Sunday, 22 August 2010

Call me certifiable

There is no question that the advent of the PC has made a huge difference to businesses. Over the last 20 plus years, we have seen the introduction of systems that are designed to improve the way that we operate. The PC promised more accurate information processing, better analysis, greater efficiencies, and faster communication. However, this came with a slight downside - unfortunately, there were not enough people that knew how the computers worked.

My youngest daughter has a book, and one of the quotes in it is "when she was good, she was very, very good; when she was bad, she was horrid!". There are a lot of people that work with PCs that could say the same of their systems - when they work well, everyone can operate them. But when things go wrong, you need to have someone that understands what is going on behind the scenes and rectify any problems.

However, a lot of people of that time that called themselves "IT staff" were just people that had turned a hobby into a job. Far too many of them knew enough to make it sound as if they were experts, but in reality, they relied upon the lack of knowledge of other people so that they could just BS the way thru a problem. Companies needed to have someone available to help fix problems, but they didn't know if a particular person actually had the right skills or not.

Over a decade ago, Microsoft introduced their MCSE certification. The idea was simple - produce a formal training and examination process that could offer organizations a way to see if a potential hire actually had the relevant skills. Others were doing the same - they all saw the value to their business model by offering customers a means of being more comfortable with their purchase, by knowing that people they employed had a minimum level of skills.

The problem was that the certifications then meant that some people could command higher salaries - and that then lead to the "brain dump" sites that offered people the chance to learn answers to specific questions, without necessarily knowing the product that well. These were followed by "boot camps" - places that could allow you to undertake intensive training for a week or two just to pass the exam. These lead to what became known as "paper MCSEs" - people that had the certification, but not the experience to go with it.

Since starting our SAP project, I've obviously taken more note of a lot of things that I see out on the Internet to do with SAP. Like a lot of people, I've seen the posts from people asking how they can get into SAP consultancy. I suspect that in most cases, they've heard that they earn a whole bunch of money from this and are hoping that they can a course or two, get a certification, then sit back and watch the dollars roll in. I don't know if there is such a phrase as "paper SAP consultant", but I think that such people are out there in abundance.

What worries me a bit is that I think this is more common than most realize - and as a result, we get consultancy firms charging their customers $1500 a day, but they then employ the newly qualified people on maybe half that. We were given the resumes of the consultants that we were to get which were satisfactory - but when we didn't get the experienced people that we were promised, we should have done something about it, certainly asked for more info on the people we did get.

As it happens, I have taken a couple of courses at an SAP Training center and I think that the quality of training there is very good. I have made a couple of my staff take courses and they have learned a lot - and there is no question that this will help us do our jobs better. But it worries me a little that one of my staff now has an SAP certification - although he has taken the courses and done a little bit of work on the product, I would question if he is really sufficiently experienced for him to be at that level. He could in fact leave to go somewhere else with that paper - but I wouldn't yet suggest that he is actually ready to become a consultant.

I've also noticed that this is an issue that concerns a lot of people within the SAP consultancy world - they see the poorly trained, barely certified people screwing up and giving them a bad rep. I can actually understand their concern over this and I think that it is good that is recognized as an issue. I think that SAP could do themselves a big favor by monitoring just what a lot of people with their certifications are doing out there - I think that they might not be too happy with what they find.

Now I don't pretend to have a complete answer to this problem - but I think that it would have to start with listening to some of the more experienced independent people. They are the ones that suffer the most from other people's poor performance, and they generally have less to gain by covering up problems.

I have a qualification on the wall behind my desk - it shows that I have undertaken a considerable amount of work over many years to achive a high standard in my work that hs been recognized by a prestigious institution. And yes, I am quite proud of that qualification as I am of the many others that I have obtained. I wouldn't mind adding an SAP certification into my collection - but only if I feel that it means something of real value, and not that it is just there to allow me to ask for an extra five hundred bucks a year.


  1. Thanks for this post - You probably know that I - Jon Reed - along with many other SAP Mentors follow your blog carefully, discussing it on Twitter and forwarding it to colleagues.

    It doesn't seem to me from reading this that you are aware of the Certification Five, a working group of five SAP Mentors including myself that have been actively engaging with SAP around improving certification. Our C5 end goal is for certification to have strong relevance to both hiring managers and SAP pros who seek a vigorous skills roadmap to aspire to. The dialogue is ongoing and we intend to see this through and are hopeful for a good result.

    But in the meantime, your post captured many of our sentiments, including: "I wouldn't mind adding an SAP certification into my collection - but only if I feel that it means something of real value..."
    Exactly. You have painted an accurate picture of the downsides to any situation, SAP or not, where a paper credential outweighs its true field value. Ultimately the field is where we are judged, and the closer a credential is to validating this, the more worthy of respect it is - or at least that's how I see it.

    Here is a link to our survey with some context:

    We're hopeful you will take the survey yourself and encourage your colleagues to do the same. You can do it anonymously and the results will influence our efforts.

    - Jon Reed

  2. Jon,

    I have to say that I am amazed at the number of people such as yourself that are following this blog. As I've said previously, initially, it was more a case that I wanted to blow off some steam at frustrations within the project, but I really would like to think that it will result in some good coming out of it all.

    I was aware that you, Denis Howlett and a couple of others were working on the certification topic (although I wouldn't have been able to say for definite what it was called) - as it happens, last Monday I came across your recent article on SCN on this topic.

    I hope that SAP take notice of the suggestions that you and the others are putting forward regards certification. I think that it can only be of benefit to SAP and anyone involved within the SAP community.