Prepping Partners to Go for the Gold

Microsoft adds collaborative solutions and business intelligence to certification program.

In a continued effort to enhance its Gold Certified Partner Program, Microsoft has added new certifications in the business-intelligence and collaborative-solutions categories.

The latest designations fill two holes that were identified by Microsoft partners and that also were recently announced in conjunction with the upcoming release of Project Guides, blueprints designed to help partners sell and deploy solutions.

The newest certification additions come before Microsofts mid-July Fusion 2001 partner conference, where Microsoft chairman and chief software architect Bill Gates will be the closing keynote speaker outlining where partners play in the companys .Net Web- services strategy.

The two new designations were missing from the menu of certifications the company had initially put together when it debuted the Gold Certified Partner Program, its top-tier program, in November. At the time, the goal was to have the latest designations by May, says Rosa Garcia, general manager of the Partner Program Group at Microsoft.

Gold Certified Partner certifications were created in categories such as e-commerce solutions, software products, support services, enterprise systems, and hosting and applications services.

"We have delivered as promised," says Garcia. "We needed to create two more certifications." She says the certifications for business intelligence, for instance, identify the "deep experience" and expertise around data-warehousing, data-mart or OLAP functionality based on Microsoft technologies.

Given the growing importance of databases as they relate to e-commerce, Web systems and a customers internal data, the certification around business intelligence looks to tap the expertise partners have developed in knowledge management, Garcia says. "Knowledge management has been in and out of fashion for a while, and it is still important and there are still a lot of services around it."

The need for those services may come to play more at a time when the economy is not as robust as it was a couple of years ago. "When the economy is not going well, companies cannot make intelligent decisions," because they may lack access to data-warehousing information that could glean good business intelligence, according to Garcia.

The new certifications show a push by Microsoft to have its partners zero in on core competencies, says Lee Blackstone, CEO of Blackstone & Cullen, a 30-person application-development firm founded in 1989. The company is a Microsoft Gold partner in business intelligence and collaborative solutions.

"I think Microsoft is really nailing down core competencies," says Blackstone, who along with his partner, Frank Cullen, helped Microsoft come up with some of the criteria for the certifications in business intelligence and collaborative solutions.

"For the collaborative-solutions certification, we wanted people to have done a project or generated a quarter of a million in revenue," says Blackstone, adding that the revenue criteria is not warranted in all the Gold certifications. "We felt that the revenue piece is important because it goes beyond a pilot costing $20 thousand to $30 thousand."

Claudia Imhoff, CEO and president of Business Intelligence, is not a Microsoft Gold partner because of the small size of her five-person company. Still, she plays a big role helping Microsoft create criteria.

"The new category is important because it does identify those consulting partners that have good breadth and depth in business intelligence and indicate they have the capabilities," Imhoff says.

"I serve as a sounding board [for Microsoft]. We are getting into specifics to find if partners are using analysis services, or creating multidimensional analysis and modeling capabilities," she adds.

Imhoff notes that the strict certification requirements in the business-intelligence category will allow Microsoft to "weed out the people that just build databases."

And you think TVs "Boot Camp" is tough. There are no weak links here.