time and expense of certification worth it to you?”

Here’s what I feel is a typical SAP client response. This is from Tinus Brink, an Audit Manager with SAB&T in South Africa:

“I have never appointed anyone in this firm or the previous company I worked for as General Manager based on Certification. The reason for this is simple. SAP Certification does not mean you can do the job, nor does it state that you have experience suited for big corporations and entitle you to work on their 4TB databases.”

Tinus goes on to clarify that years of experience sometimes doesn’t mean much:

“Being a good SAP consultant should also not be narrowed down to how many years you have worked with SAP and then you are suddenly a K4 consultant based on years experience. All these methods are useless in the end. I evaluate a person based on ability and I can honestly say that I have worked with BASIS consultants with 2 years experience that I would trust more than some BASIS consultants with 10 years experience. Getting back to the issue of Certification—I believe it is good to show you have done the course and on some level present knowledge that you are not a complete idiot. I do not see this as the ultimate and neither should you.”

On the other hand, Jon Reed makes the case for certification being useful in some situations:

”So if training and certification rarely gives you a big edge in a hiring situation, when can it help? It can help when you are working to enhance your skills within the context of a long-term project. For example: consider the case of an MM/PP consultant or employee who has always wanted to break into APO but never had the chance. So, they go out and obtain an APO-related certification on their own time, on their own dime. As it turns out, this kind of pro-active investment makes a very positive impression on employers, and it also gives the consultant an expanded knowledge base in an area that “extends” from their core skills.

So, in this case, we have an MM/PP consultant, working on a long-term MM/PP project, and they have taken the trouble to obtain an APO certification. Lo and behold, a few months down the road, that particular company decides to do a pilot Demand Planning project. They decide to hire some additional APO consultants, but they want to round out the project team. Who gets invited to participate? The MM/PP consultant who has taken the trouble to obtain APO certification and know-how. Would they have been pulled onto that APO project anyway? Perhaps. But did the APO training give them an edge and call attention to their skills and initiative? Definitely. Have I seen this kind of scenario play out many times? Absolutely. But are there any guarantees that when you invest in training, this will happen to you? Absolutely not. Especially not on a timeframe that is convenient to you.” Jon Reed quoted from http://www.erpgenie.com/scoop/1stQ2005.htm

And on the other hand (yes, I know that’s three hands), Jocelyn Hayes, who heads up the ERPtips SAP Training and Consulting practice says:

“In my twelve years as an SAP consultant, I never had a client request that I be SAP Certified. They relied on my experience and references when hiring me. Every now and then, I will see a job posting that says ‘SAP Certification required, or preferred’, but once I speak with the recruiter and hiring manager, I have found that was something added by the recruiter – not the hiring company, because they think it might be important. The reality is that the client didn’t care, and it didn’t come up during interviews.”

Dennis Howlett, an SAP mentor, and member of the Enterprise Irregulars, recently contributed a blog entry to SDN on certification that ignited a lot of comments from the broader SAP community. Dennis is an advocate of the formal certification process: Should you be certified?

Demir Barlas has written an excellent short piece on the subject of the value of SAP certification and the comments from readers are worth a look: http://itknowledgeexchange.techtarget.com/sap-watch/sap-certification-not-worth-much/

So, is certification useful or not? Usefulness, like beauty, is mostly in the eye of the beholder. If one has no SAP experience, then certification at the Associate level might be helpful in getting that first SAP job. However, in today’s economy, that’s probably not going to happen. If one has SAP experience, then I estimate that for one out of six consultants, certification at the Professional level might be helpful at some point in your career.

SAP Certification Resources
Jon Reed at www.JonERP.com has been writing about SAP careers and the SAP job market for over a decade, and has the credibility and chops to be ranked as the Number 1 resource out there. Jon’s latest thoughts on certification are here: http://www.jonerp.com/component/option,com_mojo/Itemid,57/p,72/

www.SearchSAP.com has some very good interviews (podcasts) and other resources on SAP certification. Click here: http://searchsap.techtarget.com/search/1,293876,sid21,00.html?query=SAP+CERTIFICATION

www.LinkedIn.com — Join the Education@SAP group and then join the Certification subgroup. You’ll get updates directly from the people who manage SAP America’s certification program.

BPX Certification
For application consultants (and those who hire them), I’m completely sold on the new BPX certification from SAP. Any application consultant worth their process flow diagrams should think seriously about obtaining this certification.

This program is run by the BPX community, part of the SAP Developer Network (SDN). Details are available on the BPX certification wiki. The certification exam description is available here.

An interview with Arnold Jung of SAP on this topic is available, here.

Third Party Certification
There are companies and “schools” offering their version of SAP certification. Of course these are perceived as worthless by most clients. Any certification that isn’t an official SAP certification, is really just a “Certificate of Attendance”. However, that’s not to say that the education program these students attend is worthless—just that the certificate is not useful.

Concluding Remarks
I should probably open the kimono and say more about my personal background and bias. I was a JD Edwards consultant and trainer for 15 years. In the mid-90s, most of us took the available certification exams, which were not difficult to pass. Everyone was very proud of their certification decals and put “JD Edwards Certified Consultant” in their email signature blocks. Within a few years the interest died out as consultants realized that the market didn’t care if we were certified or not. I’ve run a JDE consulting and training practice for ten years, and I’ve never had a client ask if the consultant we proposed was certified. I’ve tried to be objective in my analysis, but it’s possible that my personal background has influenced this article.

SAP has done an impressive amount of work on certification. They have the strongest ERP vendor certification program out there. There are over 125,000 people who have been certified by SAP. The only program that might be stronger is Microsoft’s program for IT professionals.

But, does it carry the credibility of a professional qualification such as having a CPA or Professional Engineer license? Clearly it doesn’t.

The response from SAP to the above statement is:

“No, it doesn’t (carry the credibility of a professional qualification) – and it never will -because it is a vendor certification. Based on our 2008 surveys of the community we found that the credibility of our certification program was rated very highly alongside other programs, but SAP is a software company – not a professional body. It is not our job to accredit to that level or to exclude individuals from practicing their profession. What we can do – and are doing our best to – is minimize the risk for SAP’s customers with our certification program.”

With over 50,000 certification exams given annually, it’s a sizeable revenue generator, but SAP doesn’t provide a certification program just for the revenue from exams and classes. I think SAP cares about certification because they want to ensure project success and happy, referenceable clients.

Consultant quality is critical to making this happen. But the current certification program doesn’t go far enough. SAP needs to extend the program to include practical experience and even evaluations of job performance. SAP needs to prove that individuals who pass the exams are, in fact, more successful than those without certification.

Until that happens, certification is a nice to have, not a must have.

The author would like to acknowledge Jon Reed, of www.JonERP.com as a provider of outstanding advice and counsel on this article. Jon has spent many years on the frontlines of SAP career advice, and I owe him a debt for all his work.

Postscript: The word from SAP is that they are working on how to do a study that correlates certification exam success with performance on the job. This is in the preliminary stages, and no further information is available at this time.

Please note: Klee Associates, Inc. / ERPtips does not provide certification classes or exams. We have no fiduciary interest in certification. We do provide configuration-level training for client project teams and key business users. More information is available at www.ERPtips.com.

For the complete blog in pdf format, with screen shots, please go to www.ERPtips.com/Express.asp. You can sign up and do an immediate download of the full article.

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2 Comments

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  1. Srivijaya Gutala
    Even I have come across people who have done certification wihout even workign in any one of them. And a certification without knowledge ..i really doubt would be of any help. But what makes me surprised is ..how could they clear the certification ? Isn’t supposed to have certain standards ?
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  2. Anonymous
    Read your comments with interest as your blog came out at the same time I was in the midst of 2 weeks of taking the TERP10 certification class.  You mention the University Alliances program.  I’m a professor and campus coordinator for a university that is a member of that program.  Although the UA program does have a ‘certificate’ universities can give students who complete 3 SAP-related classes, that is not billed as a certification.  Universities can however elect to facilitate students taking the TERP10 certification.  One way to do this is to have faculty complete the certification themself.  I was told (by an unofficial source) that earlier this summer there were only 13 professors in the U.S. who have completed that class.  As of today I know of at least 2 more.  The class itself is rigorous and very worthwhile for students.  The curriculum takes you through all the major functional areas of SAP ERP and focuses on their interactions.  (What is the impact of goods shipment on FI? CO? WM?  What the various processes that use a BOM? [These are simple examples])  By the time a student is done they should have a good base for a future employer to build on with more specific training.  At minimum the student has shown they are interested in SAP (they have to pay ~$1,000 out of pocket to take the course) and know what they’re in for with an SAP-oriented career.
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