Professional IT Accreditation in a Cloud World

Posted on May 29, 2012

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All change and then more change, well that’s what it feels like to Microsoft Partners who only a year ago completed a mandatory certification upgrade to maintain their status in the new Microsoft Partner Network (MPN). Having made that significant investment they probably had an expectation they would be good for a few years. However it seems yet again Microsoft are making significant adjustments to accommodate what is conceded as a widely recognised need to better reflect the impact of Cloud in the program with their ‘Microsoft Cloud Services Certification’.

Microsoft are celebrating the 20th Anniversary of their Certification program with something new…. ish.

With the usual fanfare heralding their updates leading with the tag line ‘Reinvented for the Cloud’, they have done little more than moved the chairs around the metaphorical table, fallen between two in the act, and invited back some old friends MCSE and MCSD but with new names!

MCSD and MCSE do carry historic weight in the market and the reversion to such trust acronyms makes some sense. But under the bonnet Microsoft is appearing to lag the realities of the ecosystem it is trying to server. It is still wedded to a basic static milestone in time certification model.

In summary the recent changes make a modest acknowledgment of the hybrid and rapidly changing IT landscape with the concept of 3 year training ‘updates’ as a requirement going forward. This is not much different to the old world where product evolution over that same timeline would passively direct this, the subtle shift being the necessity to do the updates for retention of a qualification. Ie: If you do not do the 3 year refresh you lose the MCDSE/MCSD. But this already fails the new world, and Microsoft appears to have just rattled the cage on a Partner ecosystem already heavily invested to meet the recent MPN training bar, by superseding those qualifications, in some circles this is the equivalent of outdating them.

The feeling is that Microsoft has missed an opportunity to really add value to their Certification program. To force just more of the same certification change on the back of the BIG change just pushed through around MPN and in the face of a technology update Tsunami – Windows 8, Office 15, Internet Explorer 10 not to mention a raft of Enterprise servers – is testing the capacity of its Partners tolerance to keep pace. Reference the PCWorld article on the Tech updates alone ‘Microsoft’s Upgrade Avalanche a Challenge for IT Pros’ .

Where is the value Add to these certification changes? Partners are confronted with another investment into a legacy vendor based accreditation structure that has been largely consistent since its first iteration. Whilst providing a reasonably reliable way of communicating professional competency in the IT market space to date, it is going to fail in the new age of Cloud and hybrid solutions to delivery what it will need to:

  •  Technical Competence – Delivers.
  • Real world Experience – Missing.
  • Real time Currency – Missing.
    In this economy Partners don’t want to hear they need to get staff lined up to the next Certification Exam on-ramp to be at the leading edge of their field. What they need is a way to capitalise on the Certification investment recently made AND be given an on-ramp to persist that into the imminent round of technology change in a much more practical way.

Let me dig deeper into my reasoning….

The traditional model has been technical, mapped to product lifecycles and or version releases, with laggard support to allow for a timely adoption of the new. Ultimately most vendors set a drop-dead date at which accreditation expires as much due to the practicalities of maintaining such programs as to communicate end of life on support and maintenance for an associated product generation.

The challenge is the industry is evolving out of the days of a convenient product aligned training program event horizon. The days of version X then version Y are now into a hybrid existence with Service X and Service Y as Cloud stamps its mark in varying ways across the IT landscape.

What will or will not become the new norm is unlikely to ever be as clear as the version controlled world ever again. The innovation will not stop, and neither the market demand for it, so let’s not get drawn it that fractal debate. It is not just the hybrid nature of the evolving market place for solutions but the variability that is challenging. How to reflect this in an accreditation program?

So how does the like of Microsoft’s training program and MPN keep pace and stimulate Partners into a value enhanced value add accreditation program the market will look to and can rely on, rather than drag them kicking into just more of the same.

So far this is an opportunity missed. An opportunity to address the market outgrowing the legacy accreditation model and to build in agility whilst maximising the current investment and carry the hard won trust.

  • Microsoft is already over extended in its ability (or its ecosystems ability) to deliver on some existing technologies ie: SharePoint. This is resulting in some woefully sub-standard experiences for customers that is doing the brand, product and partners a disservice. This will not disappear no matter how perfect the training program. We are in a unique state where there is more demand than there is experience AND qualified professionals to deliver. Let their feet on the street doing the good stuff that they do every day tangibly support their accreditation.
  • Cloud in the mix is changing the game, as product and solutions go ‘hybrid’. Hybrid means that technical professionals and consultants will need to live in a new ‘conveyor belt’ of training ‘top-up’ to keep in step with the new world of Cloud technical evolution, roll-out and solution impact. For many of us this is already the way, continuously evolving our skills and refining the foundation technical principles.
  • As the industry adjusts to the ‘Cloud’ service model of engagement and solution compilation the training requirements will need to adjust accordingly, a view is there will be a need to adopt an approach that echo’s the new world. That of Continuous Professional Development (CPD) an approach long established in many professional (Technical and Business) Associations, Institutes and Professional bodies as a viable option.
  • MPN is a positive change, challenging for many, but a move in the right direction. The market space is shifting faster than expected and challenging even this new model. A move towards a CPD model of professional calibration would fill the gap. Providing the baseline Certification architecture Microsoft is proposing with a mature rounding, stability for the future and flexibility to absorb the rapid change that will continue for years to come. Change that a static Certification program cannot hope to keep pace with even with mandatory 3 year ‘top-ups’.
  • A CPD model would stop dead in their tracks the old ‘Paper Professional’ quips and Bootcamp attitude towards Microsoft IT professionals that have persisted in some areas of the industry. It would also inject a mandatory demand for demonstrable experience proofs at the individual level, not just the organisational level as it is now, something customers and partners would greatly benefit from.
    CPD based accreditation programs are not new. I have been operating in them across other professional designations with The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors and ISACA (Information Systems Audit and Control Association) for years. They work, they reflect reality, they weed out the chaff, they deliver greater confidence to customers committing to new supplier relationships.

Something along the lines of a two Part program targeting the top flight accreditations MCSD and MCSE (Master’s Program aside).

Part 1 – Mandatory Foundation Qualification – The Current program, keep evolving as is.

Part 2a. – Continuous Professional Development Hours – Comprising 60 hours of professional development per annum. CPD hours split evenly across the following broad categories:

a. Self-service training – eLearning, books, blogs/publications etc.

b. IT Events or industry association meeting attendance.

c. Structured Courses.

Part 2b. – Continuous Professional Development Experience – Minimum 6 project references involving s a principle component the accredited technology. These could be aligned as nominated executors on Partner references that already form part of MPN to reduce customer friction and provide validation.

Conditions:

a. CPD as with other organisations readily managed online with named attendee evidence based submissions to cross check Event and course attendance, with the self-service training on trust.

b. Maintain accreditation ‘Title’ based on original Part 1 unless Part 1 is re-sat then adopts the new generation ‘title’.

c. Annual fee to maintain accreditation.

This would raise the bar across competing Vendor solutions and see Microsoft as setting the quality pace in its sectors. Something I would have thought they would aspire to!

Or would you prefer business as usual?

What do you think?

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