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Kelly Teal

Kelly Teal, senior editor of Channel Partners, relies on nearly 10 years of reporting on telecommunications business, regulation and the channels for her perspectives on industry trends.

Service Providers Are Starting to Launch Certifications – What's Your Take?

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Kelly Teal***Agents, tell us what you think of the emerging shift toward certification on IT network services. We're asking just two questions please give us a couple minutes for this poll and  your answers will be included in a feature slated for the March/April issue of Channel Partners magazine. Take this short survey now.

For IT partners such as resellers and systems integrators, earning vendor certifications is just a normal course of business. For most telecom agents, on the other hand, such requirements are a foreign concept. Selling network services has not, to this point, been complicated enough to merit proof of expertise. That won't stay the case for long.

Right now, at least three well-known service providers are developing certification programs to launch in time for the Spring 2013 Channel Partners Conference & Expo. In addition, CenturyLink's Savvis division in the fourth quarter introduced the first tier of its platform. (If you're a CenturyLink partner, expect to hear much more about this rollout at next week's Alliance EXPO in Denver.) The March/April issue of Channel Partners magazine will reveal all the names and details, but this is such an important topic that we want to jumpstart the conversation.

So why are network services providers adding certifications now? One word, which you've guessed: Cloud. The IT services wrapped up in this technological phenomenon have grown too complex for partners to sell without deep knowledge.

"We've been talking about cloud for a long time but most conversations have been extremely amorphous, not tactical and detailed," Blake Wetzel, CenturyLink's channel chief, told me this week, referring to the industry as a whole.

The time has come – arguably later than ideal, given that "cloud" really is not all that new – for providers to ensure that agents and VARs have a solid handle on individual cloud services, definitions, configurations, capabilities and provisioning. Certification addresses all of that; as such, it's an emerging trend among service providers, several of whom are creating their own unique partner education and testing platforms. Some of these programs include input from the likes of the Technology Channel Association and the MSPAlliance, while others rely on in-house pros. CenturyLink, for example, is using content experts on the CenturyLink and Savvis sides to craft its program.

Here's the reality: As cloud becomes the de facto delivery method for communications products and services, expect providers to implement certifications. If they don't, beware.

"I would be extraordinarily leery of a carrier delivering a IaaS offering that did not have two basic elements – a technical standard that must be met by the [partners] offering and delivering it, and, two, transparency," MSPAlliance CEO Charles Weaver told me in late November.

To the latter point, under current regulatory conditions, the financial, health care and some other vertical markets "would have very serious concerns if they could not have visibility into the IaaS," said Weaver. In other words, is the cloud model private or hybrid? Who's touching a device, who has access to data and how are data being used? Agents also must be able to share that information with their security- and privacy-sensitive customers or, as Weaver put it, "my prediction is a very quick reality check" for carriers.

Service provider certification marks a new movement. And an evolving one. The carriers I've so far interviewed (there are more conversations scheduled for this month) plan to adjust and refine their requirements and delivery methods, according to partner feedback, so your input will count to them.

Another commonality is that I've yet to encounter a carrier that says it will force agents to become certified or revoke their right to sell that company's products. However, the providers all are finding ways to motivate partners to go through the certification process; at the moment, the specifics of those incentives remain in the works.

Overall, agents, what does this shift toward certification on IT services mean to you? Are you embracing it? Do you dislike it? Give us a couple minutes and tell us more here, in a two-question poll that will be included in the March/April feature. Take this short survey now.

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