As is the duty of most SAP Mentors, I was having some tweets late one night with fellow SAP Mentors John Appleby, Tammy Powlas, and Jocelyn Dart. A simple question came up; what is a Platinum Consultant?
Since this started with John's question, I'll keep to a Q&A format. My answers mostly reflect my own experience from applying to the group though that was back in 2000 and like most groups, I'm sure certain elements have changed.
First, what is the Platinum Group?
SAP has its own professional services organization (aka, consulting). Like most other consulting groups, SAP has consultants of all types and areas of focus. But for those of you that don’t work in consulting, it might come as news that the typical career of a consultant is somewhat limited. By that I mean that once a consultant reaches a senior level in terms of their knowledge of the area they focus in… well, there isn’t much else for them to look forward to at that point if their goal is to continue working directly on the product. As a result, a lot of talented and experienced consultants move on to other engagement roles (i.e., Project Managers) or leave consulting entirely in order to further their career. This creates a knowledge drain on the consulting organization. As the vendor, SAP has a unique responsibility to deliver answers to some extremely tough questions/situations where a customer (or even an entire industry) don’t initially adapt to SAP’s solution. Some of these situations can task even the most senior resources so it’s critical that they keep their most talented and experienced resources within consulting.
As a response to this situation (and most likely some other factors as well), SAP created the Platinum group with the goal to provide a better career path for those senior experts and to better service their customers. I believe it was created sometime around 1995.
What is a Platinum Consultant?
The mission of a Platinum consultant is multi-faceted. Platinums are, first and foremost, very knowledgeable about their area of focus within SAP. The group was meant to represent the top 5% of SAP’s consulting force; it's a level above the traditional Senior or Principal consultant. The consultants generally span all functional and technical areas of SAP. If SAP has a product or industry focus, there is a Platinum consultant somewhere who specializes in it.
However, Platinum consultants are not limited to just providing typical system-based consulting. As SAP customers and the industry have changed over the years, it is not enough to just have superior product knowledge. The best consultants also must be change agents who can help customers architect new business solutions, solve problems, and continually help their customer extract more value out of their SAP solution. The requirements of a Platinum consultant reflect this.
Another way to describe them is that they are thought leaders within their area. They are well connected to the product managers who mine the market for new solution opportunities, the developers who develop the solution, the trainers who author the training classes and educate the masses, and other consultants who help implement and service it. All the while, helping drive the solution forward. This type of work requires (again) product expertise but also a diverse business consultant skill set.
What does it take to be a Platinum Consultant?
In terms of process and time, the application into the Platinum group is quite lengthy. For me, the whole process took nearly a year and most of my colleagues at SAP America had similar experiences. I'm sure that the program is run differently in EMEA and other regions... but in the US, the criteria is specific and difficult to qualify for.
The qualifications cover a wide range of areas and map to the requirements of the job. The typical candidate had to have shown
- Superior product knowledge. As I said above a few different times, the group is meant to be a level above a senior consultant.
- Experience. Just like other parts of the SAP industry, there is a minimum number of years’ experience that you need on the product. You also need a certain number of years’ with the company… even if you’re an XYZ expert and you’re recently hired, you probably don’t have much of a network within SAP (Development, Sales, etc.) to provide as much value as a customer would expect from a Platinum. You also need full-time implementation experience, the ability to work on multiple projects in parallel, and handle customer escalations.
- Certification. When I applied for the Platinum group back in 2000, having an SAP or industry certification was merely a ‘nice to have’ item but it has become increasingly more important. SAP also wants their Platinums to be certified/trained on internal initiatives such as their Ramp-Up Program.
- Recommendations. You have to be nominated by two of your peers and one mentoree. Honestly, this isn't easy because you naturally want the recommendations to come from two senior and respected consultants (i.e., other Platinums). But senior consultants aren't always diligent about doing paperwork... they’re plates are already full with the stuff that they get paid to do. It was a lot easier for me to get the required client recommendations. Also, one management level recommendation was required (in addition to your direct manager).
- Non-Consulting Activities. SAP wants it’s Platinums to wear a variety of hats so they will only admit consultants that have done activities in addition to their direct 9-to-5 consulting. In my case, I had taught SAP courses, participated in sales activities (answered some difficult questions that the sales staff couldn't) and done several rounds of testing new R/3 release functionality in Walldorf. I also had written whitepapers and presented at internal and external conferences (ASUG). Back in 2000, this wasn't easy to do since there weren't any online resources to assist in building your presence within the company or the global SAP community. I suspose it's a bit easier now. In total, these activities help prove a candidate’s well roundness and their ability to do the same for their customers.
- Network. The greater and more diverse the network, the stronger the consultant is and the better they are able to serve their customers.
What are they required to do?
The benefit to being a Platinum is that you can continue to work full time as a product expert / consultant. If you want to work solely in consulting and working at a customer site for 40-50 hours a week, you can do so.
But Platinums are also expected to be multipliers. i.e., they are expected to help teach and mentor other consultants, participate in industry activities (TechEd, ASUG, SAPphire, SAP Financials Conference), etc. In many ways, your skills have to be leveraged across a larger group. You must continue to abide by the same criteria required for admission into the group.
So... why is this all important? What is the value proposition to using a Platinum consultant?
It’s been said that you hire a consultant for two reasons; 1) their knowledge, and 2) their network. As I mentioned above, the number one criteria for a Platinum is their product expertise. They need to have legitimately expert level knowledge in their area of focus above what one would expect from a Senior consultant. But since no one person has done anything and everything even with just a single module of SAP, Platinums tend to have extensive networks throughout SAP. They tend to know the Developers who wrote the solution they focus in, the trainers who author and teach the classes for that area, the sales personnel who sell it, and maybe even those in AGS who support it. The larger your network within SAP, or now, the global SAP community, the better.
Note: I worked for SAP America for 10 years, the last 5 as a Platinum Consultant. I left the program and SAP in 2006 and I expect that the program has changed in some ways.