Is philanthropy in education dead or just sleeping? Technology education changes here.

We live in a world where paid education is the norm. We pay for education, and once we’ve done that, we pay some more so that we can be tested to prove that we learnt what we paid to learn.

But it wasn’t always that way. Education has philanthropy built into its past and places like Cambridge University were formed from giving of money:

After disagreement between the scholars and the Brethren of the Hospital, both requested a separation.[4] As a result, in 1284 Balsham transferred the scholars to the present site with the purchase of two houses just outside the then Trumpington Gate to accommodate a Master and fourteen “worthy but impoverished Fellows”. – Wikipedia

But over the last 50 years, education has become more bite-sized and more about feeding information than feeding the soul. I remember clearly languishing in the doubt of Britain’s educational system at the age of 16 – lamenting the quality of exams that we were about to take, as compared to the exam scripts of the 1970s. From what I read in the papers, it’s only got worse.

HANA Distinguished Engineers

Earlier this year, SAP’s CTO Vishal Sikka and Steve Lucas asked for a new program to be setup to help the adoption of their new product, SAP HANA. But this isn’t an article about technology, so who cares what HANA is. At the core of this, the HANA Distinguished Engineer Program, is a council – made of SAP’s David Hull and Michael Eacrett, IBM’s Vijay Vijaysankar, Deloitte’s Harald Reiter, Jon Reed of, and yours truly.

Part of this program is a scheme by which we will allow the community to provide recognition for quality resources – to allow customers and employers to trust a consultant, contractor or potential employee in advance. The other half relates to education.

We don’t need no education

One of the things that we realised early on was that the quality of education and certification available was insufficient for customers to be able to vet people. What’s more, because of the pace of change in technology, the course content and exams were symptomatically out of date. It’s not possible to update training content out into regions as fast as technology changes – a fact corroborated by colleague and ex-Physics teacher Neil Bundy, who made the same comment as relates to his course content.

We also noted the Khan Academy, setup by educator Salman Khan to enable people who can’t afford education but do have access to a computer, to learn just about anything in bite-sized chunks.

What’s the risk of doing nothing?

Simple: project failures. SAP expects to do a truckload of HANA deals this year – far more than the current ecosystem can support. The marked must be up-skilled with quality individuals fast, and this is more than just a training course – it’s project ready consultants. Get this wrong and 2013 could be the year of the project failure.

The HANA Academy

And in here, we believe that we may have found the solution in the HANA Academy. Bite-size chunks of learning, available for 100% free.

Actually instead of the fee you pay and time you spend on learning material and examinations, you will invest time into the community and time creating material for the community. There is no such thing as a free lunch.

We don’t know quite what it’s going to look like yet – this is a work in progress – but those that create good content and customer projects will get social media badges. Those with guru status will be given fast cars*. Or something like this.

Educational Philosophy

And this is where I’m a bit concerned. Society has conditioned the global populous to pay for training and education – they are paying for content creation. And by creating this vision, we are turning it on its head and telling the community they will pay by creating content, not for it.

Now those of you who have read Eric Raymond’s The Cathedral and the Bazaar, or are familiar with Richard Stallman, will realise that this is not unfamiliar with the Open Source Software movement. That’s the free-to-share-and-change software that runs Android Phones, and everything else to your Microwave Oven. And for that matter, the underpinnings of SAP HANA.

In the OSS model, you are free to take, amend and update open software. And in doing so, you give back your contribution, in many cases. In other cases you can keep your specific Intellectual Property.

And so, this might be similar enough to the HANA Academy program that it can fly. But there is one major fly in the ointment: the large company.

Big companies don’t like to share

Within the SAP ecosystem there are some 2-3 million people, depending on how you count it. Accenture has 224k employees, Deloitte 184k, IBM 433k, Cap Gemini 120k and Atos 73k. Wipro have 135k, TCS have 244k and T-Systems a mere 48k. Despite not all these employees working in this ecosystem, do you get the idea?

Despite this, most of these companies do not have a culture of sharing information – especially with the community. We used to be able to get the statistics about sharing from the SAP Community Network but it’s no longer available. I recall noting that Cap Gemini did actually very well but even still the total contribution to the community from my company was nearly the same, with 1/500th of the employee count. IBM and Deloitte were skewed by a small number of very high net contributors like Vijay and Harald.

What next?

I don’t think there’s a workable alternative to this community approach. Will the big integrators come on board? For my money, they will have to, if the market demands it. They are opportunistic in their nature and they will do what is required. But I don’t see them supporting the movement.

For me what’s beautiful about this program is that it has the capacity to change the technology education market in the same way that the Khan Academy has for mainstream education. That’s a pretty special place to be.


A lot of credit is due here. First to Jon Reed, for complaining about me not crediting for things, as well as being a sounding board and co-conspiritor. David Hull, Lloyd Palfrey and Neil Bundy for being part of the conversation. And in each case, moving it forward.

And to Vishal Sikka for cannibalising a declining €304m Education business unit so that the ecosystem can support what the financial markets expect may be as much as a €1bn revenue stream in 2013. That takes balls, and it’s the right call.

References: Training Revenue is €473m, less €169m from Sybase 365 = €304m in 2011 (down 25% from 2007).

* Allegedly

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9 Responses to Is philanthropy in education dead or just sleeping? Technology education changes here.

  1. Excellent blog, John – as always.

    You raise an important point on whether SIs will jump in. I think they will lag. The reason is simple – not that they don’t want to share. It is because almost all of them have thriving internal communities where their contributions give them tangible rewards in career. I hate reward systems for community contributions – and I have been sick of SCN points systems. But it is an open secret that some SIs used SCN points as performance yardstick. And it created a lot of bad behavior, and turned many people off.

    SIs play in a market where differentiation is key. So their natural tendency is to play cards close to their chest. I think this is a terrible strategy. Most employees in an SI would have worked for a competitor any way. And there are only so many “secrets” you can keep about technology. As more SIs understand this , they will start jumping in. “External eminence” is slowly catching up in SI world – more slowly than I anticipated. I do expect this to accelerate over time.

    Oh and one more thing – it was not the actor Salman Khan who set up Khan academy. The actor dude is still making millions in bollywood. This is a different Khan.

    • John Appleby says:

      Well then Vijay you have a change to bring in IBM. Value external contribution higher in terms of career rewards. I’ve looked into the IBM review process and I think it would be able to absorb this really easily. Here’s your challenge 🙂

      Damn my mistake!:)

      • External eminence is valued to a great deal – but it is not in the very top. I think that is changing quite fast. My own career got good things happen to it because of external contributions – so I am sure this will only get better

    • Vital BI says:

      Sorry, but for me every problem is multifaceted, and probably this is no monolithic thing as SIs. One: there are huge SIs, and the rest. Huge SIs are busy and lazy, and over-organized with 20 pages of “Social Media policy”. But small SIs are active, because it is a way for them to get into the “huge” league. Therefore we should expect more contribution from these guys.
      Second: it’s all about people. I bet everyone of us knows lots and lots of extremely competent and knowledgeable folks, who have never contributed a bit to community. It was not because of corporate belief, but because of their personal approach to keep the knowledge for themselves, because of seeing their environment as highly competitive, or because of being afraid to make a public mistake – it does not matter. I know people who hold information for themselves, because they believe this makes them non replaceable in the company, and so allows to protect their employment.
      My personal approach always was, that if I share what I know and make my current knowledge common, then this motivates me to move and make next step in growing my knowledge above what is common 🙂

  2. Very good article and longer term this could disrupt the SAP Education group in a good way. I think Vishal deserves a lot of credit for seeing the bigger picture and green lighting this as well as selecting some of most respected voices such as yourself , Vijay, Harald Reiter, David Hull and Jon Reed to be part of the council.

    On a side note interesting point on “Big companies dont like to share” as it something I see first hand in the SCN HCM space as most of the contributors are SAP Niche Consulting companies, independent or SAP. There have been less than 5 SAP HCM or SuccessFactors articles this year by ACN, IBM, Deloitte, CAP all combined even though they all very large HCM practices (to put in perspective I have written about 20) 🙂

    • Vital BI says:

      Jarret, I should have read your comment first, before repeating the same in my comment above 🙂
      On the disrupting or cannibalizing the formal education by community academies: I doubt, and this is why. I regard official education courses as being 100% wide, even if not 100% deep. If you ever taught official course, or if you talked to course instructors, you know that these courses are giving the broader view, remind about the options not normally used on the projects. Official courses are best after you get some experience, because it helps to structure your knowledge, and most of us are chaotic by nature.
      Community academy is spotted. And that’s Ok, because it adds the depth to the official course.

      • Bala Prabahar says:

        You nailed it Vitaliy. Official courses give broader view, discussing the options not normally used on the projects. I wonder why most of them are not used on the projects. Could ignorance be one of the reasons why they’re not used or complacency? There are several kinds of people, some learn by doing, a few learn by reading, some learn by contrubuting, others learn by listening, a few others learn by doing all/some of the above. No right or wrong answer. Pick whatever works for you and move on. SAP community seems to think one kind of people is better than the other!

  3. Vital BI says:

    Getting the fast car you said? Good idea, and I hope the program will do this, as I would not mind getting the fastest (in its category) car in the world: Traxxas XO-1. 🙂

  4. Great idea John – I’m really looking forward to the start of this initiative and the available training, and contributing where possible. I believe this will be driven by individuals, whether they work for a large SI, a niche partner or are independent. As Vitaliy said, it depends on the person and how they feel about it.

    I’d love to see this pave the way for a broader availability of free education across the SAP portfolio, and I’m sure if enough get behind it and support it then it will, irrespective of how SAP Education feel about it. At the end of the day, even if it is not officially sanctioned and accredited training by SAP themselves, it will help more people become better at working with SAP, and that helps everyone.


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