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Salesforce.com launches training and certification

Software as a Service pioneer Salesforce.com is launching training and certification push for administrators and developers.

In a sign of maturity for the Software as a Service (SaaS) pioneer, Salesforce.com is launching formalized certification, training and testing for developers and administrators.

The company, which started out hosting customer relationship management (CRM) and sales force automation (SFA) software for customers, now fields a full development stack no longer limited to those sorts of applications. The Force.com platform includes the Apex language, VisualForce graphical interface design toolset and even a hosted incubator to test out applications before putting them into production.

"Because of the growing size of our community, we realized we'd best do more to let customers and partners unlock the value we have," Bruce Francis, vice president of corporate strategy for San Francisco-based Salesforce.com, told SearchITChannel.com.

The company developed the courseware itself, and the testing will occur at authorized test centers. Training classes can be taken online. Salesforce.com experts can also take the tests without ponying up for the training.

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Ironically, for a company touting all things as a service, the certification test itself will be remarkably traditional: Attendees will actually have to take it live, in person.

"They'll have to show up and show identification. This is a proctored exam," said Eric Kelleher, vice president of training and certification for Salesforce.com.

Three tiers of certification and training

There are three tiers of certification for developers and administrators representing basic, advanced and master levels for both skill sets.

Price for the preparation and training, which represents about a week of commitment for each certification, is $3,000 for the basic administration certification and $4,000 for advanced administration certification. Both the basic Force.com development training and the advanced training in Visual Force, Apex and development as a service are $4,000.

In general, certifications are a way for technical people of all kinds to define and tout their skill sets both inside their own organizations and for job searches. On Monday, a search on Monster.com showed more than 2,600 job listings mentioning Salesforce.com skills.

According to Kelleher, these certifications "could open up more job categories" and help both job seekers and employers refine their searches.

For value-added resellers (VARs) and systems integrators, certifications help technical staff differentiate themselves and justify charging a premium for implementation and application development services.

"There are a lot of consulting partners who are not dedicated to Salesforce.com, and they compete on price for projects. These certifications will help us show that we go beyond standard implementation services," said David Dahlberg, vice president of marketing for Model Metrics LLC, a Chicago-based implementation services and application development partner that is "100% dedicated" to Salesforce.com.

A.J. Dellicicchi, senior developer for Boston-based Eduventures, said people in his position need these designations to show their skill levels. "Salesforce.com has done such a good job with their services. I love working with their tools -- they're easy to use and the communities are great -- but I had nothing to show for my work to our management here. This is a reward."

Salesforce.com boasts some 43,000 customers and more than 1.1 million paying subscribers worldwide. And it is trying to branch out beyond CRM and SFA, as Microsoft is trying to penetrate the SaaS ecosystem with self-hosted CRM first and other business services to come. Microsoft fields a wide array of often complex certifications and authorizations for its partners.

Microsoft CRM Online, which poses the most direct threat to Salesforce.com, went live officially in April, but the company is also aggressively pushing its older on-premise CRM into companies of all sizes.

It's also making noise, at least to partners, about pushing its CRM software stack as a full development environment to partners and customers that want to design custom applications. That would be a full-on assault on the Force.com strategy. (Saleforce.com says there are now more than 65,000 custom applications built on its platform.)

Asked how he would characterize this move, Francis said, "I think Microsoft will do for hosted CRM what Zune has done for digital music players."

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