If you’re old enough, you probably remember the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. It was everywhere in the 60’s and 70’s, and it carried so much clout that companies proudly displayed it on labels, ads, and even TV commercials. It’s still around, but these days, perhaps you depend more on Consumer Reports or even your favorite blogger when considering a purchase. In short, a certification with a strong reputation for quality and integrity means a lot.HSO Microsoft Partner Competencies 2019

When it comes to technology, it also seems like every vendor has some sort of “certification” or “authorized reseller” moniker. The trouble is, many of these designations don’t mean much because there are no serious requirements behind them. In fact, sometimes the only requirement is to pay a fee. The result: Most people don’t pay attention to them. But that can be a costly mistake.

Organizations depend heavily on technology, so they invest a lot of time (or they should) in doing their due diligence on a product or platform. But what about the partner that will be designing a solution with that product, making modifications to it, implementing it, and supporting it? If you don’t choose a partner that has the qualifications, skills, and experience to do what needs to be done on that end, you’re looking for trouble.

If Microsoft products are at the core of your business, designations are something you can depend on to steer you in the right direction. For just about every business application, tool, platform, and even for other specializations like application development, Microsoft has Partner, Silver Partner, and Gold Partner designations—and they absolutely, positively mean something more than “yeah, we paid a fee.”  

At HSO, we’ve been engaged in the Microsoft certification process (the names and levels have changed over the years, but it’s always been about proving competency) for over 20 years…but we realize that the importance of this is something we and other Partners might take for granted. It’s something we highly value and believe anyone considering a Microsoft engagement should value as well. So, we are offering this blog to explain the various levels of Microsoft Partner certifications and why you should always look for a Microsoft Gold Partner.

What is a Microsoft Certified Partner?

First, Microsoft calls its certifications “Competencies.” They are requirements designed to meet customers’ specific needs and be recognizable to prospective ones. A partner can be just a partner, or they can be Silver or Gold certified. According to Microsoft, these Competencies demonstrate “a specific, proven skill set to customers. Because Microsoft competencies are aligned with how customers buy, customers can easily identify a company’s capabilities and expertise” by looking at their Competencies. As of the writing of this blog, Microsoft has 19 specific competencies, but these change as the technology changes and advances. For each competency, a Partner can attain one of two levels: Silver or Gold.

Silver Competency represents a specialized ability and commitment in a specific business solution area. Partners with Silver Competency offer the best solutions and undertake a rigorous and auditable approval process. They are among the top 5% of Microsoft Partners worldwide.

Gold Competency is the highest certification and represents an even higher level of expertise and a proven and specialized skill set in a particular technology or service area. Gold Partners are recognized for offering innovative business solutions. They are among the top 1% of Microsoft Partners worldwide. While Silver Competency is certainly a good thing, the difference between it and Gold Competency is significant.

Microsoft’s certification process is rigorous and requires regular auditing to ensure Partners are maintaining that high degree of skill, proficiency, and experience. There is a lot behind that sentence. Here are 5 specific reasons why you should look for that “Gold” designation in your Microsoft Partner—and why HSO always goes for the Gold.

#1 Always up to date…always

Microsoft technology advances constantly, and their competency requirements are updated right along with those advances. This ensures your Microsoft Partner is always up to date on the very latest Microsoft offerings and advancements. This should not be underestimated. Think of it this way: If you were looking for a surgeon to operate on you, would you feel comfortable with one who had no ongoing medical training in 20 years? Yes, our organs are arguably still in the same place in our bodies, but our knowledge of how they function and advances in surgical techniques put the surgeon with up-to-date training at a clear advantage. Similarly, Microsoft Partners that are up to date not only know the product or technology better, but they also know best how to apply it to your specific requirements.

#2 Meeting rigorous standards

Microsoft certification requires more than basic knowledge. It requires that a certain number of people pass difficult exams (lots of exams!), which become more difficult each year. For example, 15 individuals must pass the core value exams, and out of those 15, five of them must pass certain specialty exams. This is an ongoing process; you don’t get certified once and you’re done. It requires the Partner to constantly stay up to date. Once you’re Gold certified, you’re only certified until your next anniversary date—then it all starts over again.

This equates to two advantages for customers:

  • You can be assured that the people working on your solution know what they’re doing. They know the product or technology inside and out, and they know how to get the most out of it to meet your needs.
  • Microsoft requires that a large number of people get certified in order to maintain a Gold partner status. So, a Gold partner has, by definition, a “deep bench.” You can be absolutely confident that there are plenty of people qualified to work with you. Let’s face it: there is turnover in any company, and the best way to torpedo a project is to lose the only person with the appropriate training in the middle of a project. That won’t happen with a Gold Partner. More resources also mean less wait time for projects and better troubleshooting if your project ever hits a snag.

IMPORTANT NOTE: When you evaluate a partner, don’t assume that, just because they have a large staff, they have a large Microsoft-certified team. This is another reason to look for Gold competency.

#3 A direct connection to Microsoft

When you work with a Microsoft Gold Partner, you get the added value of working with consultants who demonstrate the specific skill sets you need. With this level of in-house expertise, Gold Partners simply don’t need to ask Microsoft for assistance as often, which means your problems get solved faster.  

However, there are times when a Partner needs help. When they do need to open a case with Microsoft, Gold Partners have the advantage of access to advanced support partners within the Microsoft Business Solutions sphere. This means guaranteed response times, supported by some very smart people. Gold Partners also get an entitlement attached to all of their cases. This means that if the case isn’t progressing as it should, it can be escalated right away via a dedicated escalation team.

In fact, Microsoft is more involved with Gold Partners from the beginning. Microsoft adds value from the first moment you consider one of their products, from engagement and discovery to technical support in architecting your solution.

#4 The opportunity for a proof of concept before taking the plunge

Gold Partners have the advantage of getting licenses for demos and development. This gives them the opportunity to develop proof of concepts for customers without the financial requirement of buying licenses. That’s great for the Partner, but what does it mean to the customer? It gives the Partner the flexibility to test ideas for customers before asking them to commit, so they get the benefit of the proposed solution having had a test drive before it goes down the implementation road.

When a Partner has a combination of Competencies, they qualify to deliver deployment planning services. For the right prospect and the right project, the Partner can engage for a number of days of consulting—similar to a pilot program or delivering a proof of concept—funded by Microsoft. This is the perfect solution for a customer that is ready to pull the trigger on a solution but is looking at a large financial commitment. This is a win not just for the customer, but for the Partner because they are already prepared for the engagement, and for Microsoft because, of course, they will sell licenses and have another great customer success story to share.

#5 Happy employees, happy customers

At HSO, we believe that happy employees make happy customers. If our employees are happy, they stay with us, which means our customers don’t deal with turnover on the team supporting them. Microsoft certification not only helps the Partner as a company; it also benefits the individuals on the team through professional development. A technical professional depends on professional development (refer to the surgeon example above) to stay relevant. Any Partner with Gold certification is going to have employees who are committed to their craft and most likely the Partner they work for—and that will benefit you.

Why HSO goes for the Gold

As of 2019, HSO is a Gold Certified Partner in five areas, including the following:

  • Gold Cloud Platform: This competency demonstrates that the Partner has the skill to operate a modern data center with expertise in systems management, virtualization, storage, networking, identity management, and cloud technologies.
  • Gold Cloud Business Applications: HSO has earned this designation because we offer solutions across the entire Microsoft stack, including Microsoft Dynamics 365, Azure, and Office 365. It includes a range of technical certifications that help companies implement, demo, and develop business applications.
  • Gold Application Development: This competency shows HSO’s dedication to using Microsoft technologies to create mobile and web applications. It helps us create new applications, modernize existing applications, and migrate them to Azure.

So, why does HSO go for Gold instead of Silver? Because we want to offer the very best to our customers, and while Silver competency is an achievement, we believe that we owe it to you to have the highest level of training and the best relationship possible with Microsoft, because it will benefit you. HSO uses Microsoft Teams for our Certification Station. Each exam has its own Team, and each Team has a channel within it. For instance, for Dynamics 365 CE, there is a team dedicated to learning for Dynamics 365 CE and then a channel for each exam. . We also offer employees opportunities to study together, offer each other tips, and talk about the best ways to learn the material.

Investing in our experts

Keeping up with certifications can be expensive. That’s why we support our consultants by paying for their certification needs, like learning materials. We also reward our employees through bonuses. Studying for these exams is something they do above and beyond working with customers, and they deserve a reward for it, because we as a company could not attain these Competencies without them.

Go for the Gold

Much like the Olympics, when searching for a technology partner, you should always go for the gold to ensure you’re getting the very best in experience, knowledge, and support. When you select your Microsoft Gold Partner, be sure to ask which competencies they have and make sure they match with your needs. Watch this brief video to see why our customers are happy they chose HSO: