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I’ve just come away from doing my last bit of mentoring another person in the SAP community before hanging up my shirt at SAPPHIRE/TechEd Madrid. It involved reading through something they want to say and providing feedback. It’s something I thoroughly enjoy as I almost always learn something fresh along the way.  

I’ve said it before but it’s worth repeating. When Mark Finnern called me up to become a Mentor I thought he was mad. I am one of SAP’s most vocal critics and bringing me into that group was not going to make one iota of difference to my position. It was a bold and dangerous move. In the last year or so I’ve seen more of ‘my kind’ come on board and that’s terrific. There needs to be a balance and having those who don’t slavishly suck the SAP kool-aid or guzzle its chanpagne is what SAP needs. That’s especially true as competition from the cloud vendors heats up. 

I wrote my first post on SCN back in October 2007. In the interim I’ve contributed a fair few more but nothing like as many as others who write technical stuff. I even managed to become a top contributor in 2010 though quite how I found the time to get so many posts written is a mystery. In the world of SAP, everyone seems busy and especially now as customers up their spending. It won’t last, it never does and those who are wise are making provision for when the cycle starts trending south. That might include contributing more rather than less at a time when everyone seems time constrained. Individuals don’t scale and SAP Mentors are but individuals. So..what’s happened and what do I want to leave as a message for those that follow?

In the four years I have been part of the Mentor community I’ve learned an enormous amount. Having the ability to tap directly into the minds of others who know more than I has been incredibly useful. SAP is a big universe and no one person can hold it all in their hands or mind. Having experts who have deep expertise in smallish areas has extraordinary value. Having some of those people in the Mentor community makes it easier to find sources of valuable information. That wont change going forward. The friendships and bonds I’ve made with like minded people will last well into the future. 

What saddens me is that despite I meet so many of these people, there must be thousands more outside the Mentor community I don’t get to meet. The closest seems to be the BI/BOBJ folk who have retained a specific identity. I’d love for instance a session with HR specialists. I’d love to see more HR people inside the Mentor group. I’d love to see more finance people, supply chain, sales…the list goes on. 

But then I wonder what the Mentor community offers. Sure, there is always the comfort of knowing you are part of an elite club of sorts. But that’s also a barrier. The fact that Mentors form an easily identified pool of knowledge that SAP can tap into is turning into something of a two way exchange but there could be so much more. Just how much difference do what Mentors say really feed into the development process? With a handful of exceptions, we dont know. SAP desperately needs more business minded people bringing into the Mentor group. Having deep knowledge of BASIS and ABAP is fine but SAP provides business solutions not lines of code. 

One thing that is a huge positive. SAP technical teams and Vishal Sikka’s group in particular enjoy meeting with Mentors and getting questions from the floor. These are always high quality conversations. For some it also means they get to short cut the myriad and sometimes confusing lines of communication that get in the way of accomplishing outcomes. That in itself is truly worthwhile. I hope that flourishes.  

Another I’ve noticed is that more Mentors are prepared to publicly question some of the things they see in the marketplace and especially on SCN. That is absolutely the right thing for those that believe in open dialogue and something I’d actively encourage. It is particularly good to see how some people have developed ways of drawing others into deep conversations on current topics without losing their cool, even when you just know there is an undercurrent of frustration. That speaks to the maturity of those prepared to speak. It stimulates debate of the kind that can only be good for customers in the long run. But then there are other, deeper questions.

What real difference does being a Mentor mean for people’s careers? I’ve seen some gain benefit from this program but it doesn’t seem to figure hugely in outcomes. I guess there are not that many out there prepared “to work the system” hard enough. But then if being a Mentor is recognition in iteself then SAP could do a lot more to market the meaning of being a Mentor to the outside world. 

I guess my larger concern is that the Mentors seem to becoming a small but perceptible part of the SAP broader marketing machine. Is that a contradiction of what I just said? Not really. Most of those who are part of the program have a strong affinity to SAP. That’s hardly surprising when their livings depend upon work around the SAP system but is that affinity alone something that should be used as part of marketing? Most of those I know view marketing with suspicion. It’s not always for the right reasons but I get why that is the case. IF SAP wants to take that route then it needs to do more to explain to Mentors what that means and why it is important TO the Mentors.

But I guess my biggest concern is that I can’t find a single answer to the question: What does it mean to be a Mentor? It seems to be different for everyone and that makes for a motley and sometimes rag bag crew. Perhaps that’s the way all tribes evolve – I’m not an expert in that field, I’m sure someone out there knows the answer. For the future I’d like to think SAP Mentors will evolve into a genuinely important part of the SAP landscape and not just a bunch of identifiable guys and gals who roam the SAPPHIRE/TechEd halls. How that happens remains to be seen. 

So what do I leave behind?

Along this journey I’ve been privileged to participate in a small number of projects that represent personal triumphs. ESME and C5 stick out as does work on BYD during its dark days. All involved other Mentors, all provided learning experiences. All proved to me that on certain occasions I can work as part of a team. Trust me – that’s a big deal for someone who prefers to hunt alone. Heck it’s even led to my ongoing collaboratio with Jon Reed as JD-OD.com. That isn’t going away as I retire from the Mentor commmunity. We’ll be there at Madrid filming the good, the bad, the ugly and the downright hilarious. 

As I write this I am thinking there could be one more triumph – developer licenses. Ever since I came on board, the problem of developers gaining easy access to technology without going through insane hoops has been a thorn in everyone’s side. I have a feeling we are close to SAP finally ‘getting it’ and developing a way to help developers. If that happens – and my hopes remain high despite endless hours arguing the points – then I will be delighted. It will at last demonstrate that SAP seees the treasure it holds in the developer community and is prepared to make that capital work for all concerned. If it doesn’t then I fear the company becomes less relevant. That would be tragic given SAP is closing in on 50 years as a business technology leader. I cannot believe that would sit well with the founders. 

As the Mentor programme moves forward I leave best wishes to all who take part. Despite my grumps and questions, great things have been achieved. There are too many people to thank for inspiring me – you know who you are. Be encouraged by others, grab with both hands the opportunities to bring positive change. Don’t be afraid to say ‘no’ when something is wrong. Be the leaders SAP believes you to be. Contribute like it was the last thing you have to do. Comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable. Take a leaf out of the late Steve Jobs book and celebrate the crazy ones who will change the world. If you have the ears and eyes to hear and see it then you are part of that way of being.

Thanks – I’m outta here. 

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22 Comments

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  1. Chip Rodgers
    We will miss you!  Can’t believe you’ll no longer be part of the Mentor program.  But I also know that doesn’t mean we won’t be staying in touch at events and in SCN – and I know we’ll still hear from you and connect on ZDNet, Irregulars, Twitter, Facebook, and all sorts of other places.  🙂
    Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts from the last 4 years.  I wholeheartedly agree that you and your co-Mentors during that time have contributed a lot – and you just named a few things like ESME, C5, etc.  You’ve also nailed it in your blog with the original intention for the Mentor program.  I hope we’ve lived up to them, and expect that we will continue to hold those principles paramount to the program going forward: sharing ideas, openness, listening to input, not being afraid of criticism, not shutting down dissenting views, etc.  We hear your concern about a potential negative direction of the Mentor program (a marketing channel?), but we remain committed to the original goals, we have executive support to continue that way, and hope that, over time, we’ll continue to prove the point that the Mentor program is not just a shallow marketing program.  Let us know how we’re doing!
    I LOVE your closing paragraph.  Very apropos and an excellent parting statement to cap off your 4 years of great interactions and contributions to the Mentor program.  I’m sure that the Mentors you’re leaving behind to carry on appreciate this very thoughtful sendoff.  Well done!
    All the best and see you next week in Madrid,
    Chip
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  2. Thorsten Franz
    Dennis,
    It’s been a privilege to be your fellow SAP Mentor and I hope we’ll be in touch in the future (I’m quite sure we will). The Mentor program is a great opportunity for its members to do things that add value to the SAP community, whatever that means to each of us. It serves as a platform, kind of amplifies our voices, and opens doors – but it’s up to each individual or the loose groups we form what we say and which doors we go through. Generally, I think it’s working well and the Mentors are finding more and more ways of doing the needful. At the same time, more and more people at SAP take us seriously and are ready to engage in meaningful collaborations and dialogues. But it’s still early days – everybody involved has a lot to learn. Thanks to you irrationally for contributing *immensely* to that. You’re a great Mentor and guy.
    Cheers,
    Thorsten
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    1. Thorsten Franz
      LOL – the word “irrationally” was smuggled in by my Android’s Swype, I meant “personally”. But sometimes those swypos aren’t that far off. 😉
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      1. Dennis Howlett Post author
        I’ll take irrational any day – seems totally appropriate and no – we won’t lose touch. You can take the guy out of SAP but you cant take SAP out of the guy so easily
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  3. Mark Yolton
    Dennis:

    It is always so refreshing to see the warmth and caring beneath that crusty exterior; thank you for sharing your reflections and inspirations with the larger community.  For the entire time we’ve known you, you’ve lived up to your “never knowingly under-opinionated” motto, with a great deal of insight thrown in as a regular measure.  We appreciate you, your ideas, rants, encouragements, complaints, observations – mostly we appreciate you for being a trusted and trustworthy member of the SAP Mentor world, an insightful and pull-no-punches advisor, and a supportive friend to and advocate of the SAP community of customers, partners, employees, and influencers.  Although you will hang-up your SAP Mentor shirt after the Madrid conference next week and head into “alumni” status, I know you’ll stay engaged, and you’ll always be considered one of the family.  All the best to you as you embark on this next chapter.

    Best regards,
    Mark Yolton

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  4. Karin Tillotson
    Dennis – thank you for all that you have done for the SAP Community and the SAP Mentor’s!  It has been a pleasure working with you these last few years in the Mentor Program.  I will definitely miss your candor and colorful comments :-).  Best of luck with your future endeavors and I will keep in touch via Twitter and G+.

    Take care,
    Karin

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  5. Marilyn Pratt
    Dennis,
    From the moment we met (clashed/collided) over the concepts of a Business Process Expert Community (back in 2006?) you taught me the difference between being an evangelist and being an advocate.  I can’t think of another person in this community context who has challenged my thinking more than you have and the spirit of challenge is kept alive and well by a swelling number of community members both within and without the mentor ranks.  Many of us are overwhelmed and awed by your prolific content output.  You are a mentor/model to many in terms of blogging style and quality.  I’m glad your new collaboration with Jon will keep you engaging with many of us.  Thanks for all you do and the way you help many of us to continue to question.  So what if you are a curmudgeon?  You are one of the smartest (and yes kindest) examples of those around.
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  6. Jarret Pazahanick
    The article touches close to home on number of level being a new SAP Mentor and wont lie I was disappointed when I heard that you were leaving the Mentor program as I was secretly hoping you would reconsider. I have a lot of respect for your candor and well thought out often controversial opinions which I typically agree with and was hoping to see more of that during the Mentor lead interactions with SAP management.

    That said SAP is such a small world and it isnt like you are retiring from covering SAP. One last note as being from the SAP HR I can help grant you your wish with a HR specialist session as a going away present 🙂

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  7. Harshit Kumar
    Dennis,

    Though we have never interacted but i have read a lot of your postings and i do respect your views. As a new SAP Mentor i will always remember you and yes i liked the “Comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable” part in your blog very much.

    Thanks for being there. We will be in touch for sure.

    Regards,
    Harshit Kumar

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  8. Jon Reed
    Dennis,

    Very well put. It’s been a great ride and obviously the enterprise adventures will continue. This post marks some milestones. Some great things accomplished, friendships formed that will last a very long time. But also, as you say, some disappointments, some things not done.

    “As I write this I am thinking there could be one more triumph – developer licenses”. No doubt about it. It would be hugely disappointing after all your tireless advocating in this area, which other Mentors have also carried forward, if this did not happen. Looks like progress may be coming as you say, but this needs to happen. Without it, we run the risk of having great conversations that add up to nothing. I don’t think SAP wants that and I know many of us don’t.

    I do think SAP struggles with the edgier side of Mentors, as the truths that many of us utter are sometimes hard to hear and to be fair, not always diplomatically or fairly presented. Or in the case of Twitter, perhaps out of context due to the sound bite nature of that medium. Hopefully SAP will not lose its appetite for these kinds of truths, from the “crazy ones” at you put in in the closing comments referencing Steve Jobs.

    In my view that’s the best of what Mentors have done – crazy ideas brought to some sort of fruition through a craftperson’s discipline and a madman’s passion. Sounds like a pretty good description of you Dennis. Thanks friend.

    – Jon

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  9. Matthias Steiner
    Hi Dennis,
    let me chime in here for a brief moment to speak up on behalf of those who have been following you from afar for quite some time w/o having had the pleasure to get to know you better in person.

    As all the others already said, you clearly have a unique spot in the SAP universe and left your footprint as a SAP Mentor for sure. I know that for a lot of the newer Mentors and outside you have been somebody to look up to being a veteran!

    That’s one of the priviledges there are in being part of the program, the opportunity to learn and grow! “If you’re the smartest person in the room, then you’re in the wrong room!” sums it up pretty well. SAP Mentors = right room

    So yes, there’s been plenty to learn from you about being authentic, how-to rant with providing solid arguments, about being stubborn…

    Be it as it will, that will continue and – similar as you are – I do think that there will be more wins… OD and developer licenses being two of them. The SAP HANA dev center has been ramped-up … the arguments about the SAP Gateway license issues have been raised.

    Would be great to see you with a happy face leaving Madrid – with your Mentors jersey hang over your shoulder (maybe even whistling?)

    See you in Madrid!
    Matthias

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  10. Tom Cenens
    Hello Dennis

    As often is the case your blog is thought provoking. I enjoy reading your blogs and checking the JD-OD videos. Hopefully you stay somewhat active as SAP Mentor Alumni member.

    I only learned of the SAP Mentor existence after becoming an active contributor on SCN.

    I think there is still work to do to make the SAP Mentor tribe known to everyone. When I ask my customers or for that matter consultants at random if they know about SAP Mentors the most common answer is “no, what’s that?”.

    SAP should lean into that some more I would think. How about sending a newsletter to the customers introducing the SAP Mentors? I don’t know if it was ever done but that would at least create more awareness (I would think).

    Kind regards

    Tom

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  11. Bala Prabahar
    Dennis,

    I always enjoy reading your blogs, watching your videos; and specifically both Jon’s and your desire to improve the quality of videos is just amazing. Specifically I liked your videos released during TechEd 2011: Short, to the point and sweet. Thank you.

    This comment is probably going to be controversial. I’ve decided to write this comment for two reasons:

    1) I just finished reading Steve Jobs. Since you’ve read that book as well, I would like to discuss an inconsistency I observed between that book and one of your opinions.
    2) Disturb the comfortable.

    Please let me explain the inconsistency:

    The intersection of Art and Technology, sounds familiar? Is there any Apple product released under Steve’s watch which is an intersection of Art and Business or Art and Market research? Here is what Steve says about Market Research and Business/Customers:

    Page 795:

    “Some People say “Give the customers what they want.” But that’s not my approach. Our job is to figure out what they’re going to want before they do. I think Henry Ford once said , “If I’d asked customers what they wanted, they would have told me , ‘A faster horse!'”. People don’t know what they want until you show it to them. That’s why I never rely on market research. Our task is to read things that are not yet on the page”.

    “Read things that are not yet on the page…” Well said. Would business read that are not yet on the page? They would say “you guys(technology folks or designers) don’t understand the business; we’ve been doing this for centuries.”

    I know – from my experience time and again – BW users download data to their Access database and then slice/dice using Excel. For them, just more disk space on their windows w/s would probably be good enough. I wonder how many BW business users would say “Yes, I need SAP HANA”.

    Lessons from Toy Story

    Steve Jobs and Pixar tried to include the business(Disney) while making Toy Story. What happened when Pixar team showed the first half of the movie to Disney team in Nov 1993. Peter Schneider, the head of feature animation(Disney), declared it a mess and ordered that production be stopped. Tom Schumacher(Disney) says why it was so terrible:”They(meaning Pixar) were following Katzenberg’s(Disney) notes, and the project had been driven completely off-track”. The business(Disney) drove the project completely off-track.Incredible. Steve invested his money and kept the work going. This is what he later said:”He(Katzenberg) wanted Woody to be a bad guy, and when he shut us down we kind of kicked him out and said, ‘This isn’t what we want,’ and did it the way we always wanted.”

    What is my point?

    “…Having deep knowledge of BASIS and ABAP is fine but SAP provides business solutions not lines of code.”

    Having deep knowledge of BASIS and ABAP is fine. Just fine?? Really?. IMHO, infrastructure (HW, SW, ABAP, Network, DB etc) is the backbone of IT.

    That said, I know there is a mid point. As Jon Reed explained in one of his blogs one or two years ago, the business users should try to learn technology and technology folks should try to learn as much business as possible.

    I wish you good luck.

    Best regards,
    Bala

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    1. Dennis Howlett Post author
      @Bala – I think I just disturbed the comfortable 😉

      I put a very different interpretation on the extracts you quote and believe you are drawing the wrong conclusions. But I’ll save that for another day.

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  12. Kumud Singh
    Hi Dennis,
    Gradually and eventually I perceive SAP mentors as:
    Ask career related questions if I am in dilemma.Believe me I did that when I met one this tech-ed at Bangalore.
    Stuck in an issue and not able to resolve after mutliple passionate trials.
    I may be inappropriate but do participants also have provision to interact with mentors in any SAP-event?
    Last but not the least, follow them on twitter to know whats happening and raise our horizons.
    Wish you all luck in future endeavours.
    Brilliant blog!

    Regards,
    Kumud

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  13. Mark Finnern
    Thank you Dennis,
    As the apple Think Different ad says: “Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes…”
    From the beginning I envisioned the SAP Mentors to be the independent voices that tell SAP when we are off track constructively.
    What separates the SAP Mentors from other Monday Morning quarterbacks is, that we role up our sleeves and help SAP change.
    The time I asked you, you were personifying that vision and man did you step up to the plate.
    Together with the C5 writing a 55 page white paper what SAP can do to improve certification and promoting that whenever you had a chance.
    My favorite was you convincing Mike Prosceno, Mark Yolton and me  to do the Hugh MacLeod print “Freaking awesome” campaign, that even reached Bill McDermott. SAP Mentors, Certification Five geek out with Bill McDermott
    The outcome: SAP has created a task force and is working with the community to improve certification.
    Thanks again you changed things at SAP. As you can also gather from the comments you are one of the pillar SAP Mentors that others, especially new ones looked up to and took as a role model.
    I respect your decision to step aside and let others run the SAP Mentor Wolfpack forward.
    Love that with JD-OD you will be around and your voice will be heard.
    See you in Madrid, Mark.
    P.S. This video of Steve Jobs introducing the Think Different campaign fits very well:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VCz_SiPD_X0&feature=related
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