Why the SAP Mentor program sucks

Profile picture for user gonzodaddy By Den Howlett June 7, 2013
Summary:
The SAP Mentor program has been a great success and includes some of the smartest people I know. But now it needs to switch gears and more faithfully reflect the direction that SAP is taking.

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I am an SAP Mentor alum. I wore the shirt for some years and thoroughly enjoyed my time in that program. I got to meet some of the smartest, nicest people it has been my pleasure to discover. The list is too long to name but one jewel that came out of that program was the Certification Five meme. Another was the opportunity to meet and develop a relationship with Jon Reed who is both co-founder here and my business partner on JD-OD.com.

I continue to maintain relationships with many who are part of that program. It took me around the world. It does a tremendous amount of good in fostering new ideas and brings out the best in internal community like SIT: SAP Inside Track which has gone global since its inception by Nigel James and Darren Hague. It is instrumental in shaping the content for shows like Mastering SAP in Australia. It gets to influence the thinking of some of the highest placed executives inside SAP. Some have even graduated to taking on roles inside the company. But...

Nothing is perfect and I could throw many barbs at the program but I won't. That would be of little or no value. Instead I want to concentrate on a single aspect that really bothers me.

I tend to find that most (not all) SAP Mentors are myopic. They are often deep functional experts. That is an essential part of being good at one's job. Folk like Jarret Pazahanick know an insane amount about SAP HR. It's incredibly valuable in helping me understand what works and what doesn't, what needs to be beefed up and what's BS. I wouldn't swap those skills and knowledge for a second. But...and I am not taking shots at Jarret...but...

SAP is becoming a much bigger beast than the inward facing vendor so many of us have known in the past. The acquisition of Ariba opens it up to a much wider world. The upcoming hybris acquisition certainly changes the CRM space, expanding the business into marketing. What next? Payments processing? Merchant services? Whichever way SAP directs itself it is going to need two things I find lacking in the Mentor community.

  1. People who offer a more expansive view of the world. It won't be enough to say that you know a great deal about a single functional area or display special technical competence. As SAP connects up people outside of the administrative world, it will need Mentors capable of seeing a broader picture.
  2. Even if it did nothing more, the next big step for SAP has to be a significant expansion inside vertical markets. Yet I almost never hear Mentors talking about expertise in any particular market. This is a real miss because as the pattern of buying changes, I see a growing demand for industry expertise where communication in the language business wants is more important than any horizontal skill.

The standard Mentor response to these types of question tends to be: come over and see what we're saying. Fair comment, but that's an insular view at a time when the world wants to see more open communication. The solution is staring them in the face.

Over the last 18 months, Reed and I have met with, filmed and distributed some 64 stories around the SAP startup community. Here is a playlist of 34 from this year alone. Many of those stories talk to innovation that is way outside the usual SAP fare. We celebrate those innovations and yet I rarely hear how Mentors are learning from those examples, taking them to themselves, being inspired and coming forward with their own innovations that can in turn become valuable solutions. Why?

Rather than being a club of inward facing techies, I'd love to see an expansion that draws from the business innovation world, that invites participation from a world with which SAP sometimes struggles to connect. In short, I'd like to see the Mentor program lead and better reflect the world that SAP is starting to occupy. A continuation of the past is not an option.