Skills Certifications Are a Hot Topic in the SAP Ecosystem
SAP skills certification has been an increasingly hot topic among many community members broadly. It has been discussed and debated among the elite SAP Mentor Initiative, it has been blogged by prominent SAP-watchers in our broader ecosystem such as Should you be certified? (note his blog on certification with 63 comments!) and Jon Reed (who dedicates a significant focus of his consulting and blogging practice to SAP skills and careers) and others, it is an area of intense beginning-of-the-year planning with our partners (especially Systems Integrators, who have small armies of people in customer-facing roles and whose skills are always evolving), was highlighted by Zia Yusuf (EVP of SAP's Global Ecosystem) in our annual Partner Kick-Off Meeting (PKOM) in January (and the related conversation was picked-up on twitter), emphasized by our co-CEO Leo Apotheker at the Business Suite 7 launch earlier this month, and is a major initiative touching many parts of SAP this year.
Additional evidence is equally strong:
An IDC whitepaper called "Skill and Certification: Key to Achieving Technology Vision" says, "Teams with certified architects and developers deliver projects on specification, on time, and on budget more often than other teams." This sounds to me like something customers need to consider strongly.
Traffic to our own eLearning area and related eLearning items in the SAP Community Network exceeded one million pages viewed last month!
Our SAP Certification has more than 1,000 discussion threads and more than 4,000 messages...
You might ask: "Why is this topic of individual professional skills certification such a big deal, and why now?"
Customers want faster, more predictable ROI, and high quality is a component of that return. So, while SAP and its partners can produce fantastic software, if implementations are not done properly, then that return on investment - and years-long Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) throughout the lifecycle of an SAP system landscape - is compromised by delays or cost over-runs or the new system being sub-optimized.
Meanwhile, SAP's incredible market growth over the past years (current economy notwithstanding) has driven-up the market demand for highly skilled SAP experts, but that has put a strain on the supply of qualified, experienced people who can configure, install, customize, and optimize SAP and related partner solutions. In fact, at this time last year a skills shortage of as many as 30,000 people was being predicted for the years ahead. Now, the slowing global economy has alleviated or at least delayed this a bit, as has the fact that more than 27,000 people were SAP-certified last year (2008). But still, there remain hugeopportunities for skilled, certified experts on SAP solutions today, and that is expected to be the case well into the foreseeable future.
In a recent article in SearchSAP, consultant / blogger / analyst and SAP Mentor Jon Reed says the need is greatest for "a combination of Basis, security, and governance / risk / compliance (GRC), plus some functional knowledge of SAP FI." In that same SearchSAP article, Justin Burmeister, a Basis consultant with more than 11 years of SAP experience, said that the many SAP skills in demandright now include SOA/ESR, BPM, WebDynpro, J2EE development, XI/PI, BI, NetWeaver, and J2EE administration. I would add to those lists the full SAP BusinessObjects (a.k.a. "BI") portfolio of business intelligence tools and apps - they are a fast-growth area for SAP (especially in the '09 economic environment), and they are critical to customers in the short-term as they seek greater insight into potential efficiencies and opportunities in their business operations during challenging economic times.
Speaking of the economy - and since we are a very global community - it's also worthwhile noting that some geographies and countries are hit less-hard than others right now. So, if you're in one of those countries - maybe in the Middle East or Latin America or parts of Asia - or if you're in an industry that is more immune to the downturn - the hot market for SAP experts may still be just as strong as ever. Location matters (you will likely find an advantage being where the SAP customers - potential employers - are, and you will probably have an advantage if you have experience in the customer's industry - since every industry has its own laws, norms, process, and other unique attributes - on top of your specific SAP expertise, as evidenced by your official certification.
It's Not Your Grandmother's Certification Program
Although too few people are aware of it, the SAP skills certification program has undergone a comprehensive revamp in recent months. It's much broader than the one you might think you know, and it's deeper, with multiple levels to reflect degrees of expertise.
SAP Certifications now have three levels - Associate, Professional, and Master - which help address the question of how to distinguish more seasoned, senior consultants when such skills are required. Here are the distinctions, in general terms:
Associate - can execute foundational tasks, including customization and functionality validation, with confidence and skill, and can move to designing, building, and implementing scenarios. These people typically: have 1-3 years of experience, are mentored by more experienced team members, have hands-on skills to implement or optimize SAP, and a foundational knowledge of business processes and/or technology
Professional - can lead as well as execute tasks and engagements, including conceptualizing complex processes to optimize integrated scenarios. These people typically: have 3-7 years of experience, work independently within teams to implement, can mentor others, and in addition to their SAP experience also have advanced solution and process knowledge plus industry expertise
Master - an exclusive group of visionary experts who can define and guide long-term strategy, including the ability to design broad strategies and to architect and roadmap comprehensive solutions. These people typically: have 7-10 years of experience, are recognized internally and externally as experts, have deep practical SAP experience in integration + optimization + architectures, can provide both strategic vision and realization of those strategies, and are often called upon to lead projects or teams
Benefits Flow to All
I believe the new SAP Certification program offers tremendous benefits to the members of our community who support the implementations of SAP customers - whether you work directly for that customer as an employee, or if you work for a partner on customer projects.
For individuals, this certification boosts your career with a standardized mark of excellence that sets you apart in an enormous global marketplace and one that continues to be hot (proof: visit your favorite job portal, search for jobs with "SAP" in the description, and you'll find tens-of-thousands). Think: certification = career advantage.
For our SI partners and independent consulting firms, your organization can win business with this new differentiator, you can staff with greater transparency about the skill levels assigned to a project, and you can expect higher degrees of customer satisfaction. Think: certified experts à quality implementations at higher efficiencies (lower costs and better profitability yield) à customer satisfaction with positive referrals and return business.
For customers, relying on proven, certified SAP professionals can reduce project risk and TCO, speed implementations, and the program itself allows you to easily identify the best partner consultants available for your implementation (simply insist on a heavy mix of SAP certified pro's on your team). Think: certified professionals on your team and on your partner teams = faster, higher-quality implementations at lower cost and better business results.
Maximize software implementation ROI
Reduce total cost of ownership
Improve risk management
Safeguard major projects
Optimize processes thru highest quality team
Improve recruiting and retention of top people
I don't think this is too bold a statement: Every SAP solution implementation, customization, upgrade, or expansion should be led, supported, and optimized by certified SAP professionals. Why? Simple: certified professionals are more productive, higher-skilled, make fewer mistakes, raise the quality, and lower operating costs - in short, determine project and ongoing success.
What to Do Right Now
Given all of the evidence and market trends, what should you do, right now? There are several paths, depending on where you're starting... and you can mix-and-match any of these:
Informal self-study via self-paced education
Formal education which culminates in professional certification
SAP events for education and insight
Routes to each of these are wide-open...
First, our communities (SDN, BPX, BusinessObjects, etc.) provide a number of ways to learn about a subject or to get certified in 2009. For example, we have a comprehensive eLearning section that cuts across all of the SAP Community Network for all communities and roles.
And of course, SAP Tech Ed conferences are mega- education and certification events, with lots of emphasis each year on the importance of certification and programs and offers to support it (including steep discounts for certification exams!). Come join us this year in Phoenix, Vienna, Bangalore, or Shanghai ... get your hands on the technology via workshops, hear from experts, and sit for the exam soon afterwards.
One fantastic resource for those who didn't or couldn't attend SAP TechEd in person are the "Virtual SAP TechEd" sessions available - some free, some for purchase, but all viewable as a preview. These are audio / video / slides of ~150 of the "best of TechEd" sessions, available as a complete set or by popular track ... for 2008, 2007, and 2006 conferences individually or as a complete set (in total 400+ sessions). These are good for those who attended, too, since Virtual SAP TechEd can serve as a refresher on sessions you saw months ago, or to see sessions you couldn't attend due to schedule overlaps during the event. Watch a 5-minute preview of any of the sessions from Virtual SAP TechEd ‘08...
SAP Partners - especially SIs - are strongly encouraged to hire or train certified professionals and to favor them in customer engagements. If you work for one of our partner SIs, this means that your individual professional certification will more likely get you the top-choice engagements and jobs. As an indication how important this is: our SI partners certified more than 25,000 net-new professionals last year, and the ramp-up continues ... because more and more customers are demanding this proven level of expertise.
Even if you don't work for an SAP partner, it means that your individual certification puts you at a higher premium in customer companies and makes you more desirable in the job market.
If you're looking for your first SAP-related job, or the next one in a long and illustrious career, certification is an important indicator of your skill level, your competencies and capabilities, and is therefore a determinant in:
whether you'll get that sought-after job,
how much you get paid, and
which projects (the exciting, innovative ones or the less-so) you work on
I'd like to hear from you about your thoughts or experiences on this topic. This is also a good place to continue the open conversation about certification ... it will help SAP in general, and the Communities in particular, to deliver what you need to be successful.