Posted by John Kleeman, Founder
I recently interviewed Ralf Kirchgaessner, SAP’s manager of global certification, about how the cloud is changing SAP certification. This is a shortened version of my conversation with Ralf. To read the full previously published post, check out this SAP blog.
John: What are the key reasons why SAP has a certification program?
Ralf: The overall mission of the program is that every SAP solution should be implemented and supported ideally by a certified SAP resource. This is to ensure that implementation projects go well for customers, and to increase customer productivity while reducing their operating costs. Customers value certification. In a survey of SAP User Group customers in Germany and the US, 80 percent responded that it was very important to have their employees certified and over 60 percent responded that certification was one of the criteria used to select external consultants for implementation projects.
John: What important trends do you see in high tech and IT certification?
Ralf: What comes first to the mind is the move to the cloud. Throughout the technology industry, the cloud drives flexibility and making everything available on demand. One aspect of this is that release cycles are getting quicker and quicker.
For certification, this means that consultants and others have to show that they are always up to date and are certified on the latest release. It’s not enough to become certified once in your lifetime: you have to continually learn and stay up to date. But of course if you are taking certification exams more often, certification costs have to be much lower. In some regions, people have to travel large distances to get to a test centre. With more frequent certification, it’s not practical to travel to a testing centre every time you take a certification. So our aim is to allow certification anytime and anywhere using the cloud.
John: How does online proctoring work for the candidate?
Ralf: A remote proctor monitors the candidate via a webcam, and there are a lot of security checks done by the proctor and by the system. For example, a secure browser is used, the candidate has to do a 360 degree check of his or her room, and there are lots of specific controls. For instance, you aren’t allowed to read the questions silently with your lips in case someone is watching or listening.
The great advantage to the candidate is flexibility. If someone says, “I’d like to do my exam in the middle of the night or on weekends because during the week I’m so busy with my project,” they can. They might say that they’d like to do their exam on Saturday afternoon: “After spending two hours playing with my kids, I’m relaxed to do my exam!” It’s such a flexible way to get certified and to quickly demonstrate that they have up-to-date knowledge and are allowed to provision customer systems.
John: Who benefits from certification in the cloud? Candidates, customers, partners or SAP?
Ralf: Of course, I think all benefit! Candidates have flexibility and lower cost. Customers can be sure that partner consultants who work for them are enabled and up to date. For partners, it’s a competitive advantage to show that their consultants are up to date, especially for new technologies like S/4HANA and Simple Finance. A partner is much more likely to be chosen to deploy new technologies if they can demonstrate that they have several consultants already certified in something that’s just been released. And for SAP, our goal is to have engaged consultants, happy partners and lower support costs. So everyone genuinely benefits.
John: What are some of the challenges?
Ralf: One example is that it’s important in cloud certification to get data protection right. SAP have very detailed requirements that we ensure our vendors like Questionmark meet.
Security is also a challenge. You need to prevent cheating and stealing questions. And interfaces and integration need to be right. We have worked out how we get the data from our HR systems, how people book and subscribe to exams and then how they can authenticate with single sign-on into the certification hub to take cloud exams.
The delta concept also gives challenges. You need very precise pre-requisite management logic, where the certification software checks for example that, if you want to take the delta exam, you have already passed the core exam. It also can sometimes be difficult to prepare a good delta exam, particularly if a new release has very specific or detailed features, including some that apply in only some industries.
Lastly, providing seamless support is a challenge when using multiple vendors. The candidate doesn’t care where a problem happened: he or she just wants it fixed.
John: Where do you see the long term future of high-tech certification? Will there still be test centres, or will all certification be done via the cloud?
Ralf: Test centres won’t disappear at once, but there is a trend of moving from classroom-based learning and testing to learning and certification in the cloud. The future will belong to anytime, anywhere testing. The trend is for test centre use to decline, but it won’t happen overnight!
John: If another organization is thinking of moving towards certification in the cloud, what advice would you give them?
Ralf: Ensure that you are aware of the challenges I mentioned and can deal with them. And do some pilots before you try to scale.