Can SAP certifications join the big leagues?

The need to improve SAP's certification process has been a hot-button issue in the enterprise community for some time now, but there's some evidence that the tectonic plates are shifting a bit. The big question is whether SAP can cook up a certification plan that is on par with the efforts of Cisco Systems and Microsoft.

The need to improve SAP's certification process has been a hot-button issue in the enterprise community for some time now, but there's some evidence that the tectonic plates are shifting a bit. The big question is whether SAP can cook up a certification plan that is on par with the efforts of Cisco Systems and Microsoft.

SAP executives have talked a tough game about certifications for a while now, but the changes to the system have been incremental. Here's the problem: Some SAP consultants may have a wealth of knowledge and hundreds of implementations, but no certifications. Other consultants may not know a thing and botch implementations. Others may have a certification and be mediocre at best. It all gets really messy when customers, SAP and consultants are start pointing at each other. Bottom line: An IT buyer pretty much knows what he'll get when he employs someone with a Microsoft or Cisco certification. Finding SAP experts is a little trickier without a strong certification program.

It's not like SAP doesn't see the problem. Former SAP CEO Leo Apotheker got a little wound up a little more than a year ago. "I find it shocking people are walking around talking to customers and have no experience on [SAP]. [Consultants] get hired of people and have no clue. It’s annoying but that’s a fact. Let’s start by certifying people," he said.

Since that statement, changes have been incremental at best to the outsider (and probably the IT buyer). How does SAP get out of this pickle? The enterprise software giant may want to listen to its community.

A handful of SAP Mentors known as the Certification 5---including our own Dennis Howlett---has penned a 55-page whitepaper that's worth a read for anyone in the SAP ecosystem. A blog post on the SAP developer network outlines the issues. The paper breaks down the issue, the state of affairs, SAP certification shortfalls and recommendations to improve things.

The money quote:

Over-arching all our deliberations is the notion that being an SAP engineer is not something you do for a few years and then move on. More often than not, it is a lifetime's vocation. As such we believe that being an SAP certified engineer should be viewed in the same way you might view a qualified doctor, dentist, lawyer or accountant. It should be a mark of quality, reliability and assurance that implementations are in safe hands.

In a nutshell, here's a look at the issues and action items:

Issues

* Certification is perceived to bring little value to the hiring process and is not as trusted in the industry as it should be * Certification is slowly improving, but needs sweeping overhaul * The 3-tiered certification is still not available * Multiple choice question exams are currently the only method used to validate knowledge * Current certification does not recognize the process-oriented approach that ERP 6.0 is promoting

Recommended action items

* Tie certification more closely to relevant field experience and problem solving skills, especially at the professional level * Establish a certification 'influence council' of customers, partners, and community leaders * Provide a timetable for the now-postponed Master level certification * Help customers by educating them on how to evaluate and hire SAP professionals * Increase LOD offerings and strengthen online exam preparation

It's unclear whether SAP will follow these plans, but there are a few heartening things in the white paper. For starters, SAP has responded to criticisms and clarified a few things. In other words, there's a real discussion there. The other key point is that the SAP community is driving the dialogue.

To me the crux of the issue revolves around what SAP can do to make its certifications more Cisco-like. Cisco certifications carry a lot of weight and garner real demand in the IT marketplace. A key passage from the whitepaper:

One issue that re-occurs in implementations and hiring is the question of subject matter expertise. Cisco attempts to manage this through the establishment of specialized lines of certification. This is something we would expect to see SAP develop over time as it would better reflect customers’ needs, especially in the business process driven environment. It would also help define best practices for process solutions - something that is not easy to disseminate from today's available materials.

Whether it's online ratings systems or other techniques it's clear that the SAP certification process needs to improve. What's unclear is how fast these changes will happen. The whitepaper notes at the end that for all of SAP's flaws with certification its program may be better than Oracle's. If that's true then SAP would have some real incentives to use certification as a key selling point against Oracle.

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