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Partner competencies: Training or evangelizing?

Ed Tittel takes a closer look at some new Microsoft exams.

When I learned recently that Microsoft had launched four new exams with some intriguing titles and odd ID numbers I knew something interesting and unusual was up. These exams include:

* 74-131: Designing a Microsoft Office Enterprise Project Management (EPM) Solution (released 12/9/2004).
* 74-132: Designing a Portal Solution with Microsoft SharePoint Products and Technologies (including Microsoft Content Management Server) (released 11/29/2004).
* 74-133: Customizing Portal Solutions with Microsoft SharePoint Products and Technologies (including Microsoft Content Management Server) (released 11/22/2004)
* 74-135: Developing E-Business Solutions Using Microsoft BizTalk Server 2004 (supposedly due out 12/16/2004, yet there's still no exam page for this item available as of 1/19/2005).

But what astute observers will note is that all of the platforms mentioned in these exams—EPM, SharePoint, Content Management Server and BizTalk Server—are receiving a lot of attention and "push" from Microsoft of late. These exams underscore an important new direction in Microsoft's business strategy, one that's built around semi-custom information technology solutions built on the .NET environment.

Each of the exam preparation guides describe its subject as a "Partner Competency" exam designed to "validate that individuals in a partner environment are efficient and capable of deploying multifaceted IT solutions to their customers with skills across multiple Microsoft products and technologies." But interestingly, none of these exams qualify those individuals who pass them as MCPs.

Why then, would anyone take these exams? Microsoft is currently mum on the subject. My guess is that the company is planning major partner initiatives to push the aforementioned platforms. On face value, that won't help any one individual's certification status one whit. But if Microsoft is planning to involve partners in this effort, companies will probably be required to maintain some number of credentialed IT professionals on staff in order to partake of partner benefits like sharing leads, access to tools and promotions.

As a possible trend, this will be an interesting phenomenon to watch. To me, it says that certification, per se, isn't as important to Microsoft as it once was. Instead the emphasis will be mastery of "key subject matter."

If you have questions or concerns about MS certification, or suggestions for topics you'd like to see covered, please e-mail me at

Ed Tittel is the creator of the Exam Cram series of IT certification books. Ed edits this series as Exam Cram 2 for Que Publishing, along with their Training Guide series of certification study guides. He's also a contributing editor for Certification magazine, and writes regularly on certification topics for various TechTarget Web sites, too.

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