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.