I feel very strongly about education and hope that some day I will be in a position to contribute back to the educational institutions that helped me on the road to where I am today. It is the main reason why I have a deep amount of respect for the founding father of the industry I work in, Hasso Plattner.
Hasso invests millions of his personal fortunes from the software industry into philanthropy including education in Germany and this is deeply, deeply important to the world. Today's children will lead tomorrow's world and anything we can do to help them along the way is important.
And so it is that I wonder how the organisation that he built, SAP, misunderstands education so much. Marcus Schwarz, the SVP of Global Education at SAP wrote a blog on SCN this week and I am shocked by his apparent lack of comprehension of the area he leads and deeply impressed by the community reaction: nearly 3000 views and 48 comments, mostly calling him out. Let's break out the key points:
What should Education achieve in a Software Company?
This is pretty straightforward - increase the number and quality of implementations of that software by:
1) Improving the gene pool of individuals in the ecosystem
2) Helping create supply in the ecosystem to meet demand
3) Ramping up knowledge on new products to aid adoption
Good quality implementations ensure market success, create happy customers and sell more software. It's as simple as that.
What's wrong with education within SAP?
Again the problems are pretty simple and detailed in the comments to the blog above, but to summarise:
1) Partners and customers do not value or demand certified resources
2) There is no correlation between certification and quality but there can be a correlation between certification and poor quality in some cases
3) There is no correlation between certification and personal success or salary
4) Many certifications are woefully out of date and do not attack the relevant new technologies
5) Exam questions are often pulled from training materials and multiple-choice so easy to learn by rote
Where is education done well within SAP?
I shared a taxi to SAP's conference in Orlando last week with the COO of the SAP Community Network (this site is run by them), Chip Rogers and we had a really interesting conversation about education. I realised here that there is one place where it is done better than anywhere else and that is in the event he helps run, SAP TechEd. The consultants in my group clamour to get there and with good reason: good quality, focussed content, created and delivered by the people that wrote the software.
The reason why SAP TechEd works so well is because it is run by a bunch of people that get education. I'm not going to name names because I will miss people but you know who you are! What is more, TechEd is essentially run like a charity: it is self-funding from the ticket sales but not expected to bring serioius revenue to the organisation. This is very important because running it like a profit centre would alter the behaviour.
Why is education done badly everywhere else?
Simple: they are targeted on profit and number of certified consultants. This is a losing strategy because it causes behaviour in diametrical opposition to my points above. If you read Marcus' blog and the comments below this, you will see that the ecosystem is not bought into SAP Certification and it is considered the joke that Microsoft's MCSE programme was 15 years ago.
What should SAP do about it?
5 SAP Mentors: Dennis Howlett, Jon Reed, Leonardo de Araujo, Martin Gillet and Michael Koch went there already and wrote a 54 page white paper on this that nails it and I am not going to redo their fantastic primary research so I suggest you read "SAP Certification, a Fresh Perspective" if you want the detail. But here would be my high level points:
1) Move education within the Communities & Social Media business unit under Global Marketing, not Field Services.
2) Remove the revenue and profit targets and make it self-funding. The benefit you will get from better consultants will sell more software. Who cares about a few dollars of training revenue?
3) Listen to what the C5 said and implement their suggestions. They are still valid now. And look at what Microsoft did to turn their program around.
4) Focus on online training not classroom training. This is lower revenue but easier to change.
5) Focus on Fraud with an identification scheme, not training requirements. Create smart-card SAP Photo ID or whatever.
What about developer engagement?
One thing i realise after I wrote this blog (thanks Dennis for making me think of it) is how certification and education are tightly linked to developer engagement. SAP is starting to lead the Enterprise IT market in developer engagement (or so I would like to think :-) ) and started with its click through licenses, free trials, free InnoJams and stuff like this.
Education strategy should be done by the same group of people - they are closely linked and would benefit to be aligned. People on the Twitterstream have suggested things like customer feedback on consultants for certification, or getting rid of certification all together as it is no longer relevant in 2012. I'm not sure what the answer is but I think that trailblazing on this would make SAP the dominant enterprise software vendor. The opportunity is huge.
What's more perhaps the concept of 4 huge TechEds a year is outdated too? The operational reality of this needs thinking about and I'd be interested to see what Philippe Rosset has to say on this but perhaps that whole conference series news to happen at the same pace that SAP product is being developed. More conferences, more locations, smaller audiences. TechEd has turned into monster that can only be hosted in a few locations around the world and that is a great vibe, but perhaps it is time to do something different?
I know this blog is going to upset a lot of people - particularly those people in SAP Education who are trying to make a difference and clearly those people do exist. The problems are around strategic direction and not about your passion or ability to do your job.
What's more there is passion in the community to do something about this that has so far been trampled on. Just looking at the comments from people like Tammy Powlas, Martin English, Tom Cenens, Paul Hawking, Jarret Pazahanick, Leonardo Araujo, Jon Reed, Vijay Vijaysankar, Tom Van Doorslaer, Dennis Howlett, Joshua Fletcher and Bill Wood, you will see how much people care. This can easily be turned into engagement and a positive outcome.
And I would like to give respect to Markus for engaging with the community and writing his blog - it has stimulated a fantastic discussion. I am disappointed that he threw his employees under the bus and left Mary Bazemore and Susan Martin to respond to all the comments which suggests that either he didn't write the blog or didn't want to properly engage. Either way the ensuing discussion has been really interesting.
And one final note...
Hasso - charity begins at home!