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.