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Is a partnership certification worth the money?

VARs and resellers use IT industry channel and business partner certifications as endorsements of their service and knowledge. Does the effort to become a certified partner pay off?

Solution providers and ISVs spend significant amounts of money and time to get their companies certified as an expert reseller by their major vendors. For many, that investment correlates to increased revenue and expanded opportunities.

But going to that much effort just to get a developer's entry-level certification may not be enough to generate these returns on investment, said some solution providers.

What about specialty certifications?
Well? Is it?
Part II: Networking Certifications
Part III: Security Certifications
Part IV: Storage Certifications
Part V: Systems Certifications

"At one time, it gave you a level of distinction. Now it's really a prerequisite for doing business with a large software developer," said Rick Sundahl, president of Grey Wolf Systems, a Colorado Springs, Colo.-based solutions provider with certifications from Microsoft Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Co., among other vendors. "It's a cost of doing business."

For example, 1.8 million people around the world have received some level of individual Microsoft certification, according to the Redmond, Wash.-based company.

There are 275,358 Microsoft Certified Systems Engineers on Windows 2000 (MCSE) and 138,485 Microsoft Certified Database Administrators on SQL Server 2000 (MCDBA), Microsoft's Web site showed.

Certifications that common can't be worth much as a differentiator; but try to get any Windows project work without one.

ROI rewards

By working with developers that have a much smaller distribution channel and pool of expert sellers, some integrators and solution providers have seen business increase as a direct result of their vendor certifications.

CitiXsys Technologies Inc. develops, implements and supports SAP Business One — SAP's integrated management solution for small and midsize businesses. The New York-based solution provider is one of about 1,500 SAP Americas' partners, according to SAP.

CitiXsys' listing in SAP's Channel Partner Solution Network (CPSN), which includes the company's specialties and SAP certifications, landed the company two separate contracts in Singapore, a region where it does not have a geographic presence or sales team, said Mark Richardson, chief operating officer at CitiXsys.

"We got two retail deals in Singapore on the basis that we were on CPSN as a certified partner," he said. "It's building a business where we had none."

Keeping strategy

Investing in employees' vendor-certification can also help solution providers recruit and retain crucial technical personnel; at least that has been the experience of Avanade, a Seattle-based professional services team with more than 4,000 employees worldwide.

The company fully funds employees' certification efforts, said Kate Guersch, chief learning officer at Avanade, which focuses exclusively on Microsoft technologies.

Avanade staffers are certified in an array of Microsoft capabilities, including Microsoft Certified Professional Developer (MCPD): Enterprise Applications Developer, Microsoft Certified Architecture (MCA) and Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer.

Its commitment to helping employees achieve certification – and to encouraging and supporting their internal staff's ongoing education efforts – has made hiring and retaining skilled employees a lot easier said Guersch.

"Most employees view it as a great benefit that the company is so dedicated to their learning," she said. "Employees find our commitment to education to be a differentiator. This is especially true for more experienced hires from companies that typically offer less support. I believe it helps retain those employees."

Ongoing effort

Of course, as developers expand their offerings the realm of available certifications continues to evolve. Balancing the need and benefit of new certifications against the time and costs involved in achieving these badges of technical honor can be a challenge. Determining the expected benefits – the soft or hard ROI – is a crucial component of a solution provider's continued profitability and success.

So are vendor certifications worth the money? According to the VARs and analysts interviewed by, the short answer is 'usually.' Certifications give individual techs a structured education in the technology they support and improves the skill (and therefore the results) of the VAR for which they work.

Certifications also provide a credential the VAR can use as an opening to explain its expertise to a customer. Without some third-party verification of their skill or experience, the process of convincing a customer the VAR knows what it's doing is a lot more complicated.

That requirement is more intense in some technical areas than others, though. Read the other stories in this series to get a more specific picture of the markets for networking, security and storage.

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