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Are accreditations and certifications channel essentials, or simply nice to have?

We investigate how important it is for channel businesses to gain industry and vendor certificates

Accreditations and certifications can frequently seem like an unnecessary burden and expense, particularly for smaller companies. And the truth is that they sometimes are.

So how significant are these badges and certificates for channel partners? Most people believe they are very important indeed.

Emma Porter, head of human resources (HR) and legal at OGL Computer, describes them as “vital in our industry as they demonstrate expertise and knowledge”.

Zane Schweer, director of marketing communications at Global Knowledge, says they are key for channel partners. “Their entire ability to drive their product line depends on their qualifications with OEMs, such as Cisco, Microsoft and AWS [Amazon Web Services]. Without them, they cannot sell,” he says. 

“You can also apply this down a level to supporting certifications that enable them to better support their customers, such as PMP [Project Management Professional] and ITIL [IT Infrastructure Library]. Being able to prove the calibre of people you have on staff to help customers achieve their desired outcomes is critical.”

Schweer argues that certifications are a primary requirement for partners. “If a channel partner views accreditations and certifications as a ‘bother’, we strongly recommend a perspective change. It’s a selling point,” he says.

Schweer’s point about certifications and what they say about your staff is something OGL’s Porter picks up on. “Accreditations ensure that the staff who design and deliver our solutions are trained and kept up to date with the latest technological developments,” she says. Porter singles out ISO as being “particularly important as it guarantees those certified are working towards the same level of accreditation across the board”.

“If a channel partner views accreditations and certifications as a ‘bother’, we strongly recommend a perspective change. It’s a selling point”

Zane Schweer, Global Knowledge

James Pittick, director of B2B indirect sales at Canon UK, says customers are likely to request that partners are certified with ISO 9001 or ISO 14001 before they are willing to work with them. “The qualifications are also crucial for winning business – without these certifications, partners can often find themselves out of the running for key contracts, which will impact their bottom line,” he says.

Certification opens doors

To put it bluntly, you have to be in it to win it. As Alp Kostem, director of channel sales at Exponential-e, puts it: “Having accreditation in place to reassure customers is important – especially if you are targeting organisations in the third sector or FTSE500 or Fortune 500 firms. Many won’t do business if you don’t have these in place, particularly accreditation such as ISO 9001 – it’s actually a requirement that has to be in place if a deal is going to happen.”

Andy Henley, business manager at Exertis Enterprise Services, says that for a distributor like Exertis, accreditations show that a business takes its processes very seriously. “They also give confidence to resellers and vendors in knowing that an independent body has audited those processes to ensure they meet their exacting standards,” he says. “Having ISO certification increases the prestige of your company against uncertified competitors.”

And he agrees with Kostem that ISO is often a requirement if you wish to tender for some public sector and large-scale projects. “Indeed, we have seen many instances where ISO accreditation has played a part in winning contracts,” he adds.

While Peter Groucutt, managing director at Databarracks, acknowledges the importance of certain ISO certifications, especially for managed service providers (MSPs) seeking to do business with larger customers or those in regulated industries, he adds that “they are ‘table-stakes’ or just a hygiene factor which makes it difficult to justify the expense over something that will more actively drive new business, like investment in marketing or expanding the sales team”.

“Accreditations ensure that the staff who design and deliver our solutions are trained and kept up to date with the latest technological developments”

Emma Porter, OGL Computer

And that’s the big issue for a lot of smaller channel partners. Do they bother with certifications and accreditations if they need to be investing in other parts of the business?

Distinguishing between vendor accreditations and industry certifications

The first thing to say is there is a distinction between vendor accreditations and industry certifications. In terms of vendor accreditations, Global Knowledge’s Schweer says they are a selling tool for partners.

“If a customer is looking for a reseller, they go first to tech providers such as Cisco, AWS and Microsoft to find out who the authorised partners are in their area, technology or vertical,” he states. “If the reseller does not have the right certifications in place, they won’t be displayed. That’s a huge missed opportunity for new business as well as third-party validation of your organisation. So it’s a mandate that they have certifications. Furthermore, from the customer’s perspective, it is an assurance that they are working with the right company.”

He adds that it comes down to what story partners want to tell customers: “Do you want to go to market with a reassurance message? Or do you want to highlight that you are continuously investing in your people and requiring them to keep their skills as current as possible so they can deliver exceptional results for you, their customer?”

Schweer says it’s also in the interests of vendors so most of them realise “they have to make some level of funding available to ensure they have a base level of certified partners”.

Kostem makes the argument that accreditations and certifications depend on the size of the partner and its ambitions for growth. “If you are a partner that wants to expand and take a serious slice of the market, then these accreditations are absolutely paramount to your growth strategy,” he says.

Joseph Carson, chief security scientist and advisory chief information security officer (CISO) at Thycotic, believes accreditations and certifications are important because they “prove the channel partner went through the time and effort to obtain the certifications, meaning they are following some form of best practices and standards”. But he stresses that “it is not enough to depend on the certification alone”.

“If you are a partner that wants to expand and take a serious slice of the market, then these accreditations are absolutely paramount to your growth strategy”

Alp Kostem, Exponential-e

Eddie DeWolfe, vice-president of global channels and alliances at Fidelis Cybersecurity, agrees they are significant to customers because they want to know that a partner has a good understanding of the product they are selling and are able to provide proper support. “They also help the partner achieve milestones that can lead to advancement in the channel programme to higher levels,” he says.

DeWolfe adds that in a bid to simplify and streamline the process of achieving accreditations, partners are now being offered online training and certifications. “This means partners can complete training based on their schedule and at their pace,” he says.

But when it comes to industry certifications, things are more nuanced. Porter accepts the process of certification “is time-consuming” but she argues “the good ones” go through it because they are “what sets a good solutions provider apart from just a reseller who potentially doesn’t invest in training”.

Christina Walker, global director for channel sales and partner programmes at Blancco, is more equivocal. She thinks it entirely depends on the partner’s business model. “VARs and resellers should consider the contract engines they should be a part of, and what these require,” she says. 

When it comes to MSPs and managed security service providers (MSSPs), for example, it depends what verticals they focus on and the accreditations they require. “I have also seen partners lean on third parties or contractors which have those certifications, to support specific verticals where the partner may not,” she states.

Kostem says Exponential-e tries to alleviate some of the issues its partners may struggle with when it comes to accreditation. “We have eight ISOs in place, for example, so this does help them. However, it all comes down to the sector they want to sell to, as some firms may want different accreditations in place depending on the kind of work they do,” he says.

Henley at Exertis says partners approach accreditations and certifications to varying degrees and often defined by their business model. He recommends that they should consider Cyber Essentials (CE) as a minimum, for their own and their customers’ protection, as it’s believed that most breaches would be prevented by implementing the government backed requirements that CE and CE+ enforce.

He adds that certification and accreditation are becoming more important to prove businesses take their cyber security seriously, especially with the fear of fines from the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) that came in to effect last year.

Porter agrees. “Cyber accreditations are particularly important,” she says. “Take Cyber Essentials and Cyber Essentials Plus as examples. Both are government-backed schemes aiming to help businesses protect themselves against a whole range of common cyber attacks. We encourage all our customers to obtain this cyber accreditation to demonstrate to their own customers that they take security seriously.”

Pittick remarks that one of the options is for channel partners to work with vendors to achieve accreditations that are mutually beneficial, which can often form a workable basis for gaining access to the training required.

Canon works with partners to help them gain CompTIA’s Managed Print Trustmark, for example, to develop their skills, and provide customers with an extra level of reassurance and credibility in their ability to deliver solutions via this robust independent accreditation. “It highlights that a partner is willing to go above and beyond for their customers,” he says.

What customers want

It’s not purely about what partners want, of course. The other side of the coin is what customers want. How important are certifications and accreditations to them? Eric Snyder, senior director of channels and alliances at Autho, believes they are very significant. “Ultimately, it’s customer demand that drives partner activity,” he observes. “If customers aren’t already demanding partners have accreditations, they will be soon.”

Taking up the subject of cyber security, he says those skills are in high demand because of a shortage of knowledgeable partners and consultants. “Accreditations allow partners to promote their expertise and, in some cases, charge a premium for resources who’ve been accredited and certified,” says Snyder. “This gives customers a concrete way to validate that the training, expertise, and skillsets on their projects are the right ones. It’s really a win-win.”

“Ultimately, it’s customer demand that drives partner activity. If customers aren’t already demanding partners have accreditations, they will be soon”
Eric Snyder, Autho

Schweer puts it more bluntly. “If you don’t have the accreditations, you won’t be listed as an approved partner, so the marketing of your business is negatively impacted.”

But others aren’t so sure. Carson says it “depends on the type of business or service the channel partner is providing, for example if it was business-critical, then yes having certification is critical to providing some assurance to customers”. So not always. And it’s not something customers are demanding in all cases. “It really depends on the nature of the business or service. If customers are heavily regulated or require certifications, then they will want to ensure that the partners they depend on are also following the same practices.”

DeWolfe accepts that customers may not be demanding accreditations, but he believes it certainly helps with the partner’s credibility in the eyes of the customer. “Additionally, potential customers will specifically seek out a certified partner to buy a certain product from,” he says.

Distributors play a part

One other aspect of the standards and accreditation issue is the role that distributors can play in helping partners to deliver technology or services. Porter says they support partners in training sessions, accredited courses and certifications to promote vendors’ technology and services.

“This is key to providing hands-on exposure to new and emerging technology with proof of value propositions,” she remarks, “to ensure clients get the most out of their investment, while knowing that the partner has the necessary support and accreditations to advise them on the right solutions and technology.”

Understandably, Henley is a keen proponent for the part that distributors have to play in supporting accreditations and certifications. He points out that the Exertis Enterprise Services team has a number of accreditations and is a certification body for the IASME Governance Standard and Cyber Essentials Plus certification, so it can offer the specialist audit to help reseller partners become CE+ certified.

The distributor also applies its ISO 27001 knowledge to all support contracts, run out of its Basingstoke-based Technical Assistance Centre, which has its own segregated network, including dedicated phone lines, power and backups, for 24x7x365 availability.

“Vendor training and certification programmes are often free for customers and partners. As such, any investment in training time across the leading vendor programmes is likely to be well worth it from a business standpoint”

Mike Kontowtt, Silver Peak

“Partners that don’t have these kinds of facilities can rely on us to provide that offering on their behalf – increasing the range of services they can provide to their customers,” claims Henley.

The consensus appears to be that accreditations and certifications are of great benefit to partners and their customers.

Extolling the virtues of accreditation and certification schemes for partners as a means to “better address their customers’ needs”, Mike Kontowtt, EMEA director of channel sales at Silver Peak, makes what could be a clinching argument for why they should take the time and effort necessary to achieve them: they don’t cost anything.

“Vendor training and certification programmes are often free for customers and partners. As such, any investment in training time across the leading vendor programmes is likely to be well worth it from a business standpoint,” says Kontowtt.

 

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