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This week I failed my first SAP SuccessFactors certification – it must be first time a consultant admits that. 😎

But it happened – it was my first encounter with the new way of taking the certifications in the Cloud. Instead of meeting at a test center – it is now possible to do the test from home or other location. Only requirement is a working internet connection – and an installed program which closes down all other programs than the test.

It was a so called closed book exam – no aids are available or legal to use. After the failed exam I have thought a great deal about the closed book exam form. The approach to test the consultants, forces them to memorize the course material. And the available course material is not 100 or 200 pages but a lot more. Some of material is technical and not easy to memorize.  Welcome to a world were XML still is present.

An example of a question could be:

You are at customer – where you are supposed to set up x – which of the below is the correct URL to use:

  1. https://xxx1.xxx.com
  2. https://xxx2.xxx.com/
  3. https://xxx3.xxx.com/
  4. https://xxx4.xxx.com/

Is the above reasonable to demand from a consultant to remember – what is your opinion?

My personal opinion about the closed book exam form – is that it is not a “normal” set-up – when have you ever implemented and customized a customer system without access to the internet or SAP material? Answer à It will never happen.

Is there a more normal and more recommendable way to check that tested consultants have reached a learning level within a certain SuccessFactors suite in question? Yes – but it will also be expensive for SAP and the Partner Network within SuccessFactors. Provide the consultant with access to a demo system which has to be customized to the requirements from a fictive customer. The consultant will then pass the certification if the demo system is correctly customized. The certification will be an open book certification – just like in a real implementation.

The above will certainly not happen – so next week I will start to memorize “stuff” for the next certification planned. So have not surrendered – but will start the memorizing war Monday morning.

Have memorized in the below 5 SAP Certifications – so it is possible. I will give it a new go –  but my gift from SAP next Christmas will hopefully be a new test procedure.

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45 Comments

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  1. Christopher Solomon

    Sorry to hear you did not pass it….this time. I understand your frustration. Personally, I am not completely sold on most of these software certifications. SAP is not alone. It is difficult though to make a solid certification. You don’t want it to be just a memorization exam (like you went through). You can’t really have it be “here is a real world scenario….how do you solve it?” because (1) those “cases” take some time to work up (2) after a while, word spreads one what the “cases” are and how to answer/solve them. And you can’t have a 1-to-1 “interview” type exam either due to the costs and bottleneck. And to top it all off, how do you prepare these certifications and keep them up-to-date and relevant? Soooo it is VERY difficult to put together something that truly tests real world application of knowledge versus simple regurgitation of memorized material. You may are may not know that SAP did a big overhaul several years back with certifications which the SAP Mentors (the “Five”) had a big hand in. In the meantime, you just gotta play the game that is put before you. At least now, you know what to expect for the next time.

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    1. Anders Bang Christoffersen Post author

      Prior to that SAP bought SuccessFactors the certifications worked in a different way – more like setting up an instance. Do not see that the current set-up is value adding to consultants taking the test. But it is just my opinion – do not expect that I can change anything. But have a very small hope.Regards Anders

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  2. Luke Marson

    Kudos Anders for writing something in the public about this. I am taking my delta exam tomorrow and I am very interested on how this delivery method works.

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  3. Jarret Pazahanick

    Great blog and topic Anders and really respect the guts it took to write this blog.  It is that type of honesty and transparency that will easy set you apart in the SAP/SF consulting world.

    To top it off some of the certification material is not as current as it should be (SAP Education cant keep up), no support for Apple Mac (crazy), some areas have no certification available (SF EC Payroll) and there is a lack of understanding and demand from customers on SF certification as well.

    Now imagine once you have done this multiple choice test and now have to take 2 additional multiple choice “Delta” exams each year.  I for example have 3 certifications,all gotten under the “old” way which was excellent and made sense it mimicked how consultants learn and practice in real life, and now I have to study for a multiple choice exam 6 times a year.  I totally get the need to stay current and I have provided SAP/SF several options that could be a win/win if they really care about customers getting knowledgable consultants and this isnt just a profit center for SAP Education.  I really hope Mike Ettling and team look into this.

    On a side note here is some back reading on the topic (slightly dated)

    SAP SuccessFactors certification sets off firestorm – diginomica (Check out the comment thread as well)

    as well as the following threads and comments as we are not the only ones that agree

    https://www.linkedin.com/groups/925757/925757-6098457618177679360

    and

    https://www.linkedin.com/groups/925757/925757-6098457618177679360

    I also have gotten dozens of emails “off the record” on this topic supporting the fact that change is needed.


    Kudos again for writing this and sharing your views and experience.

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      1. Anders Bang Christoffersen Post author

        Do not take it as a disrespectful act towards the SAP community – and the great work you all are  doing with SuccessFactors – you are doing great and improving the product every day. Just find the test situation awkward and not giving the correct picture how the consultant would perform in an implementation situation.

        As a really bad comparison – sitting at the test I felt like I would have been a soldier sent to war without a rifle(implementation handbook). And I never forgot my rifle when I did my time in the Danish army in Denmark and in some very “interesting countries”, Always remember your rifle (implementation handbook)

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  4. Jelena Perfiljeva

    What a great “fail share”! Thanks so much for posting! I completely agree with you on the “closed book” exams. They do not represent at all the working conditions and the person with the best memory is not necessarily the best expert.

    Personally, I still get confused with the ABAP syntax – is it SELECT-OPTIONS or SELECTION-OPTIONS? Can never remember. 😳 But there is always ABAP Help or online documentation or syntax check in the worst case. Unless I decide to write ABAP in Word without Internet connection (which would be silly because I won’t be able to run a program anyway), there is no actual need to memorize such detail. It is far more important to know how and where to find information when you need it.

    As Chris Solomon pointed out, certification is a complex subject. But I hope this can be improved upon.

    Good luck with your next tests!

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  5. Peter Palme

    Much appreciate your courage to share your experience with the certification exam. Book knowledge is surely not enough to be able to go and implement a successfactors solution. And some of the questions asked are also debatable. At least there is another certification level called Professional Certification. To my understanding a consultant will have to proof her/his experience of having successfully implemented successfactors. Based on my previous exam experience I have also started to change my learning habits. Every day I put now 10 – 30 minutes aside to go through the materials and come up with questions myself. This I found to be an effective way to prepare for such closed book exam. Additionally I put aside 10-30+ minutes for hands on learning in the system in order to try out some new features and techniques. Learning will be a constant thing now I guess. Also some of the content it is good to have it memorized since it will support much better ones associative learning capabilities. Testing in itself is one of the most effective ways to learn confirmed by a large body of research: Spaced repetition – Gwern.net

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  6. Sven Ringling

    Excellent and very guttsy article!

    Imo, SAP isn’t aiming at achieving sth giid, but at avoiding the worst. Not sure they achieve it, though.

    As a good consultant, you are basically taking 2 courses:

    – a memory stuffer to prepare for the exam and

    – a course focused on the exercises, asking extra question you consider relevant from your experience, trying things out – to prepare for projects

    Those consultants may in future refrain from keeping more than 2 modules, which would mean the community will lose the important generalists to paint the big picture and understand integration.

    Instead, we get more of type one, who can take the courses much faster, because all they care for is the certification. It’s the next “best” thing to hacking the credentials manager and adding certifications to your profile directly.

    No way out? Sure there is one eay to improve at least a bit;

    just make it open book. You can still proctor it to make sure it’s the right person doing it, but the time limit will guarantee that the candidate knows how it all holds together and where to look for the details. It’s not the perfect solution, but it would at least shift the incentives a little bit into the right direction.

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    1. Anders Bang Christoffersen Post author

      Thanks for your kind words @Sven – is also scared of that we become to focused on one module which is very sad for SAP. So if when you wish to implement an wall2wall SuccessFactors solution you have one functional consultant for each module.

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      1. Christopher Solomon

        “when you wish to implement an wall2wall SuccessFactors solution you have one functional consultant for each module”….but that is exactly what some big SI’s prefer as it fits better with their “old” model and revenue generation. 😉

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    2. Jarret Pazahanick

      Great comment and TOTALLY makes sense to consider an open book test if the goal is to ensure consultants know where to find the answer vs forcing “memory stuffers” which will ensure consultants specialize in one area as NO ONE will have the time to study for 6 delta exams (if you have 3 certifications) in its current format. This will cost customer more $ for their deployments and the argument that “well at least they will get more current consultants” doesn’t hold weight as the delta exams are on old materials because SAP Education can not keep up. On a side note it is customers that will ultimately pay for SI’s and all the downtime for consultants to take this training as well in higher billable rates or more expensive projects as it will be a “new” cost of doing business.

      I am fine with the initial certification being in the exam format (even though I like the previous project case study, system set up and Jam video option) but feel the delta process REALLY has to be looked and my recommendation would be that Delta exams are replaced with CURRENT Delta training and made available via the learning hub and contain real exercises and SF tracks and is mandatory (during a certain time frame) to ensure certification is current.  No further delta multiple choice exams are required.

      On a side note SF professional certification is the next level and involves having multiple referenceable customers in a specific area which is more of the “gold standard” and the above conversation is all about associate certification.

      The dirty secret is that demand for certification is NOT coming from customers (very few understand what it really means) and many SAP customers moving to SF have a poor experience with consultants that were “certified” and are “freshers” and unless the demand comes from the customer side (will take a LOT of education) it will be interesting to see how this unfolds.

      On a side note I have 5 SAP and SF certifications so I have a vested interested in seeing this be successful but want some common sense to be part of this as well especially around delta certification as hate to see customers have to pay more $ (indirectly) when all is said and done.

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  7. Luke Marson

    I did the delta exam yesterday and I’m still not sure if it was the delta exam. Although the exam had the code of the delta exam (D_THR81_1505), it was really some basic questions on various aspects of the EC system and didn’t cover any specific functionality other than Time Off. For example, there were questions about standard functionality like data imports and how to add a field in the system. I was expecting more questions on features and functionality that were part of the 1505 release.

    Even though I scored well (93%), the areas where I didn’t score well were areas where I was extremely confident of scoring well given the nature of the questions (really basic questions on data imports – after all, I did write a 45 page chapter on the topic for the EC book). So, I am a little suspect of whether the answers they have are actually correct, and I am hoping to get the questions and answers so I can review it. Interestingly, the sections with ambiguous questions I got correct…! Oh the irony…

    The overall proctor experience was painful and their software is not very good. Sound and video often cuts out and you have to get the video working within 5 minutes otherwise they end the exam and you have to re-schedule. Also, their software “takes over” your computer so you can’t do anything else without exiting (i.e. troubleshoot problems with the hardware caused by their software).

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    1. Vasily Baranovsky

      Hi, Luke!

      It was really Delta -I’ve passed it last year. It has the same question structure as the full exam, but 40 questions instead of 80.

      New topics are Position Management, Time Off and Migration to MDF.

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    2. Chris Wilpert

      I strongly agree! I mentioned it in the my article as well. There is not a lot of “new” stuff in the Delta Exam. Normally that stuff you should know and get from the Q-Releases…

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  8. Luke Marson

    On a side note, I met with SAP Education about SuccessFactors certification recently to discuss changes in the process. There are some good changes planned, but obviously there has to be a logistically manageable aspect to any changes.

    I plan to meet with the team again in early April and will pass on any feedback I read or receive.

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  9. Cary Walker

    The Learning Delta is *most certainly* not a delta exam. Example:

    Quizzes are a hot new feature, getting significant face time in multiple IRR’s recently. So you’d expect to see some questions on Quizzes – maybe?

    But certainly not questions on Plateau Question Editor (PQE)… Quizzes are going to be the new way to assess, PQE is on the way out. I mean it has PLATEAU in the name for goodness sakes! There’s NO WAY we’ll get PQE questions…

    My experience – 0 questions on quizzes, 3 questions on PQE. (Or maybe more, it’s been a month, so it’s gotten fuzzy…)

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    1. Anders Bang Christoffersen Post author

      Thanks for the comment – as consultants we can use our time a lot better on subjects – than memorizing materiale we will not use after the test. Some of use are using weekends – or nights to memorize because weekdays are used eirher on projects or request for proposal from leads.

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  10. Chris Bennett

    Anders I am so glad you posted this. I too failed my 1st certification exam for Employee Central after studying for 1 month and attending all the info sessions. This whole approach is unrealistic. Even in university exams we are often able to bring in reference material – material we will use in our jobs any way. Also not being able to repeat the questions back to yourself during the exam and not being able to take a break or barely move is just inhuman. This really turned me off.

    The other issues I had were: the material was one version, the info session was another version, the system was another version and then the exam was two versions behind. I have never seen anything so bad in my life having been a consultant and trainer for many years. No wonder the cut score is so low. This  needs to be fixed asap. Just a terrible experience overall.

    I have worked with the SuccessFactors products since the year 2000 when they 1st started business – remember Y2K, lol. I love my job and I love the products but the training needs to be examined and fixed.

    I have since received my certification in another module so I know it is possible but I totally agree with your comments and ideas. I think SAP needs to look at what the certification is really about and what its purpose is. Perhaps they could consult seasoned consultants like us to help them build a proper training program.

    On the positive side I did find their info session leaders really good. Very knowledgeable, helpful and professional. Also the material (although it was a different version) was fantastic.

    I plan to get certified in every module but having to keep taking delta exams every year kind of discourages this. I think overall they need to make this efficient for the hard working consultants who are extremely busy with their real jobs. Presently this is not the case. Lots of work do do on SAP’s part to make this right.

    Thank you for your courage and good luck to you!

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    1. Anders Bang Christoffersen Post author

      Thanks for the kind words Chris Bennett – I hope that mine, yours and others opinions regarding the test will move @SAP towards a more modern way of testing consultants than the “old approach”. Do agree that SAP have to check that we have learnt the material – but to memorize 700 pages doesn´t make a good consultant. As you can see from the above Luke Marson is in dialogue with SAP – I hope the best.

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      1. Chris Bennett

        Yes agree and I am hopeful that SAP will listen. It is my experience that they are very open to making things better for Customers, Partners and anyone that interacts with their company and products.

        Plus their current President Mike is a wonderful guy with his ear to the ground. I have complete confidence and faith in him.

        Cheers!

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    2. Jarret Pazahanick

      Great comment Chris and kudos for telling your story as I have had many people reach out in back channels with the same story.  Your comment regarding the mess of training materials/exam makes it clear that this whole process needs to be reviewed.

      “The other issues I had were: the material was one version, the info session was another version, the system was another version and then the exam was two versions behind. I have never seen anything so bad in my life having been a consultant and trainer for many years. No wonder the cut score is so low. This  needs to be fixed asap. Just a terrible experience overall.”

      On a side note I have provided SAP/SF with some suggestions that they have committed to reviewing with the SAP education group that I think will help fix the Delta exam process which is also broken on a number of levels such as:

      1. Not current content (SAP Education cant keep up) so not a DELTA exam

      2.Cost of Delta Certification (2 times a year) + extensive preparation will be passed from SI on to CUSTOMERS
      3. Remote proctoring by QuestionMark (SAP 3rd Party Partner) is not ready for prime time as everyone I have talked to has had issues
      4. No support for Apple Macs (crazy in this day and age)
      5. Multiple choice test is more time consuming to “memorize” vs an open book test and all that extra prep cost gets passed on to CUSTOMERS

      6. It is NOT a Delta exam as more of a general exam which causes extra prep time that will be passed on to CUSTOMERS

      7. The effort of keeping current with memorized delta exams will cause people to focus on 1 area of SuccessFactors only raising cost for CUSTOMERS on implementations.


      There is a better way that could be a win/win for SAP/SF their customers and partners which I have proposed and hopefully this will not be a case of just “doing what they have always done in SAP Education” as there is a better way. You can see that SAP has taken this mindset with their excellent OpenSAP and they should do the same for Delta Certification.


      I am also visiting with SAP/SF leadership at an upcoming Analyst Day in mid April and plan to talk in more depth about the above.



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      1. Chris Bennett

        Thank you Jarret. All great points and so glad you have their attention.

        The bigger issue SAP should be concerned about is keeping and attracting consultants both internally and from partner organizations. After all without consultants to do the implementation work SAP is out of business.

        More and more consultants will get turned off and leave to work with / for other companies / software. This is especially true for the Millennials, the up and coming workforce. They will not tolerate this for sure.

        As I have already stated the whole process really turned me off. This is not 21st century at all. They really need to up their game and fast.

        I look forward to your outcomes from meeting with SAP. I do hope you plan to share.

        Kind regards.

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        1. Christopher Solomon

          They have already crushed the market for independent consultants in this space….it is just not possible/feasible…..and it is no secret that in the past, most SAP partner consulting firms generally backfilled with independents on their projects. I don’t know that I will ever get directly involved in SF work. I would love too….seems like a great product….but right now, it does not make financial sense for me to even entertain the thought of pursuing that path. Plenty of on-prem HCM work keeping me busy in the mean time as well. Hope things change all around.

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  11. Cary Walker

    I prepared for the Learning Delta by cramming 1400 pages of documentation. I’m not exaggerating. Yes, I passed on the first try, but it was not a pleasant experience.

    I think the easy solution is to actually make it a *delta* exam. Test us on changes, if you want a multiple choice test. The problem is that the exam bank is way too large – and in my case, somewhat random and irrelevant. (Again, I got PQE questions.)

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    1. Jarret Pazahanick

      Spot on as a TRUE delta exam would cover the changes in the most recent IRR’s which should be the point of a delta exam anyways.  It is obvious there is a real disconnect between SAP Education and SuccessFactors and hopefully Mike Ettling can look into this.

      Now imagine if you had 3 certifications and now had to review 1400 pages, 6 times a year it is obvious very few would do that and ultimately it is the customer that pays the price. Even if you did do it, the time spent with this ridiculous current approach would be the customer as the SI will HAVE to pass along this as a cost of doing business.

      It is interesting that only EC and Learning have the Delta exam so far so we are at the forefront of this mess.

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      1. Cary Walker

        Imagine in addition to maintaining your own cert – that you had 40 teammates, many with multiple certs, that you also had to shepherd through. I’m losing what’s left of my hair!

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      2. Vasily Baranovsky

        Hi Jarret!

        Just to protect the current Delta, I’ve passed the EC Delta with 90+% without additional preparation effort. – Because I have everyday experience with EC configuration. Although the exam itself is emotionally and intellectually hard.

        But on the other hand, if I would have to confirm my Recruiting Management certification, that I’ve received from Learning Hub via Grandfathering program and don’t have deep implementation experience – it would be hard.

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        1. Jarret Pazahanick

          The key point Vasiliy is you already passed your EC Certification and this is supposed to be a DELTA exam to ensure you know the NEW functionality not a RETEST of what you already passed. There is a better way to ensure consultants stay current than a multiple choice test on OLD material, on a glitchy remote proctoring that only works on a PC that doesn’t indirectly hurt CUSTOMERS and raise their costs and think SAP/SF can/should and ultimately will do what is best.

          On a side note for those with deep implementation experience they should be striving from the SF Professional Certification anyways IMHO.

          Will also say the support for changing the delta certification is very very strong but many will not go on record (even with a comment) for fear of upsetting things with SAP/SF and their partnerships.

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          1. Vasily Baranovsky

            Agree with you, Jarret! As it was some strange experience: I’ve passed 1502 on Aug 2015 and then passed Delta on Oct 2015 with almost same kind of questions.

            The Professional Certification also needs improvement, as pointed earlier, EC Time Off consultant or similar have small chance to receive it – Time off is obviously not in first wave. Also Lead role definition is something unclear. Using offshores in implementations also adds specific. 

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  12. Erik Ebert

    Having done some +75 enterprise SuccessFactors implementations end-to-end I believe I know my way around SuccessFactors and surroundings. I have a strong memory and remember most provisioning settings by heart, in the different data models & configuration tools I know which of them impact each other and where to pay special attention. I “sense” how the system is behaving when certain configurations are made and remember what other clients have experienced on earlier occasions. So when colleagues come to me with “strange issues” I have a unique background to quickly find the root cause so the project can continue.

    Anyway, now I am up for my first delta exam to retain my EC Professional Certification. I have worked with EC for 5 years. Although I do rely on memory to a large extent in my day to day work, the most important skill lies in analytical capabilities –  “divide and conquer” being my favorite discipline. Finding patterns, noticing the odd combination etc.  to rule out all possible reasons why something is not working and then narrowing down on the one little area, comma, space, checkbox, combination etc. that causes the issue. Working on client projects is what keeps me in the loop of the different modules.

    Will a multiple choice test, no matter how up to date it is, prove my analytical skills? I really doubt it. It will prove that I can read a manual and remember what I read. But really, the manuals contain quite a lot of useless information that is only applicable in very few scenarios, or information that is never used in real life.

    I may pass the delta exam. I may not. But I am still the same person and I will still know my way around like few other people out there. So I am skeptical about the test, but SAP decides and we have warned that the extra cost of keeping a certificate, instead of working on client projects, is going to A: increase client costs and B: make consultants spend less time with clients and more on textbook studies. Is that really what we wanted?

    All the best,

    🙂 Erik Ebert

    GP Strategies

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    1. Anders Bang Christoffersen Post author

      Thanks for comments from what I would call one of the most experienced certified SuccessFactors resources within the community. I also hope the best – fear the worst and prepare for a earthquake.

      Anders – sitting together with my crazy family including a not “normal” dog….. 

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  13. Anders Bang Christoffersen Post author

    Hi All, My failed certification led to a lot of thoughts – and also a new blog Please Help me!.

    I have started up multiple classes in https://quizlet.com/latest – covering the SF Suite – it is an excellent tool to memorize materiale – also has gamification learning style included in an downloadeble app. Download here Mobile | Quizlet

    It is still under development – and I need your help to produce test questions which can be used by the whole SAP SuccessFactors Community. I can not by myself produce questions for all areas. But together we can do it. Just use the links provided in the blog > Please Help me!

    And do not worry – I will not charge you for using the tool > I will just be happy for your contribution to the community. 

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    1. Anders Bang Christoffersen Post author

      I know that hard work pays – 5 certifications within the SAP area speaks for itself – by the way remember to push Caps Lock if you wish to write with normal letters – to write with capital letter is just so rude and not good behavior on SCN.

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