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Former Member
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Controversy Alert!

Earlier this evening, the Twitterverse burst into a short SAP frenzy when @jonerp (Jon Reed) dropped a couple of Tweets:

Zia Yusuf = strong keynote w/ good specifics. One point: SAP is going to strongly encourage customers to hire CERTIFIED consultants #pkom

Yusuf = emphasis on certified SAP consultants is part of overall SAP theme of year: Emphasis on quality, including quality resources. #pkom

Almost immediately @jspath55 (Jim Spath) @njames (Nigel James) @blag (err...Blag) @oliver (Oliver Kohl) @yojibee(Anne Petteroe)  @grahamrobbo (Graham Robinson) and myself @dahowlett (apologies if I missed anyone - Twitter has limitations on what you can 'see') entered into an animated conversation about the usefulness and validity of a formal certification process.

Most of the participants were highly critical of such a move, suggesting that real world ability is far more important than the possession of a piece of paper. In principle I agree but have specific reasons for being a strong advocate of the certification system.

Last year, I was fortunate enough to get face time with Zia who at one point stopped me and Vinnie Mirchandani, one of my fellow 'buy side' advocates in our tracks. We were reprising a familiar - at least to us - refrain that despite years of experience and thousands of consultants around the world, SAP implementations are still proving troublesome. That costs time and money for everyone involved.n Zia's words at the time: "Will you guys stop bitching and help me by suggesting what I can do?" It's a valid point. 

Like it or not, SAP is a magnet for such issues which often end up on the analysis pages of Mike Krigsman's Project Failures blog. The LAUSD case is one in point.

As part of that discussion with Zia, I said that in my opinion, certification should be mandatory for anyone wanting to work on SAP implementation projects that involve Basis/ABAP/NetWeaver. It was a point I repeated on several occasions and which was picked up at TechEd Berlin, when Zia met the SAP blogger contingent.

That sounds draconian but certification serves important purposes.

I'm an accountant by trade and in order to practice as an auditor in many countries, you have to be formally qualified. That's a combination of practical experience and certification by examination. That of itself is no assurance that a person is any good at these things but it is a measure of assurance that you are capable of completing work to a certain standard. 

The certification naysayers argue that nothing can beat practical experience. That's true in my profession as well. But if you cannot prove that you have been educated in first principles, then how can you claim to know how to approach certain tasks?

I also argue that THIS particular group is unrepresentative of many SAPpers. I've met nearly all of them and they're of a calibre that puts them in a class apart. They are some of SAP's rock stars. OK - enough of the mutual love in and please, if you are reading this and feeling inadequate then my advice to you is simple: get some training.

My point is that for this group, certification IS meaningless because they have many years' proven experience that is often exemplified in their blog posts, wiki contributions and moderation. But that doesn't negate the potential value of the certification process.

Here's another benefit. I've argued that rather than be faced with the specter of continual blame among SIs/developers/consultants and clients, a certification process forms the basis for Centers of Excellence. If, as a customer you operate a Center of Excellence then you are demonstrating a commitment to your implementation that will save money in maintenance and upgrade costs.

If you're an SI/developer/consultant then you are holding out to operate at a standard that clients can recognize and believe in. That will not guarantee trouble free implementations. Nothing can do that with a system as complex as R/3 or ECC6. But it is one way of providing a hygiene factor that SAP implementations badly need.

Too often when projects fail, SAP has to parachute hit squads of people who DO known what they're doing to sort out a mess. While Mike Krigsman has a pet theory about this, it's not fair on anyone. Certification could go some way towards curing the ills that bedevil our corner of the IT landscape.

Most important however is that there are direct economic benefits for everyone. Individuals have recognition and increased earning power, ecosystem partners are less likely to be slammed with penalties, SCN would likely have less run of the mill 'how to...' questions and SAP's reputation as a quality provider woud be enhanced. If that isn't a win-win-win then I dont know what is.

Is it all worked out? No. What for instance do you do about our rock star colleagues? How might you verify certification? (That's easy - registration) Who will offer the training and how will that be monitored? What will be the financial burden for those going through the process?

Is the framework in place? Yes. Check here for information about the three levels of certification on offer.

SAP is committed to quality because it is profitable to do so. Zia has understood the problems and is addressing them. He will push through the kind of changes that such a program imply. It will not be perfect so please don't think I'm 'selling' silver bullets. There's a lot to do, mistakes to make and lessons to be learned.

Provided the detail is worked out appropriately then this represents the best opportunity to bring the ecosystem together I've seen in many years.

What is there not to like about that?