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Microsoft Clamps Down on Certification Requirements for Partners

No more double-dipping. That's what's at stake when the new Microsoft Partner Network certification program kicks in October 1. What that means is partners who want to be designated Advanced Competent will no longer be permitted to have individual engineers with multiple certifications.

For example, if a Dynamics Partner wants to also deploy Exchange, the partner will be required to have at least two engineers certified in each specialty in order to be qualified as an Advanced Competent Partner. Those who do have just one engineer certified in both can still be Competent Partners, but for existing Microsoft Gold Certified Partners, that may look like a demotion of sorts, some critics fear.

"We decided to really prioritize making the top level more exclusive," explained Allison Watson, in a recent interview, prior to yesterday's announcement that she is transitioning to the new position of corporate VP of Microsoft's Business and Marketing Organization and being replaced Jon Roskill.

The concern is, however, that the new certification requirements under MPN will force smaller partners out of business because they will either have to hire additional engineers or pare back on their areas of coverage, according to critics of the new program, which Microsoft reiterated today in a blog post. Watson said that she is sympathetic to that concern but also worries that some partners are spread too  thin.

While that may be the case in some situations, the changes could be more disruptive than Microsoft is anticipating, said Howard Cohen, northeast regional chair of the International Association of Microsoft Channel Partners. "I think they are cutting into some of the bone and taking out some loyal partners who just don't have the wherewithal to find any recourse," Cohen said.

"Here's what I don't understand," Watson said. "A smaller partner may want to have six advanced competencies, and as a small guy I say, 'Should you really have six or should you really be good at what you're good at?' I think the difference is, if you are big, you may have the knowledge, but you run out of capacity. The thing we can uniquely do now with MPN that we couldn't do before is that a very small partner can be uniquely very good in a competency like BI or virtualization, and they can compete fairly against a very big partner who carries the same designation."

However, some of the smaller partners contend that there needs to be some exceptions to the rule. For example, an Exchange Partner should be able to have someone certified in Active Directory and Windows infrastructure including Hyper-V, since all three fall under a common architecture, said Kerry Gerontianos, president and CEO of  Incremax Technologies Corp. and the IAMCP's national president.

Both Cohen and Gerontianos said that they understand Microsoft's desire to get partners to step up and stress their unique capabilities, but they are asking Microsoft to make exceptions such as the Exchange-AD-infrastructure scenario.

"We are asking them to align the solutions with how we work with our customers and how customers want the work done," Gerontianos said.

With the reorganization at the top, it remains unclear whether that will have an impact on the fate of this issue. Microsoft isn't commenting on any further changes.

About the Author

Jeffrey Schwartz is editor of Redmond magazine and also covers cloud computing for Virtualization Review's Cloud Report. In addition, he writes the Channeling the Cloud column for Redmond Channel Partner. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreySchwartz.

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Reader Comments:

Thu, Sep 9, 2010 Ian NC

The company I work for is a small 50-100 employee service provider that markets to fortune 500 clients. They require a certain level of competency for what we provide and we are audited constantly to make sure we are up to their standards. Because of this....we hire quality...not quantity. This means certified technical specialists in multiple areas. We've been Gold Partners for years and with this new change we are going to be struggling to maintain the same benefits that were offered under the old Gold Partner program. Namely software costs.

Fri, Jul 2, 2010 Theresa NM

As a small partner serving small businesses, we must be competent in multiple areas including non-Microsoft ones. Our clients do not care if we are a Microsoft partner much less what competencies we hold but rather that we know what we are doing.

Fri, Jul 2, 2010 Greg Wood TX

I will point out that the standards were too broad. Whether certified or gold certified didn't mean that you know anything about a specific area. But it seems equally confusing that there are so many competencies. And as already pointed out, they overlap. The second issue is size. It seems clear that MS is keeping the best designations for the largest organizations. There has got to be a better way.

Fri, Jul 2, 2010

I think the Gold Certified and Certified levels were understandable for clients and gave a bit of distinction, but the new Competencies are too numerous and the wording too "techy" for the average joe to understand and thus they will be meaningless and not worth obtaining from a marketing standpoint.

Fri, Jul 2, 2010

GOLD will not exist as a result. You either have a competency or not. ADVANCED is the new GOLD...

Fri, Jul 2, 2010

Having to hire more people that have passed tests doesn't make you any more competent. In fact, it may make you less competent.

Fri, Jul 2, 2010

Microsoft are again bending to the political power of the larger partners. Microsoft changes certifications to fit Geek Squad and made a mess of certifications. Clients don't understand a list of 15 different certifications.

Wed, Jun 30, 2010 Deric Slabberts South Africa

I think some people are missing a point here. This discussion is really about ADVANCED competencies not the "standard" competency in the first place. In our case, we will retain our Gold status and have 4 competencies, since they overlap for my staff, but it means we may only make 1 advanced competency. I don't see a problem with this. We are also a small company, and if you want 4 advanced competencies, then I think you should be a bigger VAR with more staff. We were not keen on the new competencies in the beginning when it was mentioned, but I don't think it's as bad as it could have been. What should be discussed is the "rumour" I hear that the Partner subscription fee for advanced competencies is higher. Now that I feel is not a good thing. We will know in 15 days on our renewal though.

Tue, Jun 29, 2010

I have been a microsoft certified trainer for 12 years. My company has been a partner for 7 years and gold for 6. Funny that gold has no bearing on longevity or the quality of work you do. As long as you can afford to get certified people to register with you then, wow your GOLD. So does this mean that someones certification in more then two areas are not recognized? What is the point in certification then. I agree that Information worker and Active Directory and Exchange are all really the same. To be good in one you must be good in all. Don't think for a minute that big companies aren't talking in her ear, dictating what she should do.

Tue, Jun 29, 2010

As a MSFT employee who used to work in the old SMS&P for years, I feel the new requirement means no good to any of the partners. Well,you know, for a new FY they always want to make new empty projects to get promotion. We are quite used to it.

Mon, Jun 28, 2010 Greg Brewer MI

As a current small gold certified partner, I dont see us continuing with any of the new designations. Our customers dont quite get the difference between SBSC, certified and gold levels, this new scheme will mean nothing to them. Just another example of where Microsoft is putting their priorities.

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