Cisco expands its specialist program

As part of the continuing expansion of its Qualified Specialist program, Cisco Systems Inc. added Cisco Unity Support Specialist to its existing IP telephony certification programs.

Don Field, director of certification with Cisco in San Jose, Calif., said the Unity Support Specialist certification is the sixth certification in Cisco’s Qualified Specialist program. These include wireless, VPN and security, storage networking, network management and optical networks. Cisco introduced the certification due to the growing demand from its IP telephony specialists for a certification focusing on the vendor’s Unity voice and IP communications solution.

“We recognize there are individuals who, for a variety of reasons, want to validate their skills in more specialized areas and so we built the Cisco Qualified Specialist certifications to meet that need,” Field said. “There is nothing new in us offering certifications in IP telephony, and the specialist programs align very closely with the job requirements (out there.)”

Unity is Cisco’s unified communications platform that integrates with desktop applications like Microsoft Outlook and Lotus Notes. Unity allows users to listen to e-mail over the telephone, check voice-mail over the Internet and forward faxes to any local fax machine.

“A unified messaging product is where a person gets all of their communications — e-mail, voice-mail and fax — into the same inbox and it all exists within the same messaging database,” said Jim Rzegocki, training manager for the enterprise communications software business unit with Cisco in Seattle, Wash. “The same technology can be used to hook onto a phone system.”

Dave Bailey, education product manager for the voice segment with Cisco Systems in San Jose, Calif., said the Unity Support Specialist certification, like all of Cisco’s other certifications, requires someone to pass a Systems Engineer Exam that tests a person’s knowledge of the solution and ability to install, configure and fix problems with the solution.

Administered by Pearson VUE or Prometric in Canada and the U.S., the Unity Systems Engineer Exam covers such topics as identifying communications architectures, determining the minimum hardware requirements for a unified communications system, and identifying best practices for setting account policies and classes of services to be rolled out to users.

Certification drivers

Jim Hewitt, director of operational excellence and e-learning at Telus Corp., said his firm encourages IT workers to get certified for a number of reasons — and not all of them have to do with career advancement.

“We’re often driven by the vendor and quite often (certification) is part of our agreement with the vendor” when working out discounts for products, Hewitt said. In the case of Cisco, Telus falls into the vendor’s Gold discount category. To receive the discount, Telus must guarantee that a certain number of its technicians are certified to work with certain products. Getting all the tech workers up to speed is an annual process. Telus has a certification tracking tool to help keep its managers up-to-date with employee education, Hewitt said.

Many Telus customers now employ certified personnel. “They are becoming more sophisticated and…in order to be able to communicate and work with them, we have to be at the same level,” he said. “A lot of customers don’t want us working on equipment unless our technicians are certified. We have to keep our people as current as we can.”

Career advancement and higher earning potential are other reasons employees may request a particular certification. In general, workers are receptive to the idea of continuous education. “We never have problems sending people for certification — in many instances, people are lining up for it,” Hewitt said.

However, one must be careful to avoid what he called “paper tigers”: certifications that may look attractive but don’t really fit in with a career plan or the employer’s objectives. “We don’t encourage people to get certified just for the sake of (it). They have to discuss it with their manager first and make sure it’s in their career development plan.”

Before you sign up

Bailey said anyone who is interested in getting the Unity certification should first have a Microsoft Certified Engineer designation.

“The Microsoft Certified Engineer for Windows 2002 and 2003 with Messaging and Exchange is key because Cisco Unity installs on those platforms,” Bailey added. “There are many configuration and integration issues with Microsoft Exchange.”

Cisco Learning Partners offer additional courses for preparing for the exam. A list of those partners can be found at: SearchForm.

Quick Link: 058615

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