The increasing complexity of cloud and IT services is driving providers to do something they’ve never done before: implement certification programs. Throughout 2013, expect operators, from ILECs to CLECs, to roll out credentialing platforms that ensure channel partners are equipped to sell products that surpass the simplicity of integrated T1s. Much of the curricula will remain works in progress for a while as providers, not accustomed to offering accreditation, tweak their content, requirements and delivery methods in response to agent and VAR feedback. However, don’t mistake that willingness to act on partner input as whimsy. Service provider certifications are not a fad — they are here to stay in a move that some observers argue is long overdue.
It’s past time, they say, for operators to catch up to equipment manufacturers such as Cisco Systems and Avaya Inc. that for years have enforced certifications to make sure partners sell the right products, the right way, to the right clients. Indeed, the results of a Channel Partners poll indicate that agents, in particular, are ready and willing to earn certifications. That’s compelling. Until now, agents have not been subject to certification, as standard carrier voice and data services do not merit such effort. But cloud and IT technologies are changing everything about the traditional telecom marketplace, including the verification of partners’ ability to sell those services.
As J.R. Cook, vice president partner channel sales of EarthLink Business, put it, it’s time to face facts. “There is a perception that many agents are just 'T1 slingers' and that they are the cause of all customer expectation issues. While we know that is not true, a certification process would change that perception and would further improve the value the partner channel brings to the carriers and their customers."
This spring, at least four operators are rolling out certification programs, joining CenturyLink, which introduced its credentialing platform in late 2012. EarthLink and Verizon both timed the launch of their certifications to coincide with the Spring 2013 Channel Partners Conference & Expo, while MegaPath set its introduction for the second quarter. Another company, a large ILEC with a business focus, was not prepared to talk at press time, although it intended its certification to go live in the early part of 2013. As such, these carriers stand out as the early leaders of a trend one expert predicts soon will permeate the industry.
And if your preferred provider does not jump on the certifications bandwagon, said MSPAlliance Co-founder and CEO Charles Weaver, you might want to use caution. “I would be extraordinarily leery of a carrier delivering an IaaS offering that did not have two basic elements: a technical standard that must be met by [partners] … and transparency," said Weaver, whose organization is working with global carriers on certification. With that in mind, the point about transparency pertains to government oversight. In the United States, regulators in charge of the health care and financial services markets “would have very serious concerns if they could not have visibility into IaaS … models where they couldn’t track who’s touching the device, who has access, whose data is being mingled, if any," Weaver said.