Community engagement: Introducing the SAP Mentors

Mentors are top industry practitioners that SAP cultivates into an identifiable and coherent group. This is their story.
Written by Michael Krigsman, Contributor on

SAP is a large, complicated organization with a vast array of programs, initiatives, and customer projects underway at any given time. As one would expect, some of these projects work well and others less so. This blog focuses on IT failures, so the emphasis is analyzing difficult customer engagements; for good reason, project failures like the Marin County lawsuit take center stage.

Still, these project failures tend to obscure excellent work in other parts of SAP. For that reason, it's worthwhile highlighting one of the best SAP programs with which I am familiar: the SAP Mentors.

Mentors are top industry practitioners that SAP cultivates into an identifiable and coherent group. These Mentors provide value to the SAP community through their willingness to share knowledge and experience; likewise, SAP benefits from the Mentor's feedback and advice.

I learned about the Mentor program when it was announced a few years ago. The first Mentors were top contributors to the huge SAP Community Network, which has over two million members. Given that scale, becoming a Mentor was, and remains, a significant achievement. Today, the program consists of about 100 members.

SAP's Chief Community Evangelist and the guy who runs the program, Mark Finnern, describes the Mentors:

SAP Mentors are the top community influencers of the SAP Ecosystem. All of them are hands-on experts of an SAP product or service, as well as excellent champions of community-driven projects.

In my personal experience, interacting with Mentors since the program's inception, members typically possess three key attributes:

  1. Refined technical skills
  2. Substantial practical experience in the field
  3. Willingness to share and the communication skills that make sharing possible.

I asked blogger Jon Reed to discuss what motivates Mentors to spend time with the program:

I've been an SAP Mentor since 2008 - I stick with it because at our best, the Mentors can move the needle at SAP through smaller project teams that exert influence on SAP's direction. There are many examples - one is the "Certification Five" team of Mentors I am a part of. We are in an ongoing dialogue with SAP about how SAP certification can become a meaningful credential for customers and individuals. Another group of Mentors, The Workflow Influence Team, is accomplishing important things with SAP Workflow product improvements, and the list goes on.

In a blog post written after the Mentors were invited to SAP's internal developer conference, Mentor Thorsten Franz added his own views:

Inviting members of the SAP community who are not SAP employees to a normally internal event is another powerful indicator of the “new SAP”. Allowing us a peek at the future of SAP technology will benefit everyone, as it will improve the quality of the community feedback and other impulses channeled through or originated by the Mentors.

Although SAP has generally done well so far with this program, the risk of marketing commercialization remains an issue. As the Mentors group gains increasing notoriety, SAP may be tempted to emphasize marketing at the expense of substance. Jon Reed explains:

Looking ahead, my biggest concern about the Mentor program is that we end up being perceived as a marketing channel for SAP when that is not the essence of our mission at all. Mentors at our best are free thinking (our motto is "open thinking") and that means challenging SAP and each other, not blasting vendor messaging. I hope we don't lose the anarchic energy of community advocacy because that is why the program matters.

My take. The Mentors program demonstrates community engagement and an unusual human touch in the enterprise software world.

I would like to see SAP extend the Mentors concept beyond technical information sharing to provide greater benefit to troubled customer implementations. While such a mandate is far beyond the program scope as currently defined, a mentoring system for implementations would be highly useful to customers.

[Image from iStockphoto]

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