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Author's profile photo John Appleby

How SAP should fix its broken Education System

I feel very strongly about education and hope that some day I will be in a position to contribute back to the educational institutions that helped me on the road to where I am today. It is the main reason why I have a deep amount of respect for the founding father of the industry I work in, Hasso Plattner.

Hasso invests millions of his personal fortunes from the software industry into philanthropy including education in Germany and this is deeply, deeply important to the world. Today’s children will lead tomorrow’s world and anything we can do to help them along the way is important.

And so it is that I wonder how the organisation that he built, SAP, misunderstands education so much. Marcus Schwarz, the SVP of Global Education at SAP wrote a blog on SCN this week and I am shocked by his apparent lack of comprehension of the area he leads and deeply impressed by the community reaction: nearly 3000 views and 48 comments, mostly calling him out. Let’s break out the key points:

What should Education achieve in a Software Company?

This is pretty straightforward – increase the number and quality of implementations of that software by:

1) Improving the gene pool of individuals in the ecosystem

2) Helping create supply in the ecosystem to meet demand

3) Ramping up knowledge on new products to aid adoption

Good quality implementations ensure market success, create happy customers and sell more software. It’s as simple as that.

What’s wrong with education within SAP?

Again the problems are pretty simple and detailed in the comments to the blog above, but to summarise:

1) Partners and customers do not value or demand certified resources

2) There is no correlation between certification and quality but there can be a correlation between certification and poor quality in some cases

3) There is no correlation between certification and personal success or salary

4) Many certifications are woefully out of date and do not attack the relevant new technologies

5) Exam questions are often pulled from training materials and multiple-choice so easy to learn by rote

Where is education done well within SAP?

I shared a taxi to SAP’s conference in Orlando last week with the COO of the SAP Community Network (this site is run by them), Chip Rogers and we had a really interesting conversation about education. I realised here that there is one place where it is done better than anywhere else and that is in the event he helps run, SAP TechEd. The consultants in my group clamour to get there and with good reason: good quality, focussed content, created and delivered by the people that wrote the software.

The reason why SAP TechEd works so well is because it is run by a bunch of people that get education. I’m not going to name names because I will miss people but you know who you are! What is more, TechEd is essentially run like a charity: it is self-funding from the ticket sales but not expected to bring serioius revenue to the organisation. This is very important because running it like a profit centre would alter the behaviour.

Why is education done badly everywhere else?

Simple: they are targeted on profit and number of certified consultants. This is a losing strategy because it causes behaviour in diametrical opposition to my points above. If you read Marcus’ blog and the comments below this, you will see that the ecosystem is not bought into SAP Certification and it is considered the joke that Microsoft’s MCSE programme was 15 years ago.

What should SAP do about it?

5 SAP Mentors: Dennis Howlett, Jon Reed, Leonardo de Araujo, Martin Gillet and Michael Koch went there already and wrote a 54 page white paper on this that nails it and I am not going to redo their fantastic primary research so I suggest you read “SAP Certification, a Fresh Perspective” if you want the detail. But here would be my high level points:

1) Move education within the Communities & Social Media business unit under Global Marketing, not Field Services.

2) Remove the revenue and profit targets and make it self-funding. The benefit you will get from better consultants will sell more software. Who cares about a few dollars of training revenue?

3) Listen to what the C5 said and implement their suggestions. They are still valid now. And look at what Microsoft did to turn their program around.

4) Focus on online training not classroom training. This is lower revenue but easier to change.

5) Focus on Fraud with an identification scheme, not training requirements. Create smart-card SAP Photo ID or whatever.

What about developer engagement?

One thing i realise after I wrote this blog (thanks Dennis for making me think of it) is how certification and education are tightly linked to developer engagement. SAP is starting to lead the Enterprise IT market in developer engagement (or so I would like to think 🙂 ) and started with its click through licenses, free trials, free InnoJams and stuff like this.

Education strategy should be done by the same group of people – they are closely linked and would benefit to be aligned. People on the Twitterstream have suggested things like customer feedback on consultants for certification, or getting rid of certification all together as it is no longer relevant in 2012. I’m not sure what the answer is but I think that trailblazing on this would make SAP the dominant enterprise software vendor. The opportunity is huge.

What’s more perhaps the concept of 4 huge TechEds a year is outdated too? The operational reality of this needs thinking about and I’d be interested to see what Philippe Rosset has to say on this but perhaps that whole conference series news to happen at the same pace that SAP product is being developed. More conferences, more locations, smaller audiences. TechEd has turned into monster that can only be hosted in a few locations around the world and that is a great vibe, but perhaps it is time to do something different?


I know this blog is going to upset a lot of people – particularly those people in SAP Education who are trying to make a difference and clearly those people do exist. The problems are around strategic direction and not about your passion or ability to do your job.

What’s more there is passion in the community to do something about this that has so far been trampled on. Just looking at the comments from people like Tammy Powlas, Martin English, Tom Cenens, Paul Hawking, Jarret Pazahanick, Leonardo Araujo, Jon Reed, Vijay Vijaysankar, Tom Van Doorslaer, Dennis Howlett, Joshua Fletcher and Bill Wood, you will see how much people care. This can easily be turned into engagement and a positive outcome.

And I would like to give respect to Markus for engaging with the community and writing his blog – it has stimulated a fantastic discussion. I am disappointed that he threw his employees under the bus and left Mary Bazemore and Susan Martin to respond to all the comments which suggests that either he didn’t write the blog or didn’t want to properly engage. Either way the ensuing discussion has been really interesting.

And one final note…

Hasso – charity begins at home!

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      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member

      Hi John

      Good blog and long overdue.  I have been teaching and involved with SAP education for along time.  I am noticing a couple of trends which are keeping me positive about the prospect of a change with SAP Education.  The first is the influence of the Business Objects acquisition.  I wrote a blog call SAP Education Chalk and Cheese which compared BOBJ training to traditional SAP Education.  The BOBJ content was far richer, no marketing and the training manual was a good reference.  SAP commented that their education was heading this way.  It will be interesting when I do my next training course.  Privately a message went to the University Alliance Program management about controlling me and my comments. 

      The other trend is the influence of the SAP Community Network and it's members.  Increasingly tutorials and educational resources are being created and freely shared.  At the rate this is happening it will make SAP Education irrelevant.   I have mentioned to SAP Education that it would be interesting to do a gap analysis between a xcelsius course and the content on available on SCN.

      As you indicated SAP need to decided whether SAP Education's goals are about revenue or providing skills for customers.  Until this happens little will change. This is reinforced by SAP's certification policy in developing economies.  I have suggested on numerous occasions that SAP should sell their training manuals at a reasonable price to the public for self learning.  This is already available to large customers through eAcademies.  For people who require access to a training system then it could be provided again a at a relatively cheap charge via the cloud.  This would dramatically increase the number of skills.  A robust certification process would verify the level of skills obtained.


      TechEd and similar smaller events provide a level of professional education which is an extension of SAP Education courses.  Unfortunately due to cost and lack of flexibility with SAP education courses customers have lost faith with the service.  SAP are trying to implement more flexible delivery options but this is driven by revenue KPI's.  I have known a lot of SAP Education Directors over the years and have witnessed their struggles.  Briefings from SAP executive to a user group always had the same feedback about the customer experience survey when SAP Education rated poorly, " yes we know we have to improve"  .

      Hopefully this time their will be a radical positive change.



      Author's profile photo John Appleby
      John Appleby
      Blog Post Author

      Good comments and I think all this re-enforces my view that SAP Education Strategy is stuck in the 1980s and this needs to change top down. The strategy could be done so easily, by looking at all these components.

      But are they willing to forgo the education revenue to get market share? Do they see the link between better quality developer engagement and selling more software? I have talked to Jim Snabe on this a few times and I think he does. This is a logical extension of that same thinking.

      Author's profile photo Frank Koehntopp
      Frank Koehntopp

      Hi John,

      great blog, and a good summary of the status quo. I've been on the giving and receiving side of SAP education for quite a while, and I have pulled my hair during the process of designing certifications with people that did not understand the content.

      Having said that, let me ride on your "why TechEd is great" paragraph: We all know how great the content is, given by passionate speakers who mostly created the content (and often the underlying technology) themselfes.

      We also know that we can't get enough people to TechEd, be it for the location, the date, the admission price or the limited number of seats available.

      Does anyone think we could manage to slice a TechEd Track (or parts of it) into a one-day-training in the usual SAP education places, given by the same speakers, and with a low fee that would cover the cost of the room and the productivity loss for the speaker, say 200€ per seat? Then make it 50 people, and do it 4 times a year. Like a track-specific mini-TechEd.

      That would certainly not solve any of the issues, but maybe it would help multiplying the TechEd experience and exposing more people to it.

      Bad idea?

      Author's profile photo Dennis Howlett
      Dennis Howlett

      Frank Koehntopp - how about this:

      We have CodeJam's starting to occur outside the main orbit under @CCmehil's aegis. We already have SIT - was it in 80 cities last year? I'm hearing about hackathons and then we have InnoJam's. All represent learning opportunities. Is there a way to leverage those events so that people get an opportunity not only to get hands on training but also see the cool stuff people are inventing in and around SAP technologies? Strikes me as a way of making 1+1=3?

      Author's profile photo John Appleby
      John Appleby
      Blog Post Author

      Frank Koehntopp - presumably there is a balance between this and getting these product managers to actually get software write but I love the idea. Or more to the point we should question the thinking that 4 huge TechEds a year is the right way to do that engagement. It is based on an outdated theory of how software works and is delivered and as SAP changes the way it develops and engages its community it needs to change its conference format. All the more reason to get this under one roof.

      Dennis Howlett Thanks and I put an addendum in this blog about this. Developer engagement and Education Strategy need to be done by the same person. They are very closely interlinked.

      Author's profile photo Dennis Howlett
      Dennis Howlett

      Now it's funny you should say that because a combination of marketing and education seems to be working very well for across multiple locations. 14,000 in London last week? Entry was free, sign up was drop dead simple and non-intrusive, cost for education sessions, modest. So who pays? Why they make it from partners via a super smart booth set up that minimizes floor space usage and maximizes the number of partners they can get into a space.

      Tracking $3bn in revenue with long term stretch goals of $10 bn...and please no 'but they don't make much money' arguments. Market cap would suggest it doesn't matter so much.

      Oh yeah - and the buzz was palpably obvious.

      Author's profile photo Tammy Powlas
      Tammy Powlas

      John -

      I agree the online training needs to be improved; I'd like to see the quality of the materials improve to the classroom level.  I for sure would like to see more online training materials from SAP.  It would be nice to see them start selling the Knowledge Accelerator materials (KA) which to me are of high quality to individuals.

      I am not sure I agree about removing classroom training; in the past year I have attended SAP virtual class room training - sure online training is far more convenient, but I've learned a lot more through the virtual - especially from the other attendees online.

      The last virtual class I took I was pretty open with the instructors about the outdated material, and they seemed open to my comments.  

      Thanks for getting the discussion going; I attend classes and completely forget to follow up on these things.

      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member

      I have a more fundamental question.

      Since certification didn't really matter in the past - why should SAP really try to fix it? Why not just stop certification - and just focus all the effort on training?

      And when it comes to training - I love the social learning aspects of Teched, innojam, code jam, SIT etc. If SAP is becoming more agile in product delivery, then SAP education needs a way to keep up too. Otherwise how will people get trained on things like HANA that has a revision every 2 weeks ?

      Author's profile photo Tammy Powlas
      Tammy Powlas

      I am pleased to say that SAP Education has agreed to provide a session on SAP Certification at SAP Inside Track New York City, June 15th.  I am looking forward to it - I think a face to face discussion on this will help.

      Author's profile photo Dennis Howlett
      Dennis Howlett

      Tammy Powlas - another thought. If there is a session on SAP Cert at SIT-NY then can someone ensure the content is recorded in some way for distribution?

      More generally, 'we' need to capture SIT content but that's another story.

      Author's profile photo Tammy Powlas
      Tammy Powlas

      Dennis Howlett That is the plan - I hope Marilyn Pratt can assist with this via Adobe Connect in sharing and recording.

      You can't count on me for that, as at SAP IT DC last year "someone" (not naming names) called me the "Adobe Connect Terminator".  

      We will try for sure to do this.


      Author's profile photo Marilyn Pratt
      Marilyn Pratt

      I'll do my best to take this on.  The event is an important one (thanks to you and Derek for making this happen in NY ) .And as for the topic of education and SAP Training: it's no secret that I am passionate about learning and have a number of years perspective on learning styles and formats and like Paul, actually worked in SAP education.  The blog, discussion and session are very welcome additions to the trailblazing work of C5

      Author's profile photo Ethan Jewett
      Ethan Jewett

      Tammy, did this session ever happen and was there a recording or a recap somewhere? I'm a little late to the party, I guess 🙂

      Author's profile photo Tammy Powlas
      Tammy Powlas
      Author's profile photo Ethan Jewett
      Ethan Jewett


      Author's profile photo John Appleby
      John Appleby
      Blog Post Author

      That's such a great point on HANA. I struggle to keep up with the patches and new features and I am trying to follow it. I struggle to update my posts and FAQs on HANA.

      How can SAP Education fundamentally hope to train people up on it, with the friction they have? Their information is way out of date already.

      Presumably on that basis, a fundamental shift is required. Discuss 🙂

      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member

      Great blog John! For your information, the ASUG BusinessObjects Strategic SIG's Education subgroup is tackling the same issue. Although our focus is more BusinessObjects centric, our goal is the influent SAP on education issues. We asked our user community and they identified that education is a big problem. We are currently working closely with SAP on resolving the problem.

      Author's profile photo John Appleby
      John Appleby
      Blog Post Author

      Sounds like you should join teams with the @certification5!

      Author's profile photo Simha R. Magal
      Simha R. Magal

      It is important to distinguish between education and training.  Education deals with the “why” question, while training deals with the “how” question. Both are important.  The why question is about the importance of the technology and the role it plays in an organization Why do we need this technology? What does it do for the organization? What impact will it have on organizational processes? The how question is about the mechanics of making the technology do what the organization wants it to do.  Clearly, understanding what we want the technology to do (the why question) is at least as important as how to make it happen (the how question).

      My take on the programs offered by SAP education is that, generally speaking, it is largely focused on the how question and not so much on the why.  So it is more about training than education.  It could be argued that this focus is appropriate if the target market is experienced professionals (vs. new to the workforce).  The argument being that the experienced professionals already know the answer to the “why” question and are primarily interested in learning about the “how,” especially when it comes to new technologies. Unfortunately, I am not convinced that this is the case.  Far too many experienced professionals do not understand the why questions, which, I submit is an important cause of implementation failures. How many implementations do you know that failed because the technology failed vs. the implementation team did not understand the organization’s business processes or what they are trying to achieve?  Or because the business users did not understand that their processes could be improved by the capabilities of the technology?

      I have been teaching with SAP software for over a decade (via SAP’s University Alliances program). My challenge has always been to balance the two questions.  The software is a tool to drive home concepts, principles, and techniques.  I can tell you that it is a lot easier to teach the technology (“how”) than the reason to learn about the technology (why).  Not just because it is easier to show how something is done in the software (e.g., click here, point there, type this and presto, you have a purchase order), but also because students (at least those in college) find it more interesting to play with the software than understand the “boring” concepts, principles, and techniques (e.g., what is a purchase order, what purpose does it serve, what are the key data in a PO, how do this data change over time as the process is executed, what are the implications of creating a PO).  The realization that the why is important only comes after a few years in the workforce.

      To some specific points in John’s blog:

      1. What should education achieve in a software company? I would change his answer slightly and say “to increase the number of quality implementation” – a focus on quality rather than quantity.  The quantity will follow.  To do this, however, I believe the “why” question must be understood. So, SAP Education must do more to ensure that this question is better addressed in their programs. 
      2. What is wrong with SAP Education? As John eludes, the problem is not in the trenches, but in the strategic direction – too much emphasis on quantity (revenue, profit) rather than quality.  Additionally, just being a product expert does not make one a good teacher!  I have taken enough SAP education courses to know this first hand. 
        1. There is no correlation between certification and quality:  This is not surprising given that, in my opinion at least, certification is more about how the software works (if that, given the nature of the exam) rather than the why.  I will make one point in favor of certifications, however.  They are extremely valuable for new entrants into the market (i.e., new college graduates).  The University Alliances schools are allowed to offer the TERP10 entry level certification.  Students get this certification are consistently the most sought after graduates. It differentiates them.  Note that the TERP10 certification is more about the integrated nature of business processes and less about the technology per se.
      3. What should SAP Education do about this? I am not convinced that moving SAP Education within marketing is the right solution.  With all due respects to people in marketing (yes, you are essential to the organization, but…) their focus will be on selling more (quantity) than quality – can’t blame them as that is a function of the reward systems. What is necessary is a shift in the vision for SAP Education and strategic direction.  One that does not view SAP Education merely as a profit center but one that views it as a means to increase the quality of implementations and customer satisfaction.

      This response to John’s blog will also likely make a few people unhappy.  The goal is not to (only) criticize but to influence in a positive direction - the potential is tremendous.

      And one final note….

      Hasso – The SAP University Alliances Program is an underappreciated and underutilized asset within SAP.

      Author's profile photo John Appleby
      John Appleby
      Blog Post Author

      Well we could debate this at some length but I have all kinds of other issues with the UA programme - I think it totally misses the point. But that's for another day 🙂

      Points 1 and 2 we are similar enough on for it not to be interesting to argue. Point 3 I will argue though! Actually I was worried when SCN and the SAP Mentor programme were moved under Global Marketing and I challenged Mark Yolton on it at the time. They have nicely balanced running SCN and marketing.

      In they end they both have the same goal - to make software easier to buy and implement. Under Jonathan Becher leadership this has turned out pretty well.

      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member

      Hi John,

      great discussion. My question is: are most of your concerns addressed in the MEGA Elite Enablement that we ran for over 130 customers and partners hands-on with the best experts from around the world - see and

      We had Bluefin folks there as well (such as Alan King and Raj Thaper) and so you can get first hand feedback from them.

      We ran the "Elite" concept 11 times for 5 products in 5 countries so far and we plan to run it again for BI4 in Vancouver Nov 5-9, 2012. So, I'm interested in your feedback to make this the best show ever!


      Author's profile photo John Appleby
      John Appleby
      Blog Post Author

      Hey Jens,

      I wouldn't say that my concerns are addressed with the Mega Elite Enablement but I would say that those courses were useful and relevant and valuable to my consultants.

      But the Mega Elite Enablement is a neat part of an overall education capability - mostly for experienced consultants looking to take it to the next level. Definitely something that could be extended.


      Author's profile photo Andy Silvey
      Andy Silvey


      great blog.

      I don't understand why SAP don't incentivise training and qualifications for Customers.

      Simply put this would mean something like, if more than 75% of a Customer's SAP resources were certified then support would be 20% cheaper...

      this will surely be cheaper for SAP because it will be less OSS messages

      a win win


      Author's profile photo Andy Silvey
      Andy Silvey

      and to spell this proposition out,

      what is saved in OSS processing

      on top of that

      there will be an increase in SAP's Training Business

      which together will compensate the discount given for Customers who have more than a certain percentage of their SAP resources certified.


      Howzat SAP 🙂

      Time for a lie down.


      Author's profile photo John Appleby
      John Appleby
      Blog Post Author

      It's one of those things that sounds beautifully elegant but would be deeply unpleasant to implement! Discounts! Revenue Recognition!

      Plus customers would do what SAP Services do - certify their consultants in E2E100 and claim they have 95% coverage. OK that was a bit low but you get what I mean 🙂

      Author's profile photo Andy Silvey
      Andy Silvey

      Hi John,

      that was a low ball 🙂

      What is the solution then ?

      I am a Basis Administrator with 14 years experience, have always kept my skills at the front by contracting at companies implementing the most interesting new components.

      I have no certifications because as the Customers do not value certifications then what value is it to me to take time off and get certified ?

      I would happily get certified and follow x amount of formal trainings each year if it provided me value, but for it to provide value to me, it would first need to provide value to the Customers. Because it would be the Customers insisting on certification which would force me to get certified and therefore to capitalise on the value of certification by being considered for contracts at Customers who insist on certified resources.

      For certification to provide value to the Customers, SAP need to lead and incentivise Customers to have more certified resources.

      It's one thing to be critical of SAP, but we are all fans of SAP or we wouldn't be here, so let's use this blog to be constructive and collectively figure out a solution.

      John, your turn, what would your framework solution be ?

      All the best,


      Author's profile photo Andy Silvey
      Andy Silvey

      How to make it in SAP's interests that Customer resources are certified ?

      All the best.


      Author's profile photo Stephen Johannes
      Stephen Johannes


      I have always found it weird that if education is revenue focused then why the curriculum does not reflect the external market realities.  My best example is in my area where for SAP CRM when SAP introduced the SAP Web Client, the training classes lagged way too far behind and there is still not a certification that covers it today.  It should have been a no-brainer to release educational offerings that matched the product offerings. 

      It amazes me that the general class offerings for most of the business suite still appear structurally similar to where they were four years ago in some areas.  Even if the material reflects the new release, it's hard to believe that in four years the course needs are still the same.

      Finally I tend to find events like SAP Teched and other conferences hold more of their value because they contain the "challenge me" content that goes beyond the basic and intermediate courses.  I think there needs to be more "workshop" level courses in either physical or virtual form that go into deepest of topic exploration.  Give people who already have many years of experience with the solutions new reasons to go to training beyond just selling a new solution.

      At the end of day though I'm starting to feel like a St. Louis Rams fan on this topic. 

      Take care,


      Author's profile photo Raf Boudewijns
      Raf Boudewijns

      You hit the nail on the head! I've been questioning the value of certification since I started working in the SAP world (15 years ago)... according to me, it's only value is marketing and a (rather expensive) way to create different levels of partnerships for various consulting companies. I was once asked by a client what the statement "<xxx> certified" on my resume meant. I looked at our sales manager who sat next to me and asked him "why don't you explain this?". He couldn't 🙂 So I told them it means that I passed some theoretic test at SAP. They couldn't care less... all the wanted was for me to be able to live up to my resume (since I don't fake it, I could easily do that).

      Author's profile photo J. Pazahanick
      J. Pazahanick

      Check out this real world story which is sad and I believe cases like this are extremely common and ultimately lead some people down a path of fraud or embellishing their resume.

      DOs & DON’Ts for SAP Career (Certification) on the basis of my on going journey from an Accountant to SAP FI Consultant.

      On a side note it is crazy to think there are jobs out there where people have to PAY to act as a "consultant" so they can get go-live experience on their resume.

      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member

      If you are interested in training that goes deep into content - hands-on - make sure to join the BI4 Elite Enablement:

      As the saying goes, there are certified and qualified consultants. 😉 Elite enablement focusses on the latter...