James Governor's Monkchips

SAP Mentors: The New Kingmakers. On Developer Relations, Community Management and Co-Innovation

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Its always nice to see others building on your ideas, so it was cool to see some folks from the SAP Mentor community take up the gauntlet. At RedMonk we like to say developers are the new kingmakers, because of the increasing influence they wield on business innovation, from the bottom up. Of course some are quite skeptical of the idea that developers are influential, often because they see the IT world through the lens of the product purchaser.

In a post today for his SAP Community Network blog Owen Pettiford said (Good SAP Savvy) Developers are the new Kingmakers asks why more people haven’t got the memo about developer innovation yet.

“To answer this we need to look back to see how developers were viewed about 10 years ago. Many organisations took a look at their IT developers (geeks) and decided that IT development was a commodity that could be given to a 3rd party provider and so IT was outsourced across the globe. Most of these outsourced deals focused on driving down the cost of IT (it was viewed as a commodity after all).

What this often also drove out of the deal was any wiggle room for Developer Innovation. 10 years on this means that many organisations and IT outsource providers have all but forgotten how to innovate – SLAs and Margins are king. In effect organisations have thrown out the baby with the bath water.”

As he explains:

“This doesn’t mean that the traditional skills required to configure the SAP business systems are not important it is more that to make your SAP system stand out from the crowd (and do stuff your competion can’t) you need developers to build (hopefully cool) stuff on top of it.”

SAP and JQuery, SAP and in-memory database, SAP and RESTful development, that kind of thing.

The Mentors are a great group of people, which has been explicitly fostered by SAP management to allow for innovation across what Hugh MacLeod calls the porous membrane. The pied piper of the Mentors is a guy called Mark Finnern. Not coincidentally the SAP Mentors are big MacLeod fans.

The Mentor community is run alongside the SAP Blogger community, another strategic initiative led by the redoubtable Mike Prosceno. What does strategic mean? SAP’s Blogger program has a real travel budget and gives you CEO-level access at events. Same for the Mentors, I believe.

It is increasingly obvious the Mentors are the new kingmakers at SAP, they are gatekeepers. If you’re a product manager and you can’t get the Mentors on-board chances are good your product won’t get the management or market attention you’re hoping for. SAP briefs the Mentors, many of whom are software developers, though not exclusively so, under NDA and gets early feedback on what works. This feedback is as often as not in the best form- an application based on the platform in question. The Mentors include customers and SAP employees – and have their own independent culture. They drink the cool-aid, but only to get rid of the taste of jagermeister. Dissent is encouraged: noted curmudgeon Dennis Howlett is a Mentor, and he gets all misty-eyed when he talks about the community. Its also important to stress this is a group steeped in business domain expertise: Its not just nerds, its savvy nerds that have also cut their teeth on business process work. Oh yeah- and they’re all social media savvy. And GREAT fun. the Mentors are a Trusted Adviser Community. Awesome product feedback for the price of a hotel and a flight – that’s a pretty good return.

Other vendors have equivalent programs – IBM has recently started building its own, similar, program called Champions. Microsoft has its Most Valued Professionals.

But the bottom line is SAP has built something world class here. Its not open source, but it is open development. It’s co-innovation. Of course a Mentor program is only one element of a good Developer Relations program, but its a great base to build on.

Developers are the new kingmakers, and the many years and dollars SAP has spent building communities ready for the coronation are likely to pay dividends.

disclosure: SAP, Microsoft and IBM are all clients


  1. > Not coincidentally the SAP Mentors are big MacLeod fans.

    Not all of us are. As you would expect from such a pack of contrarians.

  2. > They drink the cool-aid, but only to get rid of the taste of jagermeister.

    That sentence will have me laughing for the rest of the evening :-). Excellent observations regarding SAP Mentors. Means a lot coming from you.

    I just posted how the mentors are culture jamming SAP http://www.sdn.sap.com/irj/scn/weblogs?blog=/pub/wlg/27376

    Thanks, Mark.

  3. Nice. And may I add that some have been recently deemed the SAP “troublemakers” (see blog by @SAP_Jarret http://www.sdn.sap.com/irj/scn/weblogs?blog=/pub/wlg/27253 )
    Troublemaking is new badge of honor in that the trouble making is driving cycles of improvement and pushing the envelope with those aspiring to excellence in things beyond pure development too. Developers are helping transform demographics and touting concepts like inclusion, diversity, chaotic collaboration. I think we can also thank you and some of your own folks James for being mentors to the SAP mentors or at the very least role-models. Short correction: @dahowlett is SAP Mentor alum having stepped down from his @sapmentor status.

    1. cheers Marilyn. I have always aspired to be a corporate trouble maker – sometimes it gets me fired, but its worked pretty well for me at redmonk 😉 thanks so much for the kind words. i may not be one of the mentors, but i definitely see myself as part of the SAP hacker community.

      Jarret – good point on diversity. thought about that after dinner last night. i might follow up.

  4. Great article and love the line “SAP has built something world class here.” as I believe it and proud to be Mentor.

    The only flaw in the article is there was no mention of Queenmakers as there are many great female mentors 🙂

    The feedback SAP gets isnt always positive as you can see from a recent article I wrote where 11 of the 12 were mentors but that is part of the magic.


    Mark Finnern also had a very good article earlier this week about the mentors and culture.


    Thanks James for shining little on a real special area of SAP that is small in numbers but doing some big things.

  5. First off, I enjoyed your company very much at the enterprise geeks dinner; did you manage to keep track of the name of that yummy spainish wine ?

    Secondly, much has been made of SAP Mentors being troublemakers, but there is a twist…. There’s no point pointing out a problem, or an issue with some one else’s solution (COUGH the SAP customer and developer relationship with Sybase COUGH), without bringing positive suggestions to the table or doing something about it (so I’ve signed up to the sybase developer community). As you alluded to above, SAP Mentors tend to be developers / supporters of SAP systems, so we are well placed to bring practical improvements to the table.


  6. Martin – nope!

  7. Nice themes from both Owen Pettiford and James Governor here.

    At the risk of raising *yet another* Steve Jobs anecdote, here’s one that speaks directly to the topic at hand; that of the importance of developers and technologists to keep a company innovating and vibrant and moving forward to the future:

    On “Forbes,” author/blogger Steve Denning relates a story that Peggy Noonan wrote about in the “Wall Street Journal” which references the Walter Isaacson biography (which I was alerted to via @SoniaT):

    Steve Jobs’ “…mission, he says, was plain: “to “build an enduring company where people were motivated to make great products.” Then he turned to the rise and fall of various businesses. He has a theory about “why decline happens” at great companies: “The company does a great job, innovates and becomes a monopoly or close to it in some field, and then the quality of the product becomes less important. The company starts valuing the great salesman, because they’re the ones who can move the needle on revenues.” So salesmen are put in charge, and product engineers and designers feel demoted: Their efforts are no longer at the white-hot center of the company’s daily life. They “turn off.” IBM and Xerox, Jobs said, faltered in precisely this way. The salesmen who led the companies were smart and eloquent, but “they didn’t know anything about the product.” In the end this can doom a great company, because what consumers want is good products.” Later: “In this mode, the firm is basically playing defense. Because it’s easier to milk the cash cow than to add new value, the firm not only stops playing offense: it even forgets how to play offense. The firm starts to die.”

    I recommend the full, brief “Forbes” article which has links back to other sources and has richer detail than I will provide here. See http://www.forbes.com/sites/stevedenning/2011/11/19/peggy-noonan-on-steve-jobs-and-why-big-companies-die/ — also for the threat to companies that try to live off of the cash cow successful product and do not continue innovating.

    Mark Yolton

  8. @monkchips yep! Doesn’t it miss the whole point if we had powerless mentors? [comment from twitter]

  9. […] passionate community on Twitter, including board members, executives and influencers such as the SAP Mentors. All of these people are on Twitter to interact with each other and they are truly approachable. […]

  10. […] am a latter day convert to the idea that developers are the ‘new kingmakers.’ As I am watching this sotry unfold it is clear that the most thriving communities are ones that […]

  11. […] a latter day convert to the idea that developers are the ‘new kingmakers.’ As I am watching this story unfold it is clear that the most thriving communities are ones that […]

  12. […] a latter day convert to the idea that developers are the ‘new kingmakers.’ As I am watching this story unfold it is clear that the most thriving communities are ones that […]

  13. […] a latter day convert to the idea that developers are the ‘new kingmakers.’ As I am watching this story unfold it is clear that the most thriving communities are ones that […]

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