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The role of Certification in Personal Development Programs

There is a valuable discussion going on currently in the Linkedin Group Education@SAP on the value of certification programs.  This discussion is multi-faceted in that it deals with consultants and clients, as well as discusses the quality of the existing certification programs, and the relationship between certification and finding jobs.  I think that all of this is important, but the discussion needs to be divided into a number of different threads in order to not become too convoluted.  It also needs to be noted that when we talk about certification, we need to differentiate between the knowledge that is attained through learning the material necessary to pass the exam and the actual award of the credential, since it is the knowledge that is the real valuable achievement, not just the paper.  While I am sure that there are more threads worthy of discussion, the ones I will comment on are:

1.  The difference in knowledge between being functional/technical certified and non-certified. 

2.  The difference in knowledge between being TERP 10 certified or not.

3.  The impact of SAP versions on the currency and quality of certification credentials.

4.  What does “certified” mean to a person’s ability to apply the knowledge to design a business process to achieve an intended business result?

5.  How should certification programs evolve to become more accurate in predicting a person’s actual ability as defined by being able to achieve business requirements?

The difference in knowledge between being functional/technical certified and non-certified.

Having hired consultants and client employees, I differentiate the difference between being certified or not as an individual knowing perfectly how the configuration of a client’s system operates or a person with understanding all of the potential configurations possible to create a business process to address a business need.  Recognizing the complexity of SAP, this is a combination of knowing the capabilities of the system combined with creativity and business knowledge.  The former is sufficient for an Application Maintenance environment, but not for designing and implementing business solutions.  Being functionally/technically certified indicates that the individual has studied a specific area of SAP (MM or ABAP, for example), learned how to configure that specific area to produce a variety of processes and results, and has been able to pass a test that demonstrates that person’s knowledge to some extent.  This knowledge of potential designs is critical to anyone seeking to be involved in designing and implementing a system, both consultants and client team leaders.  It is not, however, even close to sufficient to make a person fully qualified, even though it does provide a starting point of knowledge to be expanded upon with experience and other educational programs.  These years of experience for a trained consultant allow that individual to further develop the understanding and creativity necessary for successful design. 

The difference in knowledge between being TERP 10 certified or not.

Much of the same can be claimed for TERP 10 (Business Process Certification in SAP), however, there is a distinct difference.  TERP 10 teaches the relationships across functional and technical areas providing both the business process design perspective and the range of possibility for definition of the relationships between functions.  For consultants, this knowledge of how configuration in one area affects another area is a critical skill set and one that is often missing, even in gifted and experienced consultants.  For client employees who will be advising functional departments on how to use SAP to help resolve business needs this is also critical.  As part of overall business training, developing the knowledge and ability to think and design across functions is an important component of continuous education.  TERP 10 provides this valuable insight into how cross-functional business needs are supported by SAP.  It does not teach business process generically, it does not teach how to understand and manage a business, however, it does provide clear and necessary insight into how SAP can be set up to support business needs, which is a critical skill set that is missing in much of business.  If I were starting with a new implementation program today, instead of sending the client team to SAP01 training, I would send the entire team to TERP 10 to provide the broadest possible perspective in business process design in SAP.

The impact of versions on the currency and quality of certification credentials.

All of this being said, I have not seen much discussion of maintaining version currency in certification.  While becoming recertified in a single later version (5.0 to 6.0 for example) may be less necessary, I have encountered consultants originally certified in 3.0, who have extensive experience in later versions but have not kept their certification current.  I would argue that the effect of this varies extremely widely between individual consultants, as some have kept up with the latest version and the expansion of both functionality and of options, while others have pretty much done the same process over and over in different organizational models, but have not kept up with the new areas.  While this makes it difficult at times to tell the difference, it would seem unncessary to me to require constant current certifications, but employers do need to develop methods of assessing the currency of skills, and currency of certification should be a component of this evaluation.  Here, again, the certification itself provides a demonstration that the individual has invested the time and money to keep this current, while the lack of it doesn’t mean that the consultant may be less qualified, but should certainly lead to further evaluation.  Basically, I am saying that “All certifications are not equal”, just like “All consultants are not equal”. 

What does “certified” mean to a person’s ability to apply the knowledge to design a business process to achieve an intended business result?

Basically, it may be a good indicator, or it may mean very little, depending upon the individual.  It would be difficult to argue that the gaining of any body of knowledge of how SAP operates would have no value.  Since certifications today are to demonstrate that the individual has learned how a function (or business process in TERP 10) operates, and can explain what they have learned, certification is a good indicator of knowledge.  What it is not, however, is an indication that the individual is able to productively apply this knowledge to solve business problems.  It would be good to have a level of certification (Master level?) that would involve testing of the ability to apply this knowledge.  The challenge with that, however, is one of complexity that may be beyond our ability to create a testing system that will produce reliable results.  In implementation so much involves not only knowledge of the product, but experience and knowledge of the business, knowledge of the culture and leadership of the enterprise and other Organizational Change Management skills that it will be difficult or impossible to create a system where certification is an accurate predictor of success.  This, however, doesn’t mean that every piece of knowledge gained, certification passed, university courses completed successfully, and project participated in doesn’t all add up to better ability to be successful.  For beginning consultants (freshers), this will be frustrating, however, certification is a good preparatory step in becoming an effective consultant.  So are higher education programs that include courses in business process and SAP knowledge like TERP 10.  New consultants have to accept that this is a lifelong process of learning how to become more effective, not unlike any other career. 

How should certification programs evolve to become more accurate in predicting a person’s actual ability as defined by being able to achieve business results?

There are a number of very well thought out papers on what to do to improve the certification process, and these are all good and deserve consideration, however, this all needs to be considered as part of what has to be a lifelong focus on continuous learning about business and how SAP supports business results.  The rapid implementation of SAP across industry that started in the early 1990s, driven significantly by Y2K fears, and the continuation of this over the past decade, must now evolve into consultants who continuously gain knowledge not only of the technical aspects of the product, but also of how to employ these to produce business results.  This must include work in business understanding at both under and post-graduate education.  There are a large number of Universities in the SAP University Alliance program, most of which have a variety of SAP courses in their programs.  These vary from ABAP courses in IT degree programs, to introductory ERP or SAP courses in both IT and business programs.  Central Michigan University has taken this a step further and incorporated a SAP Concentration (including TERP 10) into the MBA program and broken out the SAP courses into a SAP Graduate Certificate Program.  Several Universities offer TERP 10 academies as part of these programs, as well as e-learning  opportunities for TERP 10 from SAP.  These programs need to be developed further, included in more graduate level programs, and be expanded to include each school’s particular approach and perspective.


I hope that these perspectives can add to the discussion.  There are no easy answers to certification programs, but it is not because testing to determine knowledge of the system is not a valuable component.  It is complicated because business is complicated and SAP is designed to reflect and support this complexity. Good consultants and company employees will be committed to a program of career-long learning about both SAP and business.  Continually improving the effectiveness of certification programs needs to continue.  Developing new means of evaluating the effectiveness of consultants needs to continue.  Universities continuing to develop new courses to teach both technical SAP aspects but also the relationship betweeen SAP and business performance needs to be encouraged.  And finally, consulting companies need to evolve their capabilities from providing technical implementation services to providing business consulting using technical/functional SAP skills as an enabling technology.  Certification has been, continues to be and always will be an important part of this process.

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  • Hi Arthur,

    Thank You for your insightful blog.

    As you’ve pointed out, SAP Education is working with a lot of universities in the US and worldwide. It is therefore paramount to understand your take on SAP Certification today and where you think it should head in the future.

    As part of the Certification 5 group one particular aspect that interests me is the usage of multiple choice (MCQ) in tiers of SAP Certification. My understanding is that SAP wants to continue using 100% MCQ on the lower and medium certification tiers (associate and professional level).

    With regards to the professional level I have my doubts about assessments that are purely based on Multiple Choice. I would be interested to know what your take on this is. As a teacher in academia you must be using a variety of assessments to establish a student’s ability.

    Kind regards,

    • Hi Arthur,

      I completely agree with what you have said above. Having taken the SAP TERP 10 certification while I was at the University of Cincinnati,I would like to suggest the following:

      I strongly feel that the 10 day run through can get a little intimidating for most students. Moreover, I felt that most students started studying for the exam rather than for the knowledge.I would suggest trying to break the course into 2 sets of 5 days each with a gap of about 2 weeks so that students have the chance of absorbing the knwoledge.

      Coming back to the topic of discussion, I think certifications are a great way of learning the basics(functional knowledge for module specific certifications, techincal expertise for technical certifications). I disagree with people who think that certifications are of not much value. Yes, most of the learning happens on the floor, but I think a certification serves as a sound platform to bolster your learning experience.


      • Thanks, Abhinav.  I think your observation on the construct of the course is interesting.  Referring back to the first comment on this, the behavior you describe is a typical response to MCQ testing.  In the CMU programs, the test is required to achieve TERP 10 certification, however, this course is also a 4 Graduate Credit Hour course in the MBA program and consequently, there is an independent research paper required and the University grade is based upon class participation and the paper and is not dependent upon the exam score.  It is also true that those who succeed at one measure typically succeed at both, but the paper helps to keep the focus on learning more than just the test.  This is not true of our TERP 10 Academies that are not part of the Graduate MBA program.  Good input – thank you.
    • Hi, Michael and thanks for your comment.  As I indicated in my blog, I do believe that certification is and should continue to be a major component of the education program both for consultants and for client employees who will be working with the on-going use of SAP to derive business benefits.  I do not think, however, that it can ever become sufficient as a screening device for talent, but will continue to be a good leading indicator of ability.  My blog is an attempt to divide the conversation into a couple of different threads.  The discussion around how certification programs should continue to develop is one very important one. 

      I think that your question about the use of multiple choice questions is a good one, however, it really points to a more fundamental question about individual qualifications.  If your goal is to ensure that a student has read, understood and can recite the material, there is nothing wrong with MCQ in my opinion. What people are reaching for, however, is the ability to use this for more – wanting it to indicate true understanding of the material, and even more difficult, the ability to use the learning to perform.  If anyone thinks that MCQ can ever be a good indicator of performance, I think that they are well beyond the capability of that measurement method to predict success.  So, the question becomes, then, what does predict success, and more fundamentally, what curriculum would deliver the skills in performing rather than the skills in memorization.  Our programs at CMU are Graduate level MBA courses at a major accredited US Business School.  Part of our accreditation process is review of our pedagogy applied to the teaching/learning environment.  As such, our courses involve independent research projects that require papers being written, include group projects that require coordination and discussion with other students, and some testing, but very little MCQ at all.  Based upon this the student is awarded either an MBA with SAP Concentration or SAP Graduate Certificate (based upon whether the student is enrolled in the whole program or just the concentration). 

      Now, this certainly begs certain questions.  How reliable is CMU at producing graduates who can perform better in business?  How could SAP ever develop and deliver this kind of material with this kind of evaluation system (after all at the end of the day, they are a software company, not a University)?  I would love the opportunity to discuss this with you, or you and others, at some time.  I assume you are the Michael Koch in Coventry, but why don’t you send me a LInkedin invite and I would like to continue this conversation.  Thanks again for your note.
  • Art,
    Hi! Nice update! I wish I new more about the value of certification when I was going through school and as a recent graduate!

    You make a very good point about the “knowledge” acquired when getting certified vs. just “passing” a test is invaluable in creating a competitive advantage related to job and consulting opportunities.

    Also, the ability to bridge business and IT knowledge, skills, and work experiences is very important —too many are strong in one or the other but not both!

    In the end…when companies and universities work together around education that is applicable to real world business requirements then many win-wins are created.
    Best regards,

    • Hi, Rich and thanks for your comment.  Although the current discussion is around the value of certification in SAP, the same comments would apply to other disciplines that I have worked closely with in the past.  PMP (from PMI) is a good credential to have since it gives you a good understanding of the principles and tools of project management.  I always looked for these credentials in project/program leaders, however, I have known great project leaders without it and pathetic ones with it.  Same applies to the APICS certifications (CPIM, CIRM).  Being able to talk the talk and memorize terminology doesn’t necessarily get you to the point that you can effectively apply it.  Without the certification (or knowledge there from), however, you almost cannot function with people who do know this.  It really is all about continuous learning, preparation for careers, and then experience in applying this to business.  University College of Business Administration organizations should be the ideal place to combine this academic knowledge with practical application to leading a business.  I hope that more will pick up on this.  Again, thanks for your note and support.
  • Hi Arthur

    Good comprehensive blog.

    We have developed some SAP related education offerings which compliment each other and overcome some of the short comings in SAP education.

    Firstly for the past 10 years we have offered a Master of Business in ERP systems.  The generic core includes subjects related to BPM, SCM, ERP Systems, Organisational Change, ERP implementation, and ERP Strategy.  These are supported with a range of SAP specific electives (BI,CRM, PS, HR, FI, ABAP x 2, Basis).   Most subjects include a number of SAP or partner solutions.  The type of students we attract are people already working with SAP, poeple from companies who have SAP and they want to be on the projects, professionals who want to move into an SAP environment.

    A common question raised by prospective students was master degree or SAP consultant certification?

    Fortunatley we were able to negotiate with SAP to offer certification online as a bolt on to our course at a greatly reduced rate.

    We make it compulsory that students complete the relevant pre-requisite subject before undertaking certification.  ie BI subject before BI certification.  This ensures that the students get a broader undertsanding of BI and its associated issues and not just the the SAP education view.

    As we have been offering our courses for 10 years we are now seeing the impact we are making on the SAP ecosystems with many of our graduates project leads and senior consultants. 

    I can understand others concern in regards to TERP10 and we offer it over 14 days to help the students grasp some of the concepts.

    Paul Hawking
    SAP Academic Program Director
    Victoria University