For those of you who have read any of my previous blogs, you will be aware that I have been working within the world of SAP for a number of years. Admittedly not as long as some but long enough to consider myself a reasonable judge when it comes to all things new in the world of SAP, new technology, new initiatives and – as I will be discussing today – new attempts to repackage old proposals. So without further ado let me introduce today’s topic; SAP Certification.

Source: Dilbert, by Scott Adams

During my career as both a permanent employee and as an independent contractor, I’ve been asked many questions by customers- some complex, some challenging and some border-line illegal; however during this time I can’t ever recall been asked if I was SAP certified. Now I’ll be honest my memory is not what it once was, and indeed sometimes I completely forget what I was going to say in the middle of a …. So I can’t categorically state that I have never been asked but I am fairly certain that not being SAP certified has never counted against me.

I was, and perhaps remain, slightly suspicious of the whole notion of SAP certification, viewing it more as a mechanism for SAP to generate additional revenue rather than being a serious attempt to assess or regulate SAP practitioners. To paraphrase a former colleague of mine (and by paraphrase I mean remove the swear words) ‘The problem with certification is that anyone can go on a few courses, pass an exam and still come out with no idea what they are talking about’. Anecdotally at least I must admit that I have never observed any correlation (good or bad) between the ability of a consultant and their status in regards to certification. What is more I believe that this view is shared by many in the industry, meaning that the whole topic of certification has stagnated somewhat and has over time fallen further and further down SAP’s list of priorities.

So it has been with some interest I have read the latest promotional material from SAP which clearly signals a renewed desire to revisit the topic. Marcel Vollmer, Global Head of Purchasing at SAP, confirmed that in 2013 SAP embarked on a global initiative (both internally and externally) whereby all consultants whom they do business with would be required to be certified.

Now while the motives of SAP to insist on certification are fairly obvious, the desire for certified consultants appears to be gaining a foothold with both SAP customers and SAP partners. SAP have reported that of the customers contacted in a user-group survey last year, 70% of respondents rated certification as either ‘important’ or ‘very important’ whilst 80% also saw a ‘significant value’ in being able to check on-line whether certifications from applicants were valid via the newly established SAP public registry.

Now it is common knowledge that 93% of all statistics are made up (see what I did there!) and indeed in my experience marketing material from SAP must always to treated with a lorry load of cynicism, however some fairly large partners seem to have at least one buttock on this particular bandwagon. Wipro, for example, report that they are ‘strongly committed to [their] SAP certification process’ and plan to increase their certified resources by 8% this year whilst also stating that they plan to grow their certified resources on SAP’s innovation products by an even more significant amount.

Rajesh K. Murthy, SVP of Infosys, echoed this commitment claiming that they plan to integrate SAP Certification into their Global Training Program, whilst also significantly increasing their certified resource pool in 2014. Capgemini have also adopted this embedded training strategy approach and pledged that ‘all of our college graduates will attend certification’.

However as always there is always one person who takes things too far and ruins the fun for everyone else-  enter Anita Paul, HP Solutions Leader for SAP HANA, and her assertion that the ‘Certification process has allowed HP to drill deep into the provisioning of SAP HANA – giving us the opportunity to establish an enviable reputation for our skills/knowledge resulting in risk free implementations for our clients.’

Hmm… so can certification guarantee a risk-free implementation for a client? Even as a rhetorical question it’s fairly dumb as of course nothing can guarantee a risk free implementation, and in my opinion no certification or accreditation will ever replace knowledge and the hard-won battle scars of experience.

But, as my wife will agree, it’s not my opinion that counts, and if the requirement for certification establishes a foothold and becomes an expected pre-requisite then by necessity independent contractors and smaller partners will have to follow suit or risk being placed at a potential competitive disadvantage.
So the big question is whether or not certification will catch on in a way that it failed to in the past? Of course the simple answer is, (unless HANA’s predictive analysis has now replaced the crystal ball) that no one, including SAP, can say with any certainty. However one thing that is evident is the current desire of SAP to make this happen, together with the obvious benefit for SAP should they be able to surmount the apathy and traditional obstacles that has historically occupied in this space.

In a bid to navigate one such traditional obstacle SAP has launched its ‘Learning Hub’, a Cloud-Based learning solution offering (they believe) a more cost effective and convenient alternative to traditional classroom based training. The Learning Hub provides a centralized database of learning materials that can be accessed through the internet 24 hours a day. Predominantly these tools consist of the workbooks familiar to those of us who have attended on-premise SAP courses, together with an increasing number of e-learning courses and access to what they describe as ‘expert-led social learning, and peer collaboration.’ SAP state that there are 22,500 consultants who have already signed up to the Hub, but based on the further assertion that ‘10 of the top 23 SAP Partners are already benefiting from SAP Learning Hub’ one could conjecture that the bulk of these 22,500 will come from these 10 companies.

Which leaves the question – will independent contractors see the Learning Hub as a good method to gain training, and if so will this equate to an increase in those becoming certified?

Well, as you may expect with SAP the Hub has plus points and downsides. On the positive side you can access the learning material at any time from anywhere which minimizes travel time, travel costs, and potentially saves the revenue that you may have lost whilst attending an onsite course. Also the pricing model means that once you have bought access to the Hub (you pay a one-off subscription for one year’s access) you can connect to the entire catalogue of SAP’s training material, which may prove beneficial to contractors and consultants looking to cross train into new areas. However the pricing model is also almost certainly the biggest downside, with the 1 year subscription model being the only model worth mentioning (for Professional Consultants) costing £2,100/ €2,500.

Now this may be reasonable if, as SAP seems to believe you will, you spend most of your time doing on-line training courses in multiple SAP technology areas, however seems fairly steep if you wish to study one or two courses during the year in a specific module.

Now SAP would I’m sure counter this by saying that the cost of the Hub is likely to be equivalent to the cost of these one or two onsite courses so it is still good value for money. However to my mind there are fundamental differences between cloud-based learning and teacher-based learning. What you are paying for in the Learning Hub is access to workbooks, some e-learning and some fairly nebulous ‘expert-led social learning, and peer collaboration.’ Personally I’m not convinced that this is the same as having a teacher standing in front of you to whom you can keep saying ‘sorry I don’t understand’ to.

However as with the question of Certification, my opinion is irrelevant and only time will tell whether the Learning Hub will revolutionize the way that SAP training is consumed and if this, by extension, also encourages more people to become SAP certified.

I (as always) remain slightly sceptical but will keep my eye on developments and reserve the right to jump should this particular bandwagon start gaining momentum.

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  1. John Studdert

    Thanks for writing this, and for re-posting it to SCN. Agree with @fredverhuel that it’s well worth having here – a great read!

    Another point about the 22,500 sign-up figure is that the base tier of the Learning Hub is free but provides very little content (mainly just what I consider “fluff” course content), so in terms of consultants actually utilising the Learning Hub this figure is probably significantly inflated. I’m signed up but have no immediate intention of going to a paid tier. Unless they’re counting just those who have signed up to a paid tier?

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    1. Matthew Riches Post author

      Thanks for you comments John, much appreciated. Based on my understanding the 22,500 figure is those who have signed up to the paid tier but again you can safely assume that the majority of these are in the big consultancies and you can also guarantee that they did not have to pay £2100 each for the privilege.

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  2. Adrian Li

    There is some evidence in the marketplace that SAP end user organisations are prepared to pay a premium for consultants that carry recent SAP certification, which is an interesting development. Given the ever increasing pace of change in relation to the SAP solution, services and platform (acquired and organically engineered) there is clearly a growing demand for easy access to knowledge.  SAP Learning Hub and the openSAP Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC’s) are two convenient ways of consultants acquiring SAP knowledge.  With such rich channels to content and knowledge, SAP Certification becomes a formal acknowledgement that a consultant has attained a recognised level of SAP knowledge, no more, no less, in my experience.  A learner driver doesn’t suddenly become a good driver by passing their driving test!

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    1. Matthew Riches Post author

      Thanks Adrian – The comment about end user organisations being prepared to pay a higher rate is a very interesting one and if that does become common place then people will (I expect) become certified in far greater numbers.

      Personally I think that the openSAP site is great and if that is what we can expect from the learning Hub then I think it will take off. If however it is just a copy of the work book you get when attending the on site SAP course in electronic form then the price might just be too high. I look forward to seeing how this one pans out!

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  3. Stephen Johannes

    It’s a great point about education and I do agree in principle, but what do you when the people in charge of SAP Education – Certification refuses to provide adquate certification in your area because the “they know better” despite offering two classes on that topic and the area without certification is key success/fail factor for implementations. It really makes you wonder if the certification goals are to increase bill rates of consultants(raise barrier to entry) or provide quality resources for customers.

    I really wish what I’m saying wasn’t true, but I don’t know how anyone can take SAP Education seriously when they have this purposefully way of ignoring valid requests.  That being said I would love to get certified in my area, but SAP Education refuses to provide a valid certification that matches roles of consultants that I need to hire for projects.

    Take care,

    Stephen

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    1. Matthew Riches Post author

      Thanks for taking the time to reply Stephen – which area are you referring to? Like you, I would suggest that if SAP are ignoring this area due to the fact that it is not financially worth it, then I would suggest that revenue is the motive and not evaluation and excellence!

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      1. Stephen Johannes

        Matthew,

        The core UI technology for SAP CRM which is the SAP CRM Web Client UI.  SAP offers two courses (or at least did on this subject).  Customization/Enhancement of the SAP CRM Web Client is a core skill requirement on almost every SAP CRM project.  If I follow SAP’s message on certification then certification should be used to help qualify resources.  Unfortunately SAP Education claims(because they know more than SAP Customers) that multiple choice questions on SAP CRM Sales match the consultant roles requested for this skill.

        I’m stuck with not being able to hire folks who have been tested/certified fully on this topic and I can’t get certified on the topic either.   Thus I really have to challenge SAP Education on this topic because they preach all this goodness about certification and when you ask them about covering a needed gap in certification, they act like they know more about the topic area than you.  Sorry to hijack your blog, but I really have to challenge quotes in articles(it was your example) that talk about having to make certification a prerequisite to consultant hiring, when SAP willingly does not want to provide certification in certain areas and only provides new certification for revenue makers such as HANA, mobile, etc.

        In a ideal world if SAP was actually providing certification to help customers get better resources instead of revenue generation and increasing bill rates I would completely agree.  However since I really don’t think the focus of the certification program is to help SAP Customers to have more successful implementations I have to politely disagree 🙂 .

        Take care,

        Stephen

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  4. Fred Verheul

    Hi Matthew,

    Thanks for cross-posting. I’m normally not a fan of it, but this blog post really belongs on SCN. Next time, please post it here first 🙂 .

    I totally recognise your experience with customers being less than interested in certifications I might hold. I’ve never been asked for one either (and my memory is probably comparable to yours). It’s one of the reasons I’m currently not certified.

    More evidence of SAP trying to make certification more important/relevant is their recent launch of the SAP Credential Manager, basically a searchable directory of certified consultants.

    Regarding SAP Learning Hub, I can confirm that most of the 22,500 are from the big companies. I don’t have any numbers on individual subscriptions.

    The content on Learning Hub is indeed mostly the collection of educational material you also get when you take a classroom training for instance. Live access to systems costs extra. The collaborative Learning Rooms don’t cost extra and allow for (remote) contact with trainers and other students, but only for limited time slots (typically a couple of months).

    My POV: if you are behind on training you could (and should) consider a one-year subscription to get back on track. But as long as live system access is not included (for me as an ABAP-programmer that’s a big one) € 2.500,- is a lot of money. I’d rather spend it on SAPTechEd SAP d-code 🙂 .

    Cheers, Fred

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    1. Matthew Riches Post author

      Thanks for your reply Fred and many thanks for highlighting this blog.

      I agree with your point about live access. If the purpose of the training and accreditation is to improve the skills of the SAP community then surely having somewhere to practice during the training is a fairly fundamental requirement. It again feels like just an another revenue stream for SAP and not a meaningful commitment to improving the knowledge of the community.

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  5. Andy Silvey

    Hi Matthew,

    thanks for an interesting blog, on the theme which crops up again and again.

    Regarding Certification and Standards and this question which keeps returning and will do so forever until SAP really takes leadership in this area, I am running a poll over here, to try to find the definitive SAP community sentiment on the subject of SAP Certification and Standards and all are welcomed and encouraged to vote.

    SAP need to take the lead with certification and incentivise SAP Training and Certification for Customers and Partners, for example offering credits for training against the cost of support if a Customer/Partner has x percent of their SAP personnel SAP trained and SAP certified. It needs to be a win for both sides. SAP need to take the lead and give SAP Training and Certification pride of place in the SAP World. I look forward to the day when at the airport I see adverts which read:

    Company XYZ Runs SAP [with 25% of their SAP Human Capital SAP Trained and Certified]

    To change the sentiment towards SAP Training and Education will take time, and must be lead by SAP.

    Regarding Learning Hub,

    I have full access to the Learning Hub.

    As I have said before, myself and colleagues, find it challenging that the Learning Hub is online and there is no possibility for offline access to Learning Hub material.

    The most valuable for us would be, to be able to choose the course and certification path we are interested in on the Learning Hub and download the material as pdf’s and study it at will, including in any disconnected offline scenario.

    We were able to do this in the past with the SAP Knowledge Warehouse which contained pdf versions of all SAP technical courses, I’ve had access to that since 2005, and if I compare the two I find the lack of offline access a step backwards as opposed to a step forwards and would prefer the former SAP Knowledge Warehouse approach.

    Consequently so far, it’s safe to say we haven’t actually utilised any of the courses in the Learning Hub, because in our connected capability we don’t have time for the Learning Hub, hence the value would be the possibility to study Learning Hub material offline.

    It was mentioned in the past that there is a plan for offline capability of Learning Hub.

    Best regards,

    Andy.

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    1. Matthew Riches Post author

      Andy – I completely agree with you comments and am very interested to hear your point of view especially as you have access to the Hub. Your point about offline content is also a very good one and one which I had not considered. I’ll be speaking to SAP about the Hub in due course and will ask this question, along with any others you wish to mention.

      Many thanks again,

      Matt

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    2. John Studdert

      Andy, good to read about a few of the downsides to the Learning Hub, appreciate that.

      Matthew/Andy/all: Does your company pay for a set amount of staff to have access to the hub? If so, how do they decide on who should fall within that number? Is this reviewed yearly?

      I’m wondering how the cost could be effectively managed in e.g. a consultancy given that most staff, most of the time would not have time to really make proper use of their access. In other words, it might be more cost effective to have a budget set aside for e.g. 10 users, and review annually which consultants/staff get to be within that 10. It could be based on performance, career goals, expected utilisation (i.e. so they’d actually have time to do some of the training!), re-training being necessary etc.

      Are any of you aware of methods being used to address this?

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      1. Andy Silvey

        Hi John,

        I don’t know how the pricing model is working.

        I think you’re right with the approach to who has access and why, and how to motivate usage.

        We are encouraged to use the Learning Hub and obviously, I’d love to,  I’ve logged onto the Learning Hub, I’ve seen all the courses, I opened one, and realised it is online connected access only and have not touched it since.

        I don’t have time in my working week to study these courses. I am willing to give my private time to studying courses, and really it must go without saying, an offline version of the course in pdf would be the most useful, which I could open up at any time, on a phone or tablet and read at will, as opposed to having to open the company pc, connect to vpn, logon to Learning Hub, open the course – you get the picture.

        As I said, in the past, companies could buy SAP’s Knowledge Warehouse which contained pdf’s of all the courses, this was excellent.

        To conclude, in principle I am 100% behind the principle of the Learning Hub, to make the solution work, the courses need to be pdf’s downloadable for offline access.

        Perhaps the pdf’s could be digitally signed or watermarked or password protected with the name of the customer who purchased the Learning Hub license ?

        Best regards,

        Andy.

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