Indications are that the Lotus Notes business partner community is looking forward to Lotus's forthcoming re-accreditation program. A straw poll of current business partners found them to be in favour of the changes, which will see the bar lifted on what Lotus expects from its partners.
For the past four years a reseller required accreditation simply to be able to sell the Notes product, but this did not indicate their level of competency as a developer or integrator. As the number of partners grew to more than 250, many were frustrated that they were competing against companies with a lower level of Notes skill, with no way of proving their higher level of competency.
According to Lotus's director of channels and alliances, Gordon Makryllos, the new program will see resellers requiring no accreditation to sell the product. They will, however, have to meet much stricter criteria to remain as accredited business partners. The cut off date for the new program has been pushed back from June 1 to October 1, due to delays in setting up the testing program.
Managing director of Sydney-based Notes integrator Sentor Communications Martin Fisk says he is happy the channel has been opened up. "The real business partners focus on value added servers. You could liken it to whether the major PC resellers have a problem with Compaq and IBM being available through retail stores. Of course they don't. Do we have a problem with Notes being available in the wider community? No of course we don't."
Rod Dines, company director of WA-based Notes developer Groupware Systems, says he is very much in favour of the new accreditation. "In fact it's good for us. It distinguishes us as the people we've always been - who know what Notes is about - rather than people who just pay a bit of money and get a status symbol. Hopefully this will give us a better status for developing applications rather than just reselling the product."
Kaz Computing Services' managing director Peter Kazacos is also in favour. I think it's important that customers know which suppliers have got qualified personnel, and by grading the business partners according to the level of skill, the customers are able to make a decision as to who they select."
Makryllos says the new scheme sees the partners broken into three levels of competency: member, qualified business partner and premium partner, with the bar raised for each accordingly. Partners are also segmented into seven tracks depending on vertical expertise. "What we've done is create a segmentation process that says that there's a role for resellers who don't add any value, and then there's a role for consultants, application developers, integrators etc."
Gary Marshall, Managing director of Melbourne-based Market Data Systems, said his company will benefit from accrediting the partners by vertical skill. "We have a certain core competency we like to focus on. In the past we were forced into being fairly horizontal across the Notes streams - now we can focus."
To meet the new criteria every business partner will be re-evaluated, a process that also involves all applicable staff being tested for the appropriate Certified Lotus Engineer level. Makryllos said that across the board testing was the only way that Lotus could ensure the quality of its partners. "To be certified your people will have to go through testing. Not everybody needs to go through the courses before they sit the test, but the exam component is compulsory. This is the only way that we can ensure quality, so that when we brand someone as a qualified partner it means something."
One concern raised is the effect the new requirements will have on smaller players, with external training costs and a fee of $120 for each employee seeking accreditation. While not a small player in the Notes market, director of MicroHelp Giuseppe De Simone said it will make it difficult for small resellers who don't have a strong commitment to the Notes product. "It will make it very hard for those people to survive. But if you're serious about it, it's going to cost you $500 - that's all. I don't think it's going to prevent any of the serious players."
Kazacos agreed that some smaller partners will find meeting the new criteria difficult. "You have to take time out to do the courses, and also then you have to take time out to study for the exams as well as do the examinations. If they've only got a few employees this could actually adversely affect them.
De Simone said there was now an expectation of Lotus to live up to its side of the bargain by giving partners value for money, and by ensuring the marketplace is aware of people who have made that investment.
According to Makryllos, the benefits of the program include access to Lotus business software, use of the Lotus Business Partner logo, listing in the national and international business partner directory, referrals from Lotus Customer Service to inquiries for Lotus services, and participation in Lotus promotional activities. Lotus is also extending its databases and support network to meet the needs of its partners.