SAP's Apotheker takes on shoddy consultants, certifications

SAP's Apotheker takes on shoddy consultants, certifications

Summary: In an animated--and sometimes tense--conversation with bloggers, SAP co-CEO Leo Apotheker said the software giant would step over a systems integrator if it would save an IT project. That comment, which was in response to multiple questions about the triangle between consultants, SAP and customers, illustrates how the enterprise application vendor is trying to end the days where it's a whipping boy for failed implementations.


In an animated--and sometimes tense--conversation with bloggers, SAP co-CEO Leo Apotheker said the software giant would step over a systems integrator if it would save an IT project. That comment, which was in response to multiple questions about the triangle between consultants, SAP and customers, illustrates how the enterprise application vendor is trying to end the days where it's a whipping boy for failed implementations. 

"I don't give a s**t if it's Accenture or IBM. I care about the customer. 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," said Apotheker. "If we believe [a project] takes 500 days and another partner says it's 5,000 days I'll do it for 500 and a fixed fee."

Despite that declaration, Apotheker (right credit Michael Krigsman) said he "can't boil the ocean" and the sometimes unhappy triad of customer, SAP and systems integrator can be complicated. The chat with Apotheker, which lasted about 45 minutes or illustrated a bit of a conundrum for me. On the surface, it would seem like a no brainer that Apotheker puts the customer first. What company doesn't say that? However, Apotheker's statement is news in the world of SAP implementations, which need a lot of things to go right between the customer, integrator and software vendor to work.     

Systems integrators: The model has to change

Vinnie Mirchandani, Michael Krigsman and Brian Sommer drilled down on the systems integrator issue, the need for certifications and making implementations easier--assuming customers are already on SAP's most recent enterprise application suite. The overarching theme focused on how do companies prevent IT project disasters, which can literally put an enterprise out of business in a downturn.

"How can you avoid a project failure? You boil it down and make it simple," said Apotheker, who argued that Business Suite 7 was a big step toward making upgrades easier. 

On certifications for consultants, Apotheker said they are necessary. SAP currently has certification programs, but SAP mentors--top players in the developer community--say the specifics are vague. Meanwhile, Business Suite 7 will add even more competencies to the equation. A developer could get certified on SOA, specific modules and processes and vertical industries. 

Dennis HowlettThe certification timebomb

Deal Architect: "I am mad and I will not take it anymore" Leo

How will this certification process be managed?

"It's a very hard question. We are not a university and it's not up to SAP to make a judgment on people's skills. We can only certify people on their knowledge," said Apotheker. "We will try to keep it at a reasonable level."

Certifications, however, aren't the only answer. There are legal issues over customer contracts with integrators--when can SAP jump in on a soon-to-fail project? "Everyone says it's a failed SAP project and we get the black eye. Annoyingly enough there's a contract between customer and system integrator. What I want SAP to do is to push on customer to be articulate to know what they really want and also push on the system integrator. I've written to customers that you need to do 1, 2, 3 or your project will fail."

"The loyalty is always to the customer. Period," said Apotheker. 

But when questioned whether that approach was actually practiced in the field amid relationships with big consulting firms, Apotheker got a little wound up. He denied the assertion that the customer may not always be front and center. 

"I've been in the field all my life. That monster out there is my creature. Loyalty is to the customer. The obligation is to the customer," said Apotheker noting that he has ended relationships with integrators over failed projects.  

"We're living in interesting times. SAP is going to dedicate a huge amount of effort to help customers to find ways to use technology to come out of this environment faster," said Apotheker. "I'm totally focused on it."

Also see: Is SAP really done with ’scary upgrades’ and ’sleepless night’ projects?

More on integrators and ERP:

Topics: SAP, Enterprise Software, Software

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  • Umm....

    Shouldn't that be your responsibility to begin with - to look out for your customer and to speak up if something is obviously wrong?
    • And there's the paradox

      strange happenings in ERP land sometimes
      Larry Dignan
      • Yet, as happens with most software producers...

        the customer is removed a layer by the consultancy company/resellar/VAR/integrator. The VAR is the customer of SAP with the end user (enterprise) as the customer of the VAR.

        So yes, this is new that SAP is jumping in front. Most other software producers do NOT do that (including Microsoft).
        No More Microsoft Software Ever!
  • RE: SAP

    To be fair, there are 3 separate areas where SAP migrations fail. First, quite often the customer has decided to do it, but undersells the complexity of their environment (mostly because of not knowing or flat out denial). There are also vendors who know that the situation is actually quite complex and still lowball it. SAP could also not be the right product or have the capabilities the customer needs.

    SAP migration failures can, and have, bankrupted companies and that negatively impacts SAP's bottom line. But, until you go into each and every migration, there is simply no way for SAP to know where the root cause is. Sometimes it is the customer. Sometimes it is the 3rd party vendor. Sometimes it is a combination of both. SAP is going to get stuck holding the bag in either of those conditions as well as in cases where they might be at fault. With sales flatlining, they *have* to be on top of this. Too many of the "Failed IT Projects" on this site and others have their name on it.

    While I generally dislike large IT migrations that are badly planned, I really can't fault SAP in this matter. They are almost always not the cause. This is actually long overdue.

    • Indeed...

      Often it's not SAP's fault. there are a lot of areas where these projects fail, but SAP gets hit with the blame. What SAP is saying in a nutshell is that it is trying to stop this via certs etc. The cert issue is very complicated--certifying every process is infinite--but I agree the SAP move is overdue and could be a positive development.
      Larry Dignan
  • He's serious? Then release Linux educational version...

    Ok, put your money where your mouth is and release a Linux single-user educational version of SAP so people can get experience with it.

    I mean, they have a closed, locked-tight proprietary system which no one can get experience with, and hold a lock-jaw grip on education, so demand is sky-high and pay is high. Naturally, everyone will parade as a SAP consultant to get the money.

    To fight this, let Joe User run SAP on his desktop and learn it. Then the supply of quality people who know SAP will rise, salaries will be moderating, and the mess fixes itself.

    Seriously -- if one or two big companies had funded an open source business platform alternative to SAP, instead of all these failed projects, there would be an open, stable platform for business applications right now and not all these big, expensive, failed projects.
    • I must admit.

      I *downloaded* sap via internet just for testing, and the whole thing is over 15gb.

      The problem with a "sap evaluation version" is that SAP (as company) earn a LOT of money for each certification, Microsoft Certification each exam is around $150 (and you don't need to pay for the course), Oracle, Cisco, Sun and much other are around the same number, SAP certification is around $10'000, and some SAP courses are less that 10 days.

      • Nope-SAP certifcation is the same as Microsoft.

        150.00 per course. You can get certified at Parsons.
        No More Microsoft Software Ever!
    • It's simply not enough to know the applications.

      The consultant needs decades of experience in the business world in order to fully understand the end customers business and THEN apply a software solution. Just know how to click a button to increase the level of inventory does nothing if you don't understand how to handle imported goods versus domestic, consignment, etc.

      Business experience is needed first - then the software experience follows.
      No More Microsoft Software Ever!
  • Symptom, not the disease

    SAP is a terrible piece of software. But then, so is windows. Plenty of companies run just fine on both. SAP implementations fail because most companies are lousy at IT. If you are lousy at IT and implement a small application and it has problems you can usually throw money at it or walk away without jeopardizing your company. If you try that with an all encompassing product like SAP you can end up in real trouble.
    • SAP is a wonderful software producer.

      The have hundreds of pieces of software. All do what they are designed to do. The trick is understanding what the customer wants and needs and how to utilize which pieces of software to get the job done.

      This is NOT your brothers point and click Microsoft solution.
      No More Microsoft Software Ever!
  • RE: SAP

    I have worked in SAP as an ABAP programmer for almost 14 years.
    Some of the worse programmers have been ones with ABAP certification.
    Some of the best have no formal qualifications at all.
    Just having the certification does not mean anything against experience.
    If I was looking for skilled consultants; certification would not be one of the first things I would look for.
    In my experience projects fail when companies try and get the cheapest consultants in regardless of other factors.
    Go for people who have consistently proved they can do the job.
  • That's only have the battle - The other part is cleaning their own house

    I agree that there is a strong need to clean house with a number of the SAP consultants running around with little or no experience. I used to think that my company had the knack for hiring them, but from everything I hear, it seems to be a rampant problem.

    But the bigger problem is SAP 'holier then thou', 'our software doesn't have issues' and 'That's a consultant issue' attitudes really adds to the issue.

    In the XI/PI platforms, the most fustrating thing is that they give you a standard go thorugh all of these steps of taking dumps and reading through notes to resolve the issue (most of which are not related) which you step through and go to them, but they never seem to figure out the issue, for the most part because they seem to be hiring from the same talent pool as the consultants. We close more ticket out of shear fustration then SAP actually resolving the issue.

    I think they need to step back and look at the quality of their own employees - and set an example.
    • I agree & more

      You right. I've been a SAP consultant for 12 years, independent for 10, and I've had the pleasure of working with more idiots (about 75 %) then those in the know.

      During the 90s when I started I experienced first class support. Now the whole company (SAP) has changed with the same mindset as their partners/system integrators. "Doing it as cheap as possible to maximise profit is the way to go and we'll chuck in a few catch phrases in to make it all sound sweet" IE: Their support is now managed by a bunch of dimwits whose job it seems is to frustrate the customer into giving up or paying for consultanting support. I've had many a battle with these idiots to get obvious system faults through to their development support team.

      Also, their consultants are picked from the same tree as the others (IE IBM, Accenture etc). Young, dumb, and degrees in everything but IT & common sense. Or old, lazy and still dreaming of the days when mainframes ruled.

      On a positive note there are still good consultants out there but they're diluted in the sea of clowns masquerading under the names of the big consultanting firms.

      My advice to SAP customers, stop playing safe (IE: when it f*#ks up they can always say "But we choose the world reknown partner)by choosing the big boys, do your research and shop around and you'll find you can run a smooth successful implementation with a small skilled team rather then dozens of fresh out of school monkeys bought in by the big brand names. As for SAP they encourage their customers to go with these firms and endorse them so they deserve a bit a stick every now and then.

      PS: Outsourcing ABAP development to cheaper development centres is a joke as well. Poor quality through & through.

      My apologies to any consultants who work for the big brands. If you feel you are talented my advice is get out on your own and get the recognism and money you deserve.

      And SAP SOA is another bit of nonsense they're trying to shove down the customers throat as fix all business solution.
      • I agree & disagree

        do your research and shop around and you'll find you can run a smooth successful implementation with a small skilled team.

        rather then dozens of fresh out of school monkeys.

        Believe me Mr. davhay, it is not the fresh school graduate problem, the problem is in the school itself, the problem is in SAP AG itself, they provide invaluable courses.

        Take yourself as an example, as I've stated in my post, you had to stay 10 years working SAP to gain necessary experience, and for you as an expert open any SAP press book or SAP course materials to rate it and see how they teach fresh people SAP, it is like a baby photo story magazines, and guess what, they all will succeed in the exam and all will be certified SAP consultants!!!

        I'm telling you that because one day SAP AG put me in the line to be one of those who you call them now monkeys, but believe me they teach you driving without allowing you to touch the steering wheel :(
  • RE: SAP

    He talks whilst SAP openly discriminates against consultants outside of the USA & Germany by barring them access to software - go figure
  • Certs are not the answer

    In my experience as a SAP consultant, Project Manager and hiring manager for over 10 years now, I ignore certs completely. Don't even put it on a resume if you want me to read it. That is not the fix.
    As one other commenter mentioned - start with SAP's own people. They need to be the top paid SAP experts and VERY closely & meticulously groomed to be the best. Otherwise they will always train folks, and see them fly to other 3rd parties for the $. I've run across some really bad hacks working for SAP but also know of other really good folks working there. The consistency of the people within SAP should be focus #1 and #2 should be paying them very well to ensure that top talent stays, grows, and keeps the business coming back to SAP.

    The real issue is not SAP software certification, but Business Process and Business Knowledge, and knowing how to bring those together with the software. Any hack can throw the config switches or create ABAP routines & exits to do things according to the software cert programs. That can still easily lead to failed implementations.
    • Bingo - We have kicked many "Certs" out the

      door. They can pass a test - but when it comes to practical design and what can the tool do not do - I love the blank face and the comment "let me go think on this" while they go back to the Hotel and consult all of the croonies (usually back in India) come back with a solution. know the Tool and understand the business model, and WHAT the customer wants. I have not used a tool yet that met our business model. We can't do development - have to use "off the shelf" packages. Project we are on now - we Tossed 15 BI "certified" experts..before we had to settle on 5...and they stunk!
      • Would a reputation-based cert work?

        I don't think you can get around the need for certs, but would some reputation rating feedback system be useful--probably on SDN somewhere.
        Larry Dignan
      • Its not about whom they ask..its whether they know their stuff !!

        If you guys could figure out any tough IT Project by yourselves, you would'nt need another set of IT / SAP chaps albeit from India or elsewhere...

        This is the reason why many of the US companies still cannot get the IT thing right by their inhouse geeks !