If you work for a Microsoft Certified or Gold Partner, you’re probably paying a bit more attention than usual to the news coming out of Washington, DC this week—because our annual Worldwide Partner Conference is underway and announcements abound.
But this year, in addition to the technical buzz, there’s also some meta-buzz about our new certification requirements for Advanced Gold competencies.
In the past, partners obtained certification by passing relevant exams and nominating satisfied customers as referees, and having a certain number of certified professionals across a specialisation. Under the new structure, Gold membership will require five customer references and more individuals in a specific competency with less overlap between areas. As old certifications will no longer be recognised once the changes kick in this October, Microsoft is reaching out to partners to smooth the transition.
In the past, partners obtained certification by passing relevant exams and nominating satisfied customers as referees, and having a certain number of certified professionals across a specialisation. Under the new structure, Gold membership will require five customer references and more individuals in a specific competency with less overlap between areas.
As old certifications will no longer be recognised once the changes kick in this October, Microsoft is reaching out to partners to smooth the transition.
Redmond Channel Partner writes,
The name change won't dispel controversy, especially among smaller and midsize partner companies, that the advanced (now gold) competency requirements create unnecessarily high barriers against them in certain areas. For example, to earn a gold competency, one requirement is that four engineers pass exams related to the technology behind that competency, and that those same experts cannot be used toward exams for other gold competencies. Many partners are sympathetic to Microsoft's goal of creating branding that only its most capable and committed partners can meet, and the related goal of bringing down the number of partners that could claim to be top-level Microsoft partners. But many other partners have argued that the requirements of having four experts unique to every competency make little sense in areas where competencies overlap.
The name change won't dispel controversy, especially among smaller and midsize partner companies, that the advanced (now gold) competency requirements create unnecessarily high barriers against them in certain areas. For example, to earn a gold competency, one requirement is that four engineers pass exams related to the technology behind that competency, and that those same experts cannot be used toward exams for other gold competencies.
Many partners are sympathetic to Microsoft's goal of creating branding that only its most capable and committed partners can meet, and the related goal of bringing down the number of partners that could claim to be top-level Microsoft partners. But many other partners have argued that the requirements of having four experts unique to every competency make little sense in areas where competencies overlap.
Here’s where the controversy comes from: even though our partner program has long required certifications for specific competencies, it used to be possible for an individual with many certifications to apply those credentials across multiple competencies. In other words, a company could have six competencies even it only had 3 or 4 IT Pros or developers on staff, if those individuals had the right credentials.
Under the new program, however, each person can be mapped only to a single competency, so to earn those six hypothetical competencies, that same organization probably needs 24 IT Pros or developers instead of the 3 or 4 they had previously. Obviously, that presents some staffing challenges (to put it mildly) for small organizations who want to maintain their same competency levels.
But it’s one of those forest/trees scenarios—the point was never about the requirements, but rather about what those requirements were supposed to ensure. In other words, the entire reason we have certification requirements to begin with is to indicate to customers which partners truly specialize in a certain area.
While it’s certainly reasonable to believe that a small company with only 4 engineers could have the certifications to qualify for a half-dozen competencies, I’d seriously doubt that the company could truly say it specialized in all six areas if those 4 people were splitting their time six ways each. That’s what it’s about—truly identifying areas of specialization.
There’s a reason for our emphasis on certification. Our research shows that:
With such strong trust and value placed on our certifications, we want to ensure that when we certify our partners, we’re indicating true specialized expertise.
I know it’s easy to come up with exception scenarios, but when we’ve got a community as large as our partner program, our requirements need to be clear and consistent—we’re not able to steer by exceptions.
We know that these changes mean that some smaller partners may not be able to qualify for as many competencies under the new rules, but hopefully they’ll be more competitively positioned for the competencies they do have. We also know that even for medium and large organizations, it’s going to require some investment of time and money to meet the new skills requirements. We’ll do what we can to help ease that burden, starting with our “five-for-one” offer currently underway for WPC 2010 participants.
We’d love to hear your feedback—what do you think of our new requirements, and how will it affect your organization?
So... What does an MCM buy a partner?
Looking through the 123-page PDF, MCM and MCA certs are listed as options for any of the certified individuals for several of the Advanced Competencies. There are always MCITP alternatives treated as equal for competency qualification purposes. The MCM or MCA would have to be marketed separately by the partner to derive any specific benefit from it.
I have to say I'm really disappointed in this decision, our company worked extremely hard to upskill our engineers, and would consider each of them to be highly proficient in multiple areas. As a business we would naturally take jobs appropriate to our size, I feel that the decision needs to rest on the business rather than an arbitrary limitation by Microsoft. In effect, we are being told that we can only be exceptional at one or two things due to our business size, which I would take issue with.
The other aspect I'm disappointed with, is that we raised this same issue during multiple Microsoft Webinars on the new Partner Program, and were assured that the changes had been reversed (ie. Multiple Techs could count to multiple advanced competencies). Our Partner Account Manager confirmed this, which is presenting a non-unified front from Microsoft on this matter. The new program was confusing enough, this is simply making matters worse for a company aiming to align ourselves with Microsoft in the best possible way.
I think Microsoft is making a mistake in its thinking on this. If you have a partner working in the SMB area, that partner may be deploying Active Directory, Exchange, Windows Desktops, and Office to their customers. For most businesses these are heavily integrated into their daily operations and the partners who work with them are specializing in delivering these solutions. As it stands, those four areas are covered by the Unified Communications, Server Platform, Desktop Platform, Midmarket Solution Provider, and (if the partner is also a system builder) OEM Hardware. In the new program that partner would now have to have 20 MCPs to cover the Gold competencies in which it already specializes. If Microsoft had an SMB competency (rather than just the Small Business Specialist Community which is not a competency) which addressed this reality it might cause less of a problem but from where I sit it seems to me that the word specialize in this context is really meaning narrowly focus.
How can you specialize in Unified Communications (Exchange) without also specializing in the Server Platform (Active Directory)? Exchange doesn't work without Active Directory.
Not to be too harsh, but I think this is going to hurt a lot of small and medium sized partners. In an era of "do more with less" you're basically telling them that they have to get more staff to earn the same or fewer competencies, which directly cuts into their bottom line, either in staffing cost or missed business opportunities. On the other hand you have the huge partners like Avanade, E&Y, Perot, HP, etc who will not be affected by this in any way. It's much like MCM and MCA, a benefit that would be incredibly useful for any partner that has been effectively priced out of the reach of all but the biggest players.
I understand the sentiment behind it, and the example of a 3-4 person company holding 6 competencies definitely should be avoided, but I would submit that those cases are exceptions rather than the rule. If that is the case then you actually ARE steering by exceptions, aren't you?
There are many areas where competencies have some overlap and where a single engineer or developer would certainly be able to be considered "expert" in both areas, but this program does not accommodate those overlaps. Speaking as a senior consultant who DOES have significant expertise in multiple areas and multiple certifications to to go with it, you have reduced my value to my employer and any prospective employers who are also Microsoft partners.
I agree with LikeMaster actually, plus I'd like to throw a comment or two in here....
I hold two to three dozen MS certs, gained over several years and at least in part gained explicitly to assist my marketability due to the impact on an employers (or potential employers') partner status. This has now been greatly diluted in terms of direct impact - sure, they're still a tool, but if I walk in to an organisation wanting two competencies I easily straddle as a very experienced consultant the value to me is effectively halved. But it's worse than that as I'm now as valuable as some guy who winged one or two exams - the differentiator is far diminished.
I hold a smaller number of other vendor certs. I can only see me switching focus to these now as this will become a bigger marketing tool, since obviously my Brocade/Symantec/Linux/etc credentials aren't affected by this.
I appreciate many organisations do not work this way, but there are at least some generalists with genuinely deep knowledge of multiple areas - and at risk of sounding arrogant I'd put myself in this category. And this is the category that will feel the detrimental effect of this, whenever we interview. Gladly I don't expect to need to any time soon, but it's one less argument to have at the table.
In short - looking at this, I can only suggest experienced consultants wanting to differentiate themselves from less experienced IT Pros consider following me in refocussing on other vendor certification paths before the impact of this is fully digested by the (I'd guess) 25-30% of hiring senior managers/directors that are influenced by partner program benefits come to the same conclusion.
...and my two cents...
I have to agree with LikeMaster and PJRead on their points.
Customers recognize that one qualified person can be better than two or three qualified people put together. I know people who hold a ton of MS certifications and are extremely smart. Those highly certified smart people are no longer allowed to help a Partner more than someone who only has the basic amounts of tests to get the maximum competencies?
So what this is telling me, is that there's no longer a need to go "Above and Beyond" the bare minimum at Microsoft, because it helps no one. A Partner that's about to hire someone just needs to build their job postings with "we're looking for people with these specific certifications/tests that will help us get these specific competencies." No longer can you have some mega-certified person come in and help them get more than they need?
Why would a Partner hire a person with many certifications, if it's not going to help them more than hiring a person with few certifications?(if all their looking at is obtaining competencies) I do wonder if someone at Microsoft thought about how their going to lose profits. Company A will most likely refuse to send anyone to training/testing if it's not going to help them obtain something out of it.
I also have to agree that this isn't fair to the very small/small and possibly medium sized businesses at all. Those companies can't afford to go out and hire many people to fulfil the competencies they already have, or would hope to get in the future.
I do see a need to have qualified people in order to obtain these prized competencies, but there's no need at all to limit performance.
Although, now there's an opportunity for MCPs to rent out their certifications. If I know a business that needs help with their competencies, and I'm not currently listed with a partner, can I just go up to them and tell them they can use my credentials for their competencies if they pay me $$ a month/year? Oh, I'm not going to do anything else for them, except allow them to keep me in their Partner list to help them with their competencies. I suppose you could have been doing this all along, but the new competency limitations would certainly open this market a little more!
1) Most of the posters are missing that having 2-3 engineers with a huge breadth of competencies *will* help companies (like ours) in the SMB area. Why? Because they'll get *SILVER* competencies with the overlap. It's only the GOLD competencies that are affected. Microsoft is basically rejiggering the pyramid so fewer companies are GOLD. That's a fine tradeoff, and one we fully support. The silver competencies will still include internal software rights, demo licenses, etc. So the only "downgrade" is that you won't get *as many* software licenses, or the *premier* branding that comes with GOLD. I think that's a fair tradeoff to increase the value of the GOLD brand. And "silver" sounds way better than the previous 2nd level nomenclature.
2) We were told at WPC that partners would be able to manage the learning paths of MCPs associated with their partner organization through the partner network website. I can't find that functionality, despite being told by multiple learning professionals that it's already working. Is there a location I can go to to see this?
Thanks for the feedback, everyone. I'll forward it to our partner marketing folks when they get back from WPC next week.
A couple of specific points:
@Michael: I'm sorry that we sent you conflicting messages. If you don't mind e-mailing me details (email@example.com), I'd be happy to follow up and find out what happened and why.
@Reed: I'll follow up on your #2 question and let you know.
In response to the general question of "why should I bother getting additional certifications if it won't help my company acquire additional Gold compencies?" -- As I posted above, we know that our customers look for proof of expertise in the form of certifications when hiring a partner, and that they're willing to pay more for verified expertise. So even if it doesn't earn your organization another competency, having professionals on staff with multiple certifications will still testify to their competency in that technical area.
>having professionals on staff with multiple certifications will still testify to their competency in that technical area
I call BS. I may be higher qualifed but it means squat to a SMB that is already struggling with costs. Sure I may get the job over someone else with only one cert but I'll be very unlikely to be able to ask for a premium as a result. If person A will accept xyz dollars and will do the job but person B wants xyz+, and the SMB is trying to keep costs down, they will either force persons B price down or take person A. The SMB may prefer the person B but the benefit to them is now less.
So you're making the SMB life harder, my life harder and for no purpose I can see apart from lining MS pockets. Or maybe MS don't really care about SMB's anyway as this will have zero impact on the bigger companies anyway who are the ones who pay the most in licensing fees.
tbh, the whole thing stinks.
Oh, and it wouldn't take much to throw a bone in this area. Let an individual cover multiples (say 2) in strongly related areas - Software development based around Web or Windows. I, and the SMB I work for, do both.
As the owner of a SMB Partner who is and has been a Gold Parnter and will suddenly find find my company downgraded to Silver, I call BS too.
@Rick said it best above - we cater to the SMB market and over and over again put in the same solutions - SBS or Server/Exchange, Desktops, and Office. I have 6 guys and have spent a lot of time, money, and effort training them.3 of them are level 1 focusing on Desktop and Office, and 3 of them are level 2/3 working on Server / SBS and Exchange.
You know what the result is? We're pretty damn good at what we do. We have a lot of experience in a lot of different crazy scenarios, and we have become very efficient and getting in, getting the project done on time and on cost with minimal business disruption. Our CSAT scores are high, and when my clients call on my client referral sheet, we get glowing reviews which helps close deals.
We use the Gold Partner branding to our advantage. We use our skill and training to compete against firms in the area that are much bigger than we are. If you look on PinPoint right now, it shows that there are only 4 Gold Parnters (including me) within a 50 miles radius. And this October I am going to be downgraded to Silver and mixed in with the 25 other Silver parnters in the area.
Oh I'm sure we'll end up with a Gold competency in Servers or Unified Messaging, but to do that either I need to try to accellerate on my my level 1 guys up faster than I think he's ready for, or go our and hire someone with competencies.
But the this experience and the fact that we have been told over and over again that the new Microsoft Partner Network was being overhauled to benefit us all is BS. Complete and total BS.
Why not make exclusions for such close competencies like Server Platform, Virtualization and Systems Management?
Yes, i can agree that the same guy cannot be good in virtualization and .net and sharepoint development. But virtualization prereq includes server platform.
there's plenty of overlap in a lot of areas - anyone truly understand Exchange without a decent knowledge of directory services? Anyone 'know sharepoint' without 'knowing SQL'?
I'll grant you my list is mildly ridiculous in length (I'm quite proud of the Windows Internals one, since few even seem to know it exists and there's probably only a couple of hundred people with it - which was easy to check before they took down the numbers site, another lost personal marketing tool, albeit a small one :( ), but if they're not important enough to count why bother?
if there's any question of value or 'genuine specialism', raise the level of the exam content to the point it's unequivocal (if you pass it, you know it).
Q: MCM/MCA's are specialists? but can hold MCM/MCA in more than one area - why would they, or is there an exclusion there?