I published an interview with Sue Martin of SAP (pictured right) for SCN in January (see Thought leader interview - SAP Certification Manager Sue Martin on Transforming the SAP Certification Programme) and last week I had the opportunity to catch up with Sue at the Educa Online conference in Berlin. During the year, SAP have re-organized their certification efforts into a single SAP-wide team and Sue now runs this team as Global Certification Director.
Sue was proud to let me know that SAP brought out the Gain a Competitive Edge with SAP HANA Certification from SAP Education in November, just four months after HANA went into General Availability. Criticism in the past of SAP certification is that exams used to come out a long time after product releases, and a key new initiative is to bring out exams soon after product release, to help get everyone up the learning curve.
This four months timespan was a record for SAP – both the learning for the certification and the certification were available in this timescale. The only way the Certification team could create the certification is with voluminous input from HANA experts, and I understand that this was a real collaboration effort between Consulting and Education – with some of the best and most knowledgeable HANA consultants made available to Education. I can only imagine the demand there must have been on HANA experts in the last few months (as everyone wants to roll it out), so this is a sign of how important SAP see certification and closing the skills gap.
And in case you think developing a certification is easy, it’s not! A lot of very careful measurement work is involved. To make a fair exam that genuinely assesses competence, it takes 100s of hours of expert work and review with many questions rejected and sent to the “cutting room floor”, and much analysis input to set a fair pass score for the exam.
SAP have also set up a Certification Influence Council to understand stakeholder needs. You can see some of the requirements from the Council below and how SAP are responding.
I should disclose here that the company I work for Questionmark provide the software technology that SAP use to author and deliver certifications. But I’m genuinely impressed at how the SAP certification programme seems to be starting to make a difference for SAP. I believe for instance that 95% of SAP’s internal consultants are now certified. Obviously certification does not on its own ensure that a team implements SAP technology correctly – it needs to be combined with practical experience and other skills, but having a certification helps ensure people know the facts and understand the system well. It mitigates project risk for all.
SAP partners and customers are in a very different world to how things were 5 years ago, and if the certification programme can demonstrate that its exams are valid and reliable, and certifications useful in the real world, it will be a major driver towards customer service and satisfaction. There is still much work to be done, for instance producing more HANA certifications, making the 4-month schedule routine for more new releases, moving towards the Master Certification and so on, but the new team seem to be making an important difference.
There is much speculation (see for example CIO magazine article here) that suggests SAP growth could be impacted by a skills gap. As SAP innovates, a key challenge is to get SAP’s own staff and customer/partner employees up to speed with the new technologies. Ultimately how well this happens and how well HANA and other innovations are deployed may be as important as how clever the innovations are in themselves. Education and certification efforts could go a long way to deal with the skills gap.