Time to Cut Class?

Integrators say ERP certification and training add value-but only in certain cases.

Enterprise resource planning (ERP) is a mature market that has seen dizzying ups and equally dramatic downs. So is it still worth getting certified on one or more of the key packages in this field?

The answer is a resounding "it depends."

Some of the variables to consider include your business model, the complexity of a given ERP product, and the experience level of your consultants. Another issue to consider is whether to seek certification on the commoditized core ERP product or the newer—and hotter—ERP extensions, such as supply-chain integration.

Dave Miller, solutions development manager and regional ERP practice manager in the Atlanta office of Stonebridge Technologies, doesnt place much emphasis on ERP certification. His company consults with C-level clients (CIOs, CEOs, etc.) on ERP matters and delves into business-process analysis.

"We dont rely a lot on certification," Miller says. "We sell on been there, done that."

Miller says clients are more impressed with industry expertise and experience than whether a consultant holds a piece of paper. "Clients dont put a lot of weight on certification," he notes.

But Miller says the value of certification may be much different for a services company that hires out skill sets to deal with specific tasks, such as managing databases. In that case, certification "demonstrates that you understand the material" and becomes "a résumé item for putting out fires in more technical work."

Certification may also prove more useful with complex ERP products, according to Miller. Certification on SAP, for example, "may hold more weight … because of its complexity," he adds.

Score Big With ERP Extensions

Ed Williams, VP of management consulting at Plaut Consulting Inc., says the value of certification varies with the maturity of a given technology. As a product matures, certification by itself is less valuable.

"Its not as big a differentiator and wont command as much of a premium."

He says ERP certification helps, but adds that product experience and vertical industry expertise are key.

On the other hand, integrators may find more value in getting certified on applications that extend ERP beyond an organizations four walls. Industry executives say supply-chain management, customer relationship management, product life-cycle management (PLM) and business intelligence represent high-growth areas. "ERP vendors with critical extension applications ... will see the most sales growth," states a recent AMR Research report. Those extensions will overtake the size of the core ERP market in 2005, the report predicts.

"Thats where certification could make more of a difference," says Williams, referring to the ERP extensions. Williams points to PLM, which involves the collaborative design and introduction of new products, as the least mature of the extension products. AMR projects a nearly fivefold increase in the PLM market between 2001 and 2005, when the market is expected to hit $8.1 billion.

Dave Boulanger, research director for enterprise management at AMR Research, says PLM is important to customers because 70 percent of a products total cost is "locked up" in design and engineering.

Never Enough Time?

For companies looking to certify employees, the major obstacle appears to be time.

Certification on Oracle Applications, for example, may take two to three weeks per certification, Miller says. And individuals seeking master-level certification may need three to five certifications. Translation: Expect employees seeking higher levels of certification to be out of the lineup for six weeks.

"To take a good consultant out of the billability realm for six weeks is just not possible," Miller says. He notes that Oracle once offered Stonebridge free certification under a pilot program, but Stonebridge decided it couldnt afford the time.

Plauts Williams says SAP certification can take a few weeks to a few months depending on how many components and extensions are involved.

The monetary cost of certification varies depending on the certification track. But in general, ERP vendors typically charge about $500 per training day. The certification exams cost about $200 each.

While consultants are somewhat ambivalent about the value of certification, ERP vendors say certified consultants can be billed out at higher rates. "Our expectation is that all certified consultants are billable at a higher rate; for J.D. Edwards consultants, this is the case," says Philip Koneman, certification manager at J.D. Edwards.

The bottom line: Its up to the individual consulting shop to weigh the investment against the potential return. Results may vary, especially during a soft economy.