Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Reflections on exams for Office 365


I have recently completed the beta exams for the two upcoming Office 365 certifications 70-321, Deploying Office 365 and 70-323, Administering Office 365. I won’t know the results for a few months but I’d like to convey some thoughts on these exams in context of those resellers in small to medium business (SMB).

I am very privileged to know many exceptional SMB technology resellers around the world. Not only are they hard working, very customer focused but they are some of the most technically astute and knowledgeable people I have ever met in technology. I have worked with enterprise people who perhaps know more on ONE single product but most SMB technology resellers have to be across so many different products and technologies in contrast to enterprise people who are normally focused on a single technology like Active Directory (AD), SQL, Exchange etc. Most SMB resellers have to be across these products also for multiple customers and configurations, where most enterprise people work only for a single business.

After completing both Office 365 exams I was struck by how much Office 365 is like Small Business Server. Why is that? Both product require a breadth of knowledge that most enterprise people would struggle with. To pass the Office 365 exams you are going to HAVE to know Exchange, Lync, SharePoint, AD integration, etc. Likewise, to pass the SBS certification test you need to be across Exchange, SharePoint, Windows Server, Remote connectivity and the like. Sure, Office 365 focuses more on the enterprise features of the products but few enterprise people I know are across such a broad range. However, just about every person I know who does SBS has skills across the entire product range.

To me this bodes well for SBS people looking to get into Office 365 and become certified. You already know what it is like to be across so many products, this gives you a leg up in my books. At the moment you’ll need to learn the advanced features of Office 365, as that is part of the curriculum and will certainly be tested in any certification exam. Even if perhaps SBS people will never implement things like Single Sign On (SSO) and ADFS configuration. I think that many SBS people who have the SBS certification will look at this as a great opportunity to learn more about the advanced features of products they have already been using. They’ll certainly have to study, but they’ll really learn something and that will make them better technology people and most likely open up additional opportunities for them.

However, just as there is a dedicated SBS certification exam from Microsoft it would nice to have an Office 365 certification exam that is focused on the SMB market. A market that typically doesn’t do AD integration, a market that moves everything to Office 365, a market that is truly looking to adopt the total cloud model. Bah humbug I hear the enterprise people say. Ok you guys and gals may have the greatest number of licenses perhaps but from what I understand 90% of businesses that use Office are small to medium in size. If Microsoft wants to speed adoption of this market then it need to make it easier for people who service that market to get certified. These people, like their customers, are time and cash poor. They believe the best reflection of certification is the fact that they could pass it simply based on their direct experiences with customers. At the moment I don’t believe that is possible and as such that will hinder to move of existing SMB resellers to supporting, adopting and selling Office 365.

So in summary, I think the existing exams cover the whole Office 365 products and configuration very well. This means that if you are weak in any area or on a specific product you need to bring that up to strength before attempting the exams. For SMB resellers this means you are going to have to dive into areas of Office 365 that you may never see in the field. It would also be nice for Microsoft to consider an Office 365 certification for the SMB market that can pretty much be passed provided you have enough experience setting it up and supporting it for SMB customers (i.e. those < 100 seats).