For many integrators and value-added resellers today, the key is not just in providing a system solution to an end-user, but also to ensure that it has the proper testing and certification to run on a certain platform. This month, our experts weigh in on the importance of attaining Microsoft ® Gold Certification and having the right Microsoft Certified Professionals (MCP) on board at your company.
How did your company obtain Microsoft and other certification credentials and what was the importance of that accreditation?
Klark Trickey, support specialist, Digital MD Systems, Bedford , Texas : Our credentials were obtained after developing software utilizing the Microsoft OS framework. After becoming familiar with the tools available, we achieved Microsoft certifications to further enhance our skills. We obtained the corporate credentials to gain access to the benefits provided by Microsoft and to add value to our company in our customers' eyes.
Rich Hlavka, senior vice president of Business Development, Lumension Security, Scottsdale , Ariz. : Since many of our solutions utilize Microsoft .NET and SQL Server, we believe it's vitally important to have our products tested and certified to run on Windows platforms. The certifications further help our customer know that our solutions are compatible with other software and hardware assets. The process requires an application followed by third-party testing to validate the compatibility and or interoperability of the offerings.
Les Kent, president, Progent Corp., San Jose , Calif. : We have been Microsoft Gold certified for four years and to obtain that we have achieved a number of points which MS allocates to different areas. One area is having MS certified individuals as part of the organization. Different points are assigned for different levels of certification. To be MS Gold a company needs 20 or so MS certified individuals and customer references on what the company has done and points are assigned there as well. There are also competency points which can be earned by a combination of customer references and engineers certified in specific technical disciplines.
Paul West, principal, SharePoint360, San Diego , Calif. : We obtained Microsoft certification credentials shortly after founding our company in 2006 (Certified in 2007, Gold status in 2008). As a small company, we knew that having the “stamp of approval” from Microsoft was not only important but also a distinguishing factor. In addition, we wanted to tap into the resources that Microsoft offers its partners – from sales and marketing collateral, to training and events as well as access to the Microsoft support and software.
Andy Swenson, CIO, Tribridge, Tampa , Fla. : The credentials are earned by company engineers either through attending classes or studying training materials followed by testing what has been learned. This is followed by taking the Microsoft or other vendor certification tests to achieve the credentials. Once the requisite number of engineers and often sales staff has passed the tests, we are awarded the certification status as a partner.
Tomer Sussman, product analyst, Visual Defence, Richmond Hill , Ontario : We have been Gold Level Microsoft Certified partners since 2006. We obtained competency by testing one of our applications by Microsoft, providing customer references regarding our deliveries, proving we provided solutions based on MS products and by employing MCPs. As a Microsoft partner we enjoy the support and resources provided by Microsoft to ensure customer satisfaction.
What is the real benefit of the credential to you and your company?
Trickey: The ability to claim Gold Certified Partnership with Microsoft not only gives us access to resources non-certified companies do not have, it also demonstrates to our customers our commitment to use the best tools available to create our software solutions.
Hlavka: As for achieving Microsoft Gold Partnership status, a company needs to accumulate a number of points demonstrating Microsoft competency. In doing this, the Gold Partner needs to get customer references validating product capabilities, maintain staff members who have the status of Microsoft Certified Professional as well as maintain complete product certifications.
Kent : We believe the biggest benefit is from a marketing perspective. In a field that is very crowded, with lots of competitors, having a gold status differentiates you. From what I understand, out of all the MS partners, only about 10 percent have received gold certification.
West : In addition to establishing the company as a serious player in the technology business, it also keeps us on our toes. We are constantly motivated by Microsoft and our customers to enhance and extend our products and services. Microsoft provides us with additional licensing through the Microsoft Action Pack and we are given access to beta software prior to release as well.
Swenson : The credentials communicate to our customers that we are serious about the solutions we are supporting, as well as establish that we have demonstrated a level of proficiency with the products and solutions.
Sussman : Some of the benefits include 24/7 technical support for Microsoft products; Microsoft Developer's Network subscription including tools and resources to help grow our business; and free licenses for Microsoft commercial software essential to run our business–this alone saves thousands of dollars. Microsoft established a Partner Channel Builder that aids partners in creating new business and partnerships as well as searches for other Microsoft partners in order to find solutions and opportunities those partners offer that will help us achieve our business goals.
How easy or difficult was it to get the certification? How is the certification status maintained?
Trickey : Obtaining the certification was not difficult by any means especially when weighed against the benefits of membership. We maintain our status by ensuring customer satisfaction and deploying new solutions utilizing the latest in Microsoft technology.
Hlavka : In addition our company has received our Cisco NAC certification by developing an interoperable product and having it tested by Cisco.
Kent : There is without a doubt an investment into the process. It is not an insignificant undertaking. It is an effort in both time and money; we believe it is worth continuing and maintaining.
West : Obtaining our Gold partner certification was challenging because it required diligence and dedication from all team members. Our team members are required to complete each of his/her competencies and our clients were enthusiastic about providing references. We work to maintain our certification through continued training of our employees, increasing our customer references and extending our certifications.
Swenson: This varies by the certification and capabilities of the engineers or sales staff. There are costs associated with the downtime when engineers are training, as well as expenses for the classes and travel. For some vendors, there is also a requirement to purchase demonstration gear. The level of difficulty also varies by vendor; but for Microsoft, attaining the Gold partner status requires a good deal of cost, time and very knowledgeable staff members.
Sussman: We have been a Certified Partner since 2003 and Gold Certified Partner since 2006. In 2005 Microsoft changed its approach to the Partner Program membership and defined that a partner must prove a minimum competency. We decided to pursue the Independent Software Vendor (ISV) competency since it best fit our offering and it provided us with valuable Partner Points necessary to achieve Gold level certification. To that end we submitted a product for server/client testing. This included modification and pre-testing of the software to meet the test requirements and test fee payment. The references and the tested products are valid for two years so in order to maintain our ranking we are constantly updating our reference list on Microsoft database and hiring software developers that are Microsoft Certified ensuring they are associated to our organization.
How important is this credential to the end-user and what does it mean to them?
Trickey: Our customers view our Gold Certified Partnership with Microsoft as a sign of our commitment to using the latest and best technology to create innovative software to support their requirements.
Hlavka: I believe our customers get a sense of comfort knowing that our solutions have been tested and certified by technology leader such as Microsoft. Companies have large investments in their core IT infrastructure and they need to know that adding additional software or hardware will work with their assets. This certification helps to raise that comfort level.
Kent : I believe the credentials mean something to clients. Gold certification supports a client's case for having performed due diligence in selecting a service provider.
West: Very important, especially since we are a fast growing, young company. This certification instantly brings credibility to us and establishes us as a legitimate and effective partner for potential clients.
Swenson: The certification demonstrates that we have strong capabilities with the solutions and that we are committed to continuing to support them.
Sussman: Our customers directly benefit from our partnership by: improving our capabilities to provide a good and stable solution, solving issues that we encounter during the development, enriching the knowledge of our professionals and utilizing the Partner Channel Builder to create advantageous relationships.
What are some ways in addition to accreditation that you feel you can be a better integrator or VAR?
Trickey: Listening to the feedback from our customers is always important in gaining an understanding of what we as integrators can do to improve our software.
Hlavka: Being a Gold Partner with Microsoft allows us to gain access to products for development purposes along with key access to technical resources, which aid our engineering teams to develop our software. We feel that it is important to constantly test our own software in a myriad of different configurations to ensure compatibility and performance. Additionally, it's important to work closely with third-party ISVs in an effort to find solutions that mutually benefit our customers and partners.
Kent : It is also just as important to create company-wide best practices. Companies should do more leveraging of the talent they have within an organization by sharing techniques that work so that the company as a whole becomes more effective with every successful engagement.
West: As a company, we are committed to helping our customers and partners realize their full potential. Our passion for technology combined with our dedication to continual self-improvement and innovation helps us constantly evolve our company to be in the best position to accelerate new technologies and better serve our customers.
Swenson: The real way to be a better integrator is to work every day with the tools and products that you are delivering. The biggest problem we see is solutions providers who simply add items to their line cards and don't get the proper experience with the products. There is simply no substitute for real-world experience.
Sussman: Improve the knowledge and understanding of our developers to provide better solutions, create other partnerships with providers that benefit our offerings and develop products that will satisfy Microsoft's accreditation.
Microsoft ® Build Out for IT Security
In the IT world the subject of security threats is ever changing as the dependence on these systems to secure personal, financial and other critical data is subject to security breaches. In response to this, Microsoft has built a business around security software to secure the IT infrastructure. The programs include certifications and competency which require skills acquisition through training and third-party validations. There are many levels of training and partnerships with Microsoft which yield benefits to those obtaining the various levels of expertise. The areas of concentration for partners include security management for those who want to focus on security policy, governance, compliance, risk assessment, risk management and auditing. Another area focuses on infrastructure security which covers the many technical aspects. It is considered a sought-after validation program for industry professionals.
– Klark Trickey, Digital MD Systems