Alcatel elicits skepticism

Alcatel SA has unveiled a new program to make network professionals adept at operating Alcatel switches, but industry observers are skeptical of the designation’s value.

Alcatel, the Paris, France-based switch maker, in December introduced its Alcatel Certified Switch Professional (ACSP) program. According to the firm’s spokesman, Alcatel hopes this didactic measure helps seed success in the enterprise market.

“We’re looking to show that we’re a viable alternative to Cisco [Systems Inc.], and that we’re an enabler for sourcing datacom gear in enterprise networks,” said Steven Tufts, Alcatel’s vice-president of worldwide services.

Coinciding with the release of Alcatel’s OmniSwitch 8000 for corporate cores and the OmniSwitch 6000 for the enterprise edge, the ACSP course comes on a CD and takes approximately six hours to complete, Tufts said. The Web-based exam requires a further 45 minutes.

Upon successful completion, pupils win ACSP status, making them experts in Alcatel’s products, he said. All told, the process costs approximately US$100.

According to Roberta Fox, president of Fox Group Consulting in Markham, Ont., employers spend between $35,000 and $50,000 to certify workers on Cisco equipment. Alcatel’s relatively discounted rate makes her question the program’s value.

“I’m suspicious about the quality at that price point.…If I’m considering giving my folks the time to take this course, what’s the market value of having it? Is it going to make them more valuable? I’d be skeptical.”

Tufts said the ACSP program takes so little time and money to complete because it’s meant to augment understanding for network professionals with certain designations already under their belts, such as Cisco Certified Internetwork Experts (CCIEs) and Cisco Certified Network Associates (CCNA).

“We’re looking to leverage that experience in the industry to say, ‘You don’t have to invest another six to 10 weeks to learn yet another new product line. If you’re a CCIE or CCNA, it’s a six-hour [course] and you’re an expert on the Alcatel products as well.'”

Before releasing the program, Alcatel e-mailed 4,000 network experts, including those with Cisco certificates, to gauge interest. Approximately 25 per cent of respondents expressed interest in the ACSP certification, Tufts said.

Fox said the course might aid Alcatel in its fight for enterprise market share. But she pointed out that the company’s drive for respect among Canadian clients is at odds with certain corporate decisions. Alcatel last October laid off 400 Canadian employees. In July, the firm let go 480.

If the ACSP is to succeed, “they have to have the sales and marketing support,” Fox said, indicating that Alcatel might lack the basic customer service elements required to keep clients happy.

Still, the ACSP “would be a good thing for the distributor market, to get them certified,” Fox said. “They’re very cost conscious in terms of hard cash.…It would have some appeal for them.”

Julie Kaufman, research manager, skills development with IDC Canada Ltd. in Toronto, warned against judging the course’s value by price and time to completion.

“Every company approaches certification differently. Some have very long processes.…Others don’t need all that complicated training, possibly because a lot of that experience is already out there. It can be a positioning tool, a way to prove you do have the capabilities.”

That’s just what Alcatel is up to, Tufts said.

“We don’t reinvent the wheel, or try to rebuild the knowledge base from the beginning. We’re trying for…the incremental 20 per cent, the Alcatel whizbang features that are above and beyond what you’d find elsewhere.”

Tufts said the ACSP CD is priced at US$24.95. The exam costs US$75. For more information, see Alcatel’s training Web site,

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