Cisco Certifications: Qualifying the Specialists

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When most people think of the Cisco certifications program, the Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE), Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP) and Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) certifications come to mind. These certifications have set the industry standard for technical competence, providing valuable, measurable benefit to individuals and the organizations that employ them.

Lesser-known among the Cisco career programs but rapidly gaining in relevance and recognition is the Cisco Qualified Specialist program. The Cisco Qualified Specialist was recently named the fifth most important industry certification for resellers by CRN. Pitted against a plethora of industry certifications, the Cisco Qualified Specialist garnered the accolade for its high return on investment, ROI improvement, the greatest pay raises from solution providers and the ability to generate new, incremental business.

While many Cisco Qualified Specialist certifications focus on expertise in a specific job role, others spotlight general technical acumen within a specific technology. The focused certifications cover a range of specialties, but all aim to help companies in their goal to increase productivity, reduce costs and keep a competitive edge with fewer resources. To meet these goals, companies are taking advantage of advanced technologies, which require new skills to implement and maintain. Cisco Systems developed the Specialist program to specifically address advanced technologies, such as content networking, IP telephony, optical, storage, wireless and certain security disciplines.

Cisco Qualified Specialist candidates must pass one or more proctored exams to demonstrate the required level of knowledge and expertise. Cisco Qualified Specialist certifications are valid for two years, ensuring that individuals keep their Specialist certifications up-to-date.

Calling For Specialists

The IP telephony suite of Specialist certifications is a good example of how the Specialist certifications enable technical professionals who have already achieved a high level of networking acumen with a professional-level Cisco certification to build their certification repertoire and take advantage of high-demand technologies and skill sets. CIOs and IT managers worldwide are embracing IP telephony. The technology cuts costs, improves productivity through streamlined workflow and is easily extensible to incorporate new features. The IP telephony carrier equipment market has entered a period of sustained growth with sales increasing at a 20 percent compound annual growth rate and is expected to reach nearly $4 billion in 2009, according to a recent Dell’Oro Group report.

To meet the rising demand for skilled IP telephony networking professionals, Cisco offers seven different Specialist certifications for IP telephony to build expertise across a wide range of job functions, including design, implementation and support. While the IP Telephony Support, Operations and Design Specialist certifications center exclusively on Cisco’s CallManager product and services, the Unity Support and Design Specialists cover Cisco’s Unity Voice Mail product. Candidates who achieve the Unity Design Specialist certification build upon their mastery of networking design and Microsoft Exchange. The certification also shows they have successfully taken the courses prerequisite to competently design, install, configure, operate and maintain a Cisco Unity 4.0 system, whether in a stand-alone voicemail or unified messaging environment.

The IP Telephony Support Specialist was designed for technical professionals whose primary responsibility is to install and support IP telephony multi-service networks. Those who achieve this certification must demonstrate their ability to competently configure and troubleshoot complex Cisco Call Manager platforms using multiple-call control, call admission control and basic call routing and dial plans. In the process of demonstrating these skills, they also evidence their ability to resolve the connectivity issues related to legacy PBX and voicemail systems, and show a strong overall understanding of legacy PSTN technology.

Partnering for Success

Though the Cisco Qualified Specialist certifications are designed for a wide range of networking professionals all over the world, Cisco designs some Specialist certifications for its channel partners and resellers. Cisco has about 28,000 channel partners worldwide. That equates to more than 200,000 people selling and supporting Cisco solutions all over the world.

An example of a Cisco Qualified Specialist certification tailored toward partners and resellers is the Cisco VPN Security Sales Specialist. Candidates who achieve this certification demonstrate comprehensive knowledge of the Cisco secure blueprint for enterprise networks (SAFE), and are prepared to present and sell Cisco Virtual Private Network and Security solutions. Successful candidates demonstrate completion of courses regarding specific security functions such as Cisco identity, security perimeter, security management and intrusion protection products and solutions. Successful candidates are also tested on their understanding of current market trends in each technology area, and a mastery of pertinent business drivers.

“Cisco’s channel strategy is based on specializations through which partners are trained to sell and deploy Cisco technologies, and the roles in these specializations map directly to the Cisco Qualified Specialist program,” said Surinder Brar, senior director of Cisco’s Worldwide Channels. “This allows the partner company to earn the specialization badge and the individuals filling the roles within the specialization to earn individual recognition and personal reward through the Cisco Qualified Specialist badge.”

Building a Successful Foundation

The Cisco Qualified Specialist program offers technical professionals two dozen different choices to enhance and validate skill sets for advanced technologies. For recommended training available from a global network of Cisco Learning Partners and the Cisco Partner E-Learning Connection, visit www.cisco.com/go/certifications. To better ensure training quality, partners must pass a rigorous examination before becoming authorized Cisco Learning Partners. For specific classes by region, visit www.cisco.com/go/classlocator.

The Cisco Qualified Specialist program offers an excellent way for technical professionals to build upon their foundational networking knowledge. Specialist certifications allow professionals to build upon core networking knowledge, potentially leading to Cisco Certified Voice Professional (CCVP) or Cisco Certified Security Professional (CCSP), and then CCIE.

As technologies such as IP telephony and security become increasingly indispensable for service providers, enterprises and small- and medium-sized businesses, technical professionals who earn the Specialist certification are finding that they possess a highly respected certification that demonstrates mastery of in-demand skills. Companies that employ these individuals benefit from the confidence and competence they bring to the workforce. The Cisco Qualified Specialist program will continue to evolve, so technical professionals and their employees can rest assured that they will have the expertise necessary to take advantage of new technologies that increase productivity, reduce costs and keep a competitive edge.

Cindy Hoffmann is program manager of Advanced Technology Training at Cisco Systems. She can be reached at choffmann@certmag.com.

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