My first job out of college was as a consultant for Accenture (ACN), still called “Andersen Consulting” in those days. And after a whirlwind six weeks of training that had nothing to do with ERP, I was designated an expert systems integrator on PeopleSoft, the ERP system later devoured by Oracle (ORCL). I learned what “ERP” meant about 36 hours before I showed up on my client’s doorstep.
Over the next several years, I worked on four so-called “full life-cycle” ERP implementations. Every one was delivered late, over budget, and with more bugs than a youth hostel in Bangkok.
Did the projects fail because I (and the tens of thousands of entry-level consultants in the same position) weren’t trained before our first assignments? ERP giant SAP (SAP) now thinks it’s a problem, and wants the so-called “experts” certified. SAP co-CEO Leo Apotheker:
ZDnet: “I don’t give a s**t if it’s Accenture or IBM. I care about the customer. I find it shocking people are walking around talking to customers and have no experience on [SAP]. [Consultants] get hired of people and have no clue. It’s annoying but that’s a fact. Let’s start by certifying people,”
Obviously I have a biased perspective as a former systems integration consultant, but there’s plenty of blame to go around for the problems that always come with ERP integrations. Yes, consultants who don’t know what they’re talking about are an issue, a problem clients can and should avoid by demanding to see resumes of integrators in any project proposal. But the underlying software is maddeningly complex and buggy (at least in the 90s, SAP had a reputation in the US for issuing error messages and critical alerts in German).
And then there’s the clients. SAP software in particular “wants” its users to run their businesses the “SAP way.” The core of most cost/time overruns stems from CIOs committing to ERP, but middle managers insisting after implementation is already well underway that the software be changed to accommodate legacy business processes rather than the other way around.
Ultimately, while the idea of certifications is an amusing conceit, we don’t think it will happen. Leo himself admits “we are not a university” and SAP can’t effectively manage a certification program.
And then there’s the business problem: It’s easy for Leo to talk a big game on the Internet about “not giving a shit” what IBM thinks. But SAP is hugely dependent on firms like PricewaterhouseCoopers or Ernst & Young to steer business its way. If SAP makes it difficult for its system integration partners to make money — which they do in part by sending inexperienced people to client sites — the firms will seamlessly redirect business towards ERP companies who will play ball, like Oracle.