Avoiding Training Redundancies

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Imagine this:

It’s the end of the month, and you’ve spent the past few days making customer calls hoping to get closer to achieving your sales goal. You finally sell an IP-PBX to one of your customers who would like the new system installed right away. When you place the order with the manufacturer, the customer service rep says the product will not be shipped because no one within your organization has received proper certification on this product’s use. Even though you have implemented much more complex solutions in the past, the manufacturer is still requiring verification of your skills, and a similar certification from another manufacturer is not acceptable. Now, you don’t want to lose the customer, so you need to satisfy the manufacturer’s training requirements—and fast.

Meeting Supplier Requirements
Manufacturers have often set strict training and support requirements to ensure that their channel partners have the skills to sell and maintain their products. Many of the training programs offered by suppliers, however, are vendor-specific and are focused on particular supplier offerings. You can’t blame the manufacturer for wanting to make sure channel partners can support their products, can you? Suppliers, channel partners and end-users (customers) all need to know that the IT professionals who sell, install, support and maintain their convergence technology systems have mastered the core skills and knowledge necessary to solve customer problems and identify solutions.

For example, the IT professional installing and supporting these new convergence products must be familiar with manufacturer products and the application environment. How do these professionals get trained and certified efficiently? Most channel partners represent more than one vendor. Therefore, they are faced with the challenge of having to send key personnel out of the office to each vendor’s training program. Prerequisites for product training are often redundant among various suppliers, which means additional time out of the office, training costs and travel expenses to receive the same knowledge from a different supplier.

“As a regional channel partner, we often have to evaluate the importance of training programs for our employees. Although we understand the value of certification and training, it is difficult to have staff out of the office for repetitive training,” said Mark McKersie, president of First Telecommunications Corp.

Many channel partners may delay training and be unable to support particular products sold to the customer. The consequences are failed installations, increased customer support requirements, lower productivity and reduced customer satisfaction, which all contribute to higher overall costs for the dealer and manufacturer. Caught between these tough choices, channel companies ultimately have had to comply with the training and certification requirements of each manufacturer.

Channel partners and manufacturers will benefit mutually from an industry-standard vendor-neutral certification that is focused on satisfying the need for a common entry point into product-specific training and certification.

Market Overview
Before the era of convergence technologies, telephony and data technology were two completely separate disciplines. Ma Bell took care of basic training for the armies of network engineers and field technicians. Product training was built upon an established and assumed knowledge of analog voice technologies. From a career standpoint, you either worked on the network-telco side or on customer premises equipment.

Several years ago, CompTIA brought the A+ program to market because of the obvious need for PC technicians to have a basic level of competence in hardware and operating system fundamentals. The success of A+ over the years is evident in that it has been woven into the fabric of many secondary and post-secondary schools’ curricula. Next came Network+ to include data communications and LANs. At about this time, however, voice and data were being combined on the networks (see Figure 1), and technical professionals often found themselves stranded on their “competency islands.” They became separated from their goals by large knowledge gaps.

The channel was converging also. Telephone equipment dealers, known then as interconnects, started to hire Microsoft Certified Systems Engineers (MCSEs) to provide the necessary data expertise. Data VARs (value-added resellers) partnered with interconnects. They are all directly involved with moving the product from the manufacturer to the customer. Today, it is sometimes difficult to tell the various organizations apart. (See Figure 2.)

The plunge in corporate profits that began in late 2000 and extended through 2001 adversely affected investment in telecom equipment. According to The Telecommunications Industry Association’s (TIA’s) 2003 Market Overview and Forecast, there was a modest growth of 1.9 percent for enterprise equipment in 2002. This reflects the fact that companies were faced with financial pressures forcing them to cut back on expenditures that could be postponed, delaying voice and data network upgrades. Aggressive cost-cutting in recent years is now enabling enterprises to improve financial performance. Improved economics combined with a demand for replacement equipment and emergence of new technologies will lead to a projected growth of 6.1 percent in 2003. Convergence products, such as IP PBXs, are now being purchased by enterprise organizations looking for a competitive edge in productivity and customer-relations management. Manufacturers of these products include Avaya, Cisco, Mitel, Altigen and Inter-Tel. These sophisticated new products need technicians trained and certified in convergence technologies.

Training and Certification Efficiency
Vendor-neutral, industry-approved certification programs help meet the needs of suppliers, channel partners and end-users. Figure 3 shows how each group benefits through industry-standard certifications being offered today.

Why don’t all manufacturers support vendor-neutral programs as part of their product certification tracks? There are as many reasons as there are manufacturers. One reason is that they don’t feel they have input or control over the vendor-neutral exam objectives. Many times, the organization is so big that the exam-board representative from the company is in a different group from the training people. Such inefficiencies can be identified and eliminated if channel partners bring them to the attention of the manufacturer’s senior management.

“The channel reseller has a limited amount of money to spend on training; forcing the company into a whole host of certifications doesn’t do it any good,” said Steve McBurney, director of channel marketing at Mitel Networks. “We participate in the development and support of vendor-neutral certifications because we feel helping to establish a product-agnostic certification program helps everyone. The channel spends less on multiple certifications (they can focus their investment), the end-user customer wins in the form of a lower price, since the reseller’s cost of doing business is reduced, and the manufacturer wins because they have to focus only on the product-specific training associated with their own products.”

Wouldn’t it be ideal if you could earn a certification that meets more than one of your needs and satisfies multiple manufacturers? Vendor-neutral, job-role-based certifications help you do just that because the exams measure skills and knowledge, rather than focusing on the features and functions of a specific system or package.

Supporting Vendor-Neutral Certifications: A Case Study
A number of leading equipment manuf

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