Certification, which until very recently has been optional, is about to become a prerequisite for doing business. If you don't have a vendor's stamp of approval, you're going to lose out to other solutions providers that do. And if you don't own an account and you can't differentiate yourself from a host of other companies offering similar services, you'd better start looking for a new profession.
Vendors are well aware of this state of affairs. Increasingly complicated solutions require deep expertise, and customers want to know you've got it before they entrust you with a piece of their future. Vendors are all too aware of this, and they're wielding certification like a loaded weapon—all in the name of effective partnering.
From their standpoint, the best thing they can offer you is a complete partnership. That means everything from better leads to better support and early access to product development. IBM, AT&T, Microsoft, Cisco Systems, Sun Microsystems, and a long list of others are truly willing to look at their top partners as an extension of themselves. For vendors, this is the best way to invade the middle market. They can still deal one-to-one with Fortune 500 companies. But when it comes to selling into midsize companies, as well as some of the larger small businesses, they don't have the contacts or the economics to effectively compete. That's why they need partners, and the better trained and more exclusive they can make the equation, the better they'll do.
Cisco pioneered this ground with the Cisco Certified Internetworking Expert classification. A CCIE title is very difficult to acquire. If you happen to get your hands on one, it opens all sorts of doors.
Microsoft is doing the same with its gold partners, IBM has a long list of tiered certifications, and AT&T has just launched its Solution Provider program.
All of those classifications bring serious attention by vendors. In return, however, they want a serious commitment of resources and energy. And unless your company has vast resources, that means you'll probably have to limit the number of vendor certifications you take on.
That means consultants will have fewer and fewer vendors to recommend, and it means integrators will have fewer and fewer vendors with which they can go to market. But it also means that unless you have a solid core of vendors to work with, and the certifications to go with them, you're going to have a much tougher time going forward.