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SAP's Apotheker takes on shoddy consultants, certifications

The enterprise software giant is trying to end the days where it's a whipping boy for failed implementations. The key question: How do you avoid a project failure?

In an animated--and sometimes tense--conversation with bloggers, SAP co-CEO Leo Apotheker said the software giant would step over a systems integrator if it would save an IT project.

That comment, which was in response to multiple questions about the triangle between consultants, SAP, and customers, illustrates how the enterprise application vendor is trying to end the days where it's a whipping boy for failed implementations.

SAP's Leo Apotheker.
SAP's Leo Apotheker. Michael Krigsman via ZDNet News

"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," said Apotheker. "If we believe (a project) takes 500 days and another partner says it's 5,000 days I'll do it for 500 and a fixed fee."

Despite that declaration, Apotheker said that he "can't boil the ocean" and that the sometimes unhappy triad of customer, SAP, and systems integrator can be complicated. The chat with Apotheker, which lasted about 45 minutes or illustrated a bit of a conundrum for me. On the surface, it would seem like a no-brainer that Apotheker puts the customer first. What company doesn't say that? However, Apotheker's statement is news in the world of SAP implementations, which need a lot of things to go right between the customer, integrator, and software vendor to work.

Vinnie Mirchandani, Michael Krigsman, and Brian Sommer drilled down on the systems integrator issue, the need for certifications and making implementations easier-assuming customers are already on SAP's most recent enterprise application suite. The overarching theme focused on how do companies prevent IT project disasters, which can literally put an enterprise out of business in a downturn.

"How can you avoid a project failure? You boil it down and make it simple," said Apotheker, who argued that Business Suite 7 was a big step toward making upgrades easier.

On certifications for consultants, Apotheker said they are necessary. SAP currently has certification programs, but SAP mentors--top players in the developer community--say the specifics are vague. Meanwhile, Business Suite 7 will add even more competencies to the equation. A developer could get certified on SOA, specific modules and processes and vertical industries.

How will this certification process be managed?

"It's a very hard question. We are not a university and it's not up to SAP to make a judgment on people's skills. We can only certify people on their knowledge," said Apotheker. "We will try to keep it at a reasonable level."

Certifications, however, aren't the only answer. There are legal issues over customer contracts with integrators--when can SAP jump in on a soon-to-fail project? "Everyone says 'It's a failed SAP project' and we get the black eye. Annoyingly enough there's a contract between customer and system integrator. What I want SAP to do is to push on customer to be articulate to know what they really want and also push on the system integrator. I've written to customers that you need to do 1, 2, 3, or your project will fail."

"The loyalty is always to the customer. Period," said Apotheker.

But when questioned whether that approach was actually practiced in the field amid relationships with big consulting firms, Apotheker got a little wound up. He denied the assertion that the customer may not always be front and center.

"I've been in the field all my life. That monster out there is my creature. Loyalty is to the customer. The obligation is to the customer," said Apotheker, noting that he has ended relationships with integrators over failed projects.

"We're living in interesting times. SAP is going to dedicate a huge amount of effort to help customers to find ways to use technology to come out of this environment faster," said Apotheker. "I'm totally focused on it."

See also:

• Systems integrators: The model has to change

• Is SAP really done with 'scary upgrades' and 'sleepless night' projects?>

• SAP adds enterprise 2.0 features to latest suite; Twitter meets ERP

• SAP BusinessSuite 7: Twittery clouds?

• SAP touts modular approach; Launches Business Suite 7

• Lemons into Lemonade - Business Suite 7