Microsoft has launched a new certification tier that gives local Sharepoint partners the chance to prove their skills are “Elite”.
Major local Sharepoint partners Datacom, Provoke, Intergen, Information Leadership and Fujitsu are participating in the first round of training to reach Elite status.
Sharepoint product manager Darryl Burling says Microsoft has traditionally focused on the technical aspects of training in the platform, but Elite training places greater emphasis on meeting business requirements with a Sharepoint implementation.
“In the past the [Sharepoint] partner programme has been about proving technical competencies, but [partners] don’t always have those soft skills as well. As a product, Sharepoint is about taking business information and processes and coupling that with the right people. You need to understand the information and how users are interacting with that information to do the job.”
Microsoft currently divides partners into registered, certified and gold-certified tiers, however these will change to a competency-based system under the recently-announced Partner Network.
The vendor has worked with UK-based trainer Steve Smith, director of Combined Knowledge, to identify four key skill sets for Sharepoint Elite certification. Two of these – infrastructure and development – have a technology focus, while the other two – information architecture and end-user engagement, are centred around business needs.
Partners can specialise in the technical skills, the business aspects, or both, and at least three staff are required to train in each of the four areas.
The business courses run over three days and the technical training over five days, at a training facility. There are also prerequisite skills for the courses, so they build on the knowledge staff already have, says Smith.
The first courses offered cost $2500 per person per course, plus lost billing for the training period.
Datacom’s online solutions general manager Stuart Mackereth says Sharepoint is a “very big growth area for us”. The company has a 40-strong Sharepoint team in Auckland and about 20 staff in Wellington specialising in this area, he says. It does a lot of Sharepoint work for local governments, retailers and the transport sector, and in document management, where the company recently did a project with a big scanning company, he says.
Mackereth agrees there needs to be a shift toward viewing Sharepoint as a platform to meet business requirements, rather than just being used for specific applications.
“We have to look not just at the solution but also the business strategy, and build a programme. There’s now a lot of strategic work that we wouldn’t typically have done.
“It’s more about breadth than complexity because being able to use all of Sharepoint is a challenge. We see a lot of our customers having a point solution and not using the rest of the platform as well.”
Intergen has 13 staff undertaking the Elite training, and managing director Tony Stewart says it is sending its “second tier” Sharepoint staff to bring their skills up to top level.
Stewart has seen “quite a lot of failings” in Sharepoint implementations across the board, including a lack of understanding of core functionality leading to unjustified bespoke solution builds, problems with infrastructure and customers not getting the value they thought they would.
“There is not a particularly good job being done in Sharepoint implementations and we are using this [training] opportunity to broaden the range of people we’ve got that can have the entire skills.”
Mark Orange, Intergen’s practice principal for portals, content and collaboration, and a member of Microsoft’s global Most Valuable Professional programme, says the Elite initiative gives customers a way of identifying the strongest Sharepoint partners.
Datacom and Intergen each participate in the partner evangelism programme for Sharepoint 2010, says Microsoft, along with Provoke. Datacom is rolling out Sharepoint 2010 internally.
Microsoft will offer ongoing training for Elite Sharepoint partners, saying the local training could be a bridge to the Microsoft Sharepoint Master programme run twice a year in the US. This will be offered in November for Sharepoint 2007, and mid-2010 for Sharepoint 2010.
“It would be nice to see some Kiwis on that course,” says partner group director Brent Colbert.