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Mentors Vienna

 

When Mark Finnern asked me if I wish to become an SAP Mentor my first thought was: “Are you out of your mind? I am one of SAP’s sharpest business critics. Sometimes I must seem like an SAP hater. Why would you want me inside the SAP tent?”

I can’t speak for Mark or the rest of the SAP Mentor program team but I can say that introduction to this elite group of SAPesque thinkers has been one of the most valuable experiences of my long (and not always distinguished) business life. Why?

As I said on my personal blog:

SAP Mentors are without question the sharpest, brightest and yet most sociable people I know. Who would ever have thought that about geeks – people who are mostly immersed in code and talk in weird terms lesser mortals would struggle to understand. Yet that doesn’t prevent me from being a sharp critic of what SAP the company does. It’s been made clear to me time and again that SAP wants me to say what I do as a way of keeping the company honest. I’ll take that as a compliment even though I field the late night ‘why did you say that?’ calls which would suggest otherwise…

…This year saw SAP make a big deal of its Mentor community in various keynote speeches and staged events. As you can see from the pic, we were given distinctive rugby style shirts which immediately identified us as ‘different’ from other attendees. My personal experience is that it scared a few people and caught the curiosity of others. Be that as it may. After all, SAP positions ‘us’ as the best of the best, something most of us take with a grain of salt because the broad SAP community is stuffed full of incredibly bright people. But to the theme of this post…

This is about a helpful community of people, professionally and deeply invested in what SAP offers. They are not impressed by the sales pitch stuff but about what the code can do to create new things. Indirectly that’s about added value though I doubt whether many of my Mentor peers would view it quite in those same commercial terms.

My buy side colleagues tend to be dismissive of SAP as this old super tanker that takes forever to turn in any direction. That may be true but what I see among Mentors is a hunger and excitement that transcends the fads and fantasies of an otherwise fashion driven industry. The fact SAP made a big play about Mentor involvement during TechEd 2009 tells me that people are noticing what Mentors bring to the table. It also tells me that SAP is prepared to both recognize and honor those who it thinks are both well connected and capable of bringing fresh thinking to the SAP table.

Mentors are people who are at once at the bleeding edge of what SAP can deliver and yet are firmly and sensibly rooted in practical realities. Paradox? You bet and something that ‘outsiders’ struggle to understand. My view – that’s their problem. Be part of the solution not part of the problem.

So what examples can I give that demonstrate the two way value being worked among this group? At TechEd Vienna, special sessions were arranged, some under implicit NDA to introduce the geeks to new things that SAP is considering. It’s a win-win because ‘we’ get advance notification of cool stuff coming down the research/labs pipe into which we can push feedback that help partially shape the future of SAP applications. 

Another example. For those not familiar, the Certification Five (Jon Reed, Michael Koch, Martin Gillet, Leo (whose last name I can never spell let alone pronounce) and I) created a document which, it turns out, is helping SAP Education validate its thoughts on where certification goes and how that complements SAP’s market position as a business process provider. More on that later. My point. This was something about which some SAP Mentors felt sufficiently motivated to devote a couple of months time and effort to think through and articulate for the benefit of the SAP ecosystem as a whole. It ain’t all worked out. It ain’t public yet. It is far from perfect. It was at best an intelligent stab at some of the certification issues. It was done at no direct commercial cost to SAP. It was an expression of the passion that some of us hold for what SAP can/might/should deliver. If you’d like to learn more then please ping me and I’m sure we can arrange access to what is on the table as a broad set of propositions and recommendations.

Does SAP get something in return? You bet. SAP Mentors’ knowledge often spans many years of working with the software, finagling the issues customers face and provides answers to knotty problems that leave others scratching their heads. Ergo it saves SAP a ton of cash while promoting the value of what it means to ‘do SAP.’

If these thoughts get your SAP juices flowing then think more about what SAP Mentorship might offer you. So far the ride has been pretty darned good for me, bumps and all. That’s said as someone who sits on the outside of the SAP tent. Guess the rest of where that goes…

Thoughts?

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5 Comments

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  1. Jon Reed
    Dennis, absolutely spot on.

    I think you have done a compelling job in this post of juxtaposing an image I see often in analyst circles these days – of SAP as a big oceanliner headed in the wrong direction but slow to move – with a very different experience I have attending SAP conferences and seeing the impact and of SAP community influencers. It will be fascinating to see how the strength of SAP’s community voices, much more empowered and visible than in past years, impact SAP’s overall direction. I for one hope that the impact is strong. If SAP listens and acts in conjunction with community-driven projects and influencer perspectives, great things will happen, of that I am sure.

    A few links that may be helpful to readers.

    One area I think Mentors can do a better job of is informing the community about some of the neat things that are happening. That’s why I’m glad “Chief Mentor Herder” Mark Finnern started up the SAP Mentor Monday public webinar series. Archives from that series can be viewed here:
    https://wiki.sdn.sap.com/wiki/display/SAPMentors/SAP+Mentor+Monday

    This will be an important channel between SAP Mentors and the community we are hopefully doing a good job of representing.

    For more evidence of the impact of SAP Mentor dialogue with SAP, have a look at Michael Bechauf’s post on Code Exchange and individual developer licenses – a project that Mentors were instrumental in pushing and are still engaged with SAP on. Hopefully there will be real benefits from this type of work. Here’s the blog post link: On SDN Code Exchange, Open Source and Free Software

    Also: there are only a handful of Mentors compared to the total SCN membership, but there are many great ways to be involved with SAP. I doubt any Mentors began with “I want to be an SAP Mentor.” They started with passionate involvement in an area of SAP that they couldn’t help but share. Craig Cmehil has outlined different levels of involvement in various presentations. The community hall of fame is a good place to learn more on all these fronts:

    https://wiki.sdn.sap.com/wiki/display/Community/Community%20Hall%20of%20Fame

    Thx Dennis!

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  2. Ondrej Jurecek
    “SAP Mentors are the ‘best of the best’ according to SAP”

    It is interesting opinion, Dennis. But don’t forget about people who don’t want to join to “SAP Mentors” elite.
    I know many people with high quality of their work who don’t need it. And for example Mr. Thomas Jung (SAP Mentor) as well.

    Have a nice day,
    Ondrej

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    1. Dennis Howlett Post author
      What I actually said: “SAP positions ‘us’ as the best of the best, something most of us take with a grain of salt because the broad SAP community is stuffed full of incredibly bright people.”
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  3. Gregory Misiorek
    Dennis,

    did u bite? i can see why one would hesitate. do u remember what happened to mr codd when he got his name attached to arbor olap paper? i’m sure sap can make it very tempting, but i can also see how gartner gets flak for being not (in)dependent. imho, sap is the best business software vendor out there despite vinnie’s complaints.

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  4. Vijay Vijayasankar
    I was made a mentor earlier this year, and consider it an honor. One thing I can assure you is that this is not a group that is short of opinions on any matter 🙂

    It is a win-win all around – On one side SAP gets a candid opinion on several important issues, and mentors generally contribute a lot of quality stuff to the SAP community, and since mentors are generally good PR for SAP. On the other hand, Mentors get some recognition ( which potentially helps them in their careers), and they get great access to SAP execs, their latest products ,and so on.

    Notice that Dennis and other mentors have criticized SAP, sometimes sharply, even after getting the mentor status accorded. Personally, this freedom to express my opinion is extremely important for me – and I am sure it is the same for my fellow mentors. 

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