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Former Member

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.