When accreditation is only a gold star

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Billy MacInnes asks what the channel is supposed to do about customers obsessed with choice, and vendors with loyalty

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Billy

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12 April 2019 | 0

Just how valuable are vendor certifications and accreditations? And what value do customers attach to them? I ask the question because it highlights an interesting potential conflict between what a customer looks for from a partner and what a partner is most qualified to deliver. In other words, if the customer’s preferred product or solution is not the one that the partner has accreditations and certifications to supply and support but the partner is anxious to retain the business, something has to give.

So what does the channel partner do? Does the reseller try to convince the customer to switch by arguing the differences between the two options are negligible and therefore it is better to go with the product or solution it has more expertise on and is better able to support? If so, how does it counter the argument that, if the differences are negligible, there shouldn’t be any great obstacle to supplying the customer’s preferred option instead, even if the channel partner has closer ties with another vendor?

But if the partner gives in to that argument, how can it ever persuade the customer in the future of the value of the accreditations and expertise it has built up over the years in a specific vendor’s technology? Aside from walking away from the business in the first instance, it’s hard to see how that contradiction can be resolved. And let’s be honest, there are limits to anyone’s loyalty to a chosen vendor.

It’s a conundrum, but perhaps the era of managed services will help to fix the problem. If a customer chooses a managed service, is the brand of the technology that underpins it much of an issue? Obviously, it has to work – and work well. So there are performance and reliability requirements that the managed service has to meet and maintain, but does anyone truly care which vendor is providing the technology that does that?

Which brings us back to the original question: Just how valuable are vendor certifications and accreditations? Because in a world of managed services, what specific vendor product accreditations does a partner need to have? And if the main requirement is around the platform and delivery of a service that suits the customer rather than the technology underneath it, aren’t the skills and expertise much less vendor specific than in the past?

If managed services and the cloud makes technology much more of a utility in terms of how it is used, deployed and paid for, the requirement for deep rooted knowledge of a particular vendor’s products and platforms becomes far less significant (to the channel partner at any rate) – and the value of that knowledge diminishes as well. Instead, the capabilities required are focused more on the service the technology delivers, what that means for the business and how it integrates with other services.

Utility or futility
If you make an analogy with electricity, the channel partner’s focus switches to the reliability of the service and supply rather than the constituent parts of the infrastructure that deliver the electricity. It’s still important to ensure that the nuts and bolts of that infrastructure are reliable and robust because if something goes wrong, the service goes down as well and, unlike an on-premise service, it can affect large numbers of customers rather than just one. But that’s mainly an issue for the platform provider that hosts the infrastructure rather than the managed service provider – even if the MSP can be damaged by association with an unreliable supplier.

However, it’s also easier for the MSP to switch supplier than for a reseller because it doesn’t have to abruptly abandon years of investment and expertise built up with a specific vendor while throwing out numerous accreditations in the process. For the customer, the switch may only be noticeable because of a marked improvement in service.

As more and more technology infrastructure shifts from the customer site to be hosted and delivered from the cloud or as a service, much of the requirement for technical expertise shifts away from the reseller and the customer premises as well. As that happens, the nature of vendor accreditation needs to change if it is to continue to have relevance and value in the future. The compilation here is that the more the basis of accreditation moves away from technology to the service, the less vendor specific it needs to be.

If that’s the case, is there an argument to be made for the emergence of industry standard accreditations and certifications rather than vendor-specific ones?

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