Novell Inc. is bring back certification requirements into its reseller program while reducing the program’s fees and eliminating its minumum licence sales structure.

Novell Monday said PartnerNet 2002 will require partners to attain various levels of certification in order that they may call themselves gold or platinum partners. It was something that both Novell’s partners and customers have been asking for, according to director of field sales and channel for Novell Canada, James Simzer.

“One of the things our channel council had told us is the certification requirements were an absolute must so they could continue to differentiate themselves inside of the marketplace,” he explained. He added that customers explicitly look for minimum levels of certification from partners before proceeding with an engagement. Certification requirements were taken out of ParterNet when it was first introduced a year ago.

By enforcing certification requirements Novell is recognizing that some partners bring more to the table than others, said Rene Auger, vice-president of operations for platinum partner Nexxlink Technologies, based in Montreal.

“We’re quite pleased with that,” he said, adding that certification requirements are becoming more common among vendors. “Microsoft has had it for a while. Citrix also has very stringent certification requirements. . . . The world was coming to a point where everybody was selling everything to everybody. I think you’re going to see a more selective process take place over the next couple of months.”

Program fees are being reduced by 25 to 50 per cent for PartnerNet 2002. Novell has also scrapped its minimum licence sales structure — US$15,000 for gold partners, US$50,000 for platinum — to level the playing field between product resellers and those more involved in integration and service engagements.

The role of Novell service providers and integration partners has been up in the air since last February, when the software company first announced its intent to purchase services company Cambridge Technology Partners. During Novell’s annual Brainshare conference, held in Utah last February, then-CEO Eric Schmidt said that Cambridge would address Fortune 500-level engagements. Novell has since articulated how Cambridge and existing partners will co-exist. The PartnerNet 2002 program is based on Novell’s Clear Channel announcement from last November. It took some pains to clarify Cambridge’s role by saying that Novell will name and publish its Fortune 500 and Global 2,000 accounts.

“Oftentimes, we’re engaging multiple partners inside of those opportunities,” said Simzer. “Our partners could work with Novell Consulting, they could work with a CSI (such as Deloitte & Touche or IBM Global Services), or they could work with Cambridge, depending on the size of the deal. Novell channel partners are very strategic in those opportunities.”

Auger has been keeping an eye on the Cambridge situation. Nexxlink should be able to focus its efforts in the areas that Cambridge or Novell’s own internal consulting force don’t address, said Auger.

“There’s use for a partner such as ourselves. (Cambridge) can’t be everything to everybody. We see it more as a complement that actual competition, at least at this stage,” he said, adding that in the long run Cambridge can only strengthen Novell’s market position and partners may see a trickledown effect in their own sales and services.

Auger said that PartnerNet certification requirements may reduce the number of Novell service providers in any given vertical, but Simzer expects the number of Novell’s Canadian partners to increase from the current 400 to about 500 by the end of the year.

Novell will provide discounted training and certification testing to partners as well as additional technical support to help speed deployments.

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