Microsoft (NSDQ:MSFT) last week revealed a price hike in Microsoft Certifications that’ll go into effect throughout many parts of the world starting in July.
The price hikes will affect the following certifications: Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist (MCTS), Microsoft Certified IT Professional (MCITP), Microsoft Certified Professional Developer (MCPD), Microsoft Certified Desktop Support Technician (MCDST), Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator (MCSA), Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE), Microsoft Certified Application Developer (MCAD), Microsoft Certified Solution Developer (MCSD), Microsoft Certified Database Administrator (MCDBA).
Microsoft said it doesn’t expect to increase the price of Microsoft Certified Master (MCM), Microsoft Certified Architect (MCA), Microsoft Technology Associate (MTA), and Microsoft Office Specialist (MOS) Certification exams.
Microsoft isn’t raising the price of exams uniformly around the world: The retail price for Microsoft Certification exams in the U.S. and Canada will rise from $125 to $150, but it’ll remain unchanged in counties like Ireland, Spain and Greece, whose economies are still shaky.
Microsoft says it’ll use the price hike to improve the Microsoft Certification program with new certifications and question types, as well as frequent exam updates and better exam security.
The move came as a surprise to partners, and those who’ve been adjusting their businesses to meet the new terms of Microsoft Partner Network (MPN) said the timing is unfortunate. However, Microsoft plans to offer partners “substantial savings” on exam fees for Microsoft Certifications required to attain MPN competencies. Details on these offers are on the agenda for this year’s Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC), to be held from July 10-14 in Los Angeles.
MPN adds a great deal of weight to the technical skills partners carry, and many have had to make difficult choices as part of their migration to MPN. In MPN, the old Gold and Silver rankings are now being used as indicators of a partner’s skill level within 29 distinct MPN technology competencies.
To obtain Gold, partners must hire or contract with four Microsoft Certified Professionals (MCPs), and the requirement for Silver is two MCPs. This is in addition to the business model changes Microsoft is pressing partners to make as part of the software giant’s march in cloud computing.
In light of all these changes, it’s understandable that some partners would be irked by the addition of an additional cost burden.
“Not only are we eating administrative costs to realign ourselves with Microsoft, we’re coming off a tough few years of lackluster IT spending and dealing with cloud solutions that are trying to capture a significant amount of value from the channel ecosystem,” said Travis Fisher, executive vice president at Inacom Information Systems, a Salisbury, Md.-based solution provider. “I can’t imagine a worse time for increased certification costs to take effect than right now.”
Microsoft, through its testing partner Prometric, offers a 30 percent discount to partners that purchase an 8-pack of exam vouchers, which includes one free “re-take” for those who don’t pass the first time. There are seven exams required for the MCSE certification, which adds up to $1,050 without the discount.
But as Fisher notes, exams costs are only part of the equation when it comes to obtaining a Microsoft certification. When everything is taken into account, he estimates that Inacom invests around $10,000 per person for certifications every three to five years.
“Let’s be honest: The real costs of obtaining any certification come in the form of boot camps, which cost around $3,500 per week, payroll expenses, and lost productivity,” Fisher said.
It’s unlikely that higher certification costs are going to dissuade Microsoft partners that have begun their move to MPN, particularly because like MPN itself, the exam price hike will likely give partners better visibility and differentiation within the Microsoft channel.
“This will definitely raise costs in the short-term, but fewer partners will achieve and maintain these certs, allowing them to differentiate themselves as experts in a way that other partners can’t,” said Rick Oppedisano, executive director of partner and channel Sales at Azaleos, a Seattle-based Microsoft solution provider.
Dave Sobel, CEO of Evolve Technologies, a Fairfax, Va.-based Microsoft partner, was surprised by the price hike, but says it won’t affect his company’s MPN plans.
“It’s unfortunate that it’s coming in the midst of our move over to MPN, and it matters because we’re trying to get a bunch of people trained,” he said. “But Microsoft has long been quite generous in giving training incentives to partners, and this isn’t an unreasonable increase.”