Squaring the SAP certification and maintenance circle

The Great Certification Debate as I like to call it has been kicked off among SAP Mentors [disclosure: I am an SAP Mentor] and beyond. How that gets articulated over time remains to be seen but to me it is inextricably linked to both project success and lower TCO.

The Great Certification Debate as I like to call it has been kicked off among SAP Mentors [disclosure: I am an SAP Mentor] and beyond. How that gets articulated over time remains to be seen but to me it is inextricably linked to both project success and lower TCO. It appears that SAP wants to at least touch base with the Mentor community as the certification story unfolds even though that community is deeply divided on likely value.

It's almost impossible to talk about SAP these days without introducing the M-word: maintenance. The latest entrant to this debate, Michael Doane a 35 year veteran of the enterprise IT scene, makes the argument that homogeneity in customer treatment is a bad thing. I agree. He calls for a return to the days when Centers of Competence could obtain a preferential rate of (the then) 15% compared to 17% on offer at the time based upon the following attributes:

  • Outsourced help desk – reduces the volume of annoyance calls to SAP through improved routing and service
  • High level or outsourced Basis administration – idem
  • Internal Center of Excellence with a strong focus on user competency and robust functionality
  • High level of participation in ASUG or ASUG-like client-to-client support and sharing of best practices
  • Full compliance with SAP upgrade policy (it is obvious that a 4.7 client is more of a burden than a 6.0 client)

For the SAP client base, Michael has this to offer:

...some firms are playing within reasonable boundaries and others are a shameless mess. Short of instituting an as-you-go maintenance fee (dream on), SAP should strongly consider rewarding its best and most disciplined clients with some sort of break. Clients, ask your SAP rep about this and see if you get a better answer than those given the analysts.

There are two ways to make money: reduce cost or get extra income. SAP is going the 'extra income' route but in my mind is not thinking clearly about the value to be derived from lower cost. It already gets significant benefit from the SAP Community Network which provides thousands of workarounds, tips and tricks alongside the more straightforward repetitive 'how to's.' SAP doesn't have to pay for that except insofar as maintaining the community site.

Articulating a sensible certification program in which everyone can have confidence would be a powerful first step to holding out the Center of Excellence carrot with which SAP could offer preferred terms. It would also allow it to do the one thing at which it has singularly failed - get a grip of the ecosystem and the SI's in particular. How might that work?

I have what I believe is a simple solution offering. Develop a center of excellence tied to certification, making sure you devleop at least one person as a potential SAP Mentor and you qualify for preferred terms. The SI's cannot object because to hinder such development would imply a hidden cost. Including the SAP Mentor requirement is a neat idea because if my experience is anything to go by, these folk are not only super smart, they're fanatical about what they do and proud of their achievements. They're the real SAP champions so their value to customers is immense.

SAP would need to ensure that CoE's are accountable and auditable. They do that with regard to licenses so why not on the skills front?

SAP wins because it derives income from the course and testing processes in the short term while signaling to the market that it is prepared to act fairly. Customers cannot object because it should be possible for both sides to demonstrate reduced burden of cost once you've got over the hump of developing skills. Right now, SAP is trying to negotiate KPI's with customers to justify the increased maintenance costs. Sadly, I find precious little evidence that's likely to work given the 'jam tomorrow' sense I get from talking to people about Solution Manager.

In the alternative, CIOs would be happy because they get to demonstrate value from SAP investments. SAP should end up with happier customers and happy customers usually present repeat buy opportunities.

These proposals help to weed out dead wood and under performers. They also act as the catalyst for the kind of vendor/customer partnership envisaged by Ray Wang, Forrester analyst.

Some customers argue that their 'steady state' 4.6-7 implementations are just fine. OK. Let them go to third party maintenance providers willing to take on the pain, reducing internal SAP support costs in the process. When those customers are ready to move on then they can always return to SAP under fresh terms.

This might not appeal to SAP executives who have pinned their future on an ever rising maintenance stream in competition to Oracle. It's also a path where predicting revenue is a tad harder. But it can't be any harder than the executive cycles being spun trying to convince customers they will achieve value. Sometimes you have to give a little to get a lot. This is one of those occasions.

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