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Michael Vizard  
Certifiably Crazy
By Michael Vizard


Opinion: The certification process is broken and something needs to be done. Forming an association representing only solution providers would help.


For a fairly long time now most people in the channel have either known or suspected that the certification process is fundamentally broken. The reasons this process is broken are manifold, but in brief, the root causes for this sad state of certification affairs goes back to the following reasons:

1) Too many vendors view certification as a tax imposed to help thin the number of partners in its channel ranks. All too often, a vendor will come to the conclusion that the best way to combat over-distribution is to require higher levels of certification to try to force bottom features that can't afford the associated training costs out of the market.

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2) After first imposing the certification tax, the vendor then decides that there is no such thing as too much of a good thing. So they then tie certifications to different levels of certification with gold-level partners ultimately getting rewarded with the best discounts in return for investing certification. Alas, more often than not this just gives gold and silver partners a license to engage in predatory pricing against other solution providers. So other solution providers respond by getting certified to the point at which everyone experiences the twin joys of rising training costs and falling prices.

3) In general, certifications gained for one vendor in a product category are not easily transferable to another vendor in the same category unless the solution provider specifically makes that a condition of switching allegiance to that new vendor. Ultimately, this just serves to deter solution providers from switching vendors rather than adding any real value to the user.

4) Once the certification program is launched, most vendors forget to put any effort into making users aware of the fact that they should be looking for solution providers that are certified in a particular product area.

5) But of course, it might be worth explaining to users that working with certified solution providers is important if it weren't for the fact that most certifications amount to little more than written tests. All too often, solution providers simply have a small number of people on their staffs that excel at written exams, so they take the tests and, presto, the whole company is certified by the vendor. It's little wonder that users put a lot more stock in the actual experience of the people working on the project than scraps of certification attached to resumes.

The real question facing the channel as it goes forward is when the industry as a whole will come to address an issue that is rapidly becoming a farce. What's needed is a real industry association for solution providers whose primary mission would be to create vendor-neutral certification with some real teeth. That association would then take the monies collected to fund the certification programs and use it to market the value of those certifications to the user community. That latter requirement would have to be written into the bylaws of the organization to make sure that the majority of the revenues collected over time are not misdirected into sustaining the overhead of the organization.

But until solution providers start demanding a real resolution to this problem, nothing much is going to change. The first step in that process might be as simple as two dozen or so solution providers getting together to discuss the issue with an eye toward creating a task force that would begin to hammer out the goals and bylaws of the association.

With that in place, then a groundswell effort to clean up the certification process would result in enough members joining the association that vendors would be forced to come to the table. And soon after that, this association might be in a position to advocate for solution providers any number of issues, not the least of which would include legislation and rules emanating from Washington.

But every journey begins with a single step. There's no better place to start that journey than with cleaning up a certification process that in its current form does more harm then good because when everything gets tallied up at the end of the day, solution providers more often than not are less, not more, profitable because of certifications.

Michael Vizard is editorial director of Ziff Davis Media's Enterprise Technology group. He can be reached at [email protected]

     
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