What is the Importance of Managed Service Provider Certifications?

Managed service provider certifications can help you to quickly validate an MSP’s credibility. In today’s technological landscape – with ever-accelerating digital transformation and seemingly constant cyberattacks – it is more essential than ever to ensure that you can trust your vendors and partners. While that trust can be established over time by working directly with an MSP, certifications can tell you at a glance whether your potential vendors are competent in the areas that are important to your business. Managed service provider certifications range widely in terms of subject area and evaluation criteria, but they all serve to increase the trustworthiness of those MSPs that do earn them.

What Are MSP Certifications?

Managed service provider certifications are verifiable, standardized and widely accepted credentials awarded to MSPs by objective third-party organizations. There are both company-wide MSP certifications – those that are earned by the MSP as a whole – as well as individual MSP certifications – those that are earned by the MSP’s individual employees. 

Most MSP certifications of both types are temporary and must be renewed on a periodic basis. Among the more prominent MSP certifications are those that focus on subjects such as possession of advanced technical skills or adherence to certain security standards, data privacy requirements or IT service management methodologies.


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Partner Certifications

Another important type of managed service provider certification is a partner certification, otherwise referred to as a manufacturer certification. This type of MSP certification confirms that an MSP has proven that they are adept at supporting technologies from the awarding manufacturer. A couple examples of partner MSP certifications come from Cisco Systems:

  • The first is Cisco’s Premier partner certification, which is only awarded to organizations that meet specific requirements, such as employing a certain number of engineers that possess its Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) certification.
  • Another example is Cisco’s Preferred Solution Partner distinction, which is only bestowed upon providers who sell enterprise Cisco-integrated solutions.

While partner certifications such as those listed above can be difficult to attain, they can also greatly benefit an MSP by helping them to build a relationship with the awarding partner – Cisco, in this instance – and increase their sales prospects.

Is MSP Certification Worth it?

If you are reading this and also happen to be employed by an MSP, you may be wondering if attaining an MSP certification is worth it for your company. In other words, do the benefits of MSP certifications outweigh the effort and costs associated with earning them? The answer to that question is yes, obtaining an MSP certification is worth it under two conditions:

  • The certification is a barrier to entry for a market you wish to serve.
  • The investment required to earn the certification is less than the return that certification will yield.

That answer can be better clarified through the use of an example: 

Say an MSP is interested in managing Cisco environments. Most clients looking for Cisco managed services are going to limit their search to certified Cisco managed service providers. In such a situation, the MSP interested in providing Cisco managed services would be best served by obtaining Cisco MSP certifications relevant to the technologies it wishes to manage. Doing so would provide that organization access to the market for managing those technologies.

Conversely, if that MSP’s business plan does not involve managing technologies from other manufacturers, it would not make business sense for them to undergo the rigorous, time-consuming, expensive certification processes of any manufacturers outside of Cisco.

While the example above is clear cut, the situation is not always so for all types of MSP certifications. As the example illustrates, it is easy for an MSP to determine if they should go after MSP certifications from a manufacturer. What might not be so clear for an MSP is if they should go after other types of MSP certifications, such as those related to security standards, data privacy requirements or IT service management methodologies.

A good rule of thumb in such situations is for an MSP to try to think like their prospective clients and then seek out MSP certifications that align with those prospective clients’ priorities. For example, if the MSP wants to attract clients in the financial services or healthcare fields, then certifications that prove they are capable of handling sensitive data – such as financial and healthcare records – are essential. Truthfully, given that most enterprises these days have access to sensitive customer data – from contact information to credit card account details – certifications related to data handling should be viewed as essential by all MSPs.

Should Individual Employees Hold MSP Certifications, Too?

While it is critical for managed service providers to hold certifications relevant to their business, it is equally important for their employees to as well. As an example, at Optanix, the knowledge and experience of our support engineers are backed up by the many industry credentials those engineers hold. Among those credentials are certifications from vendors including Cisco, VMware, Juniper and others. These certifications demonstrate that our engineers know every relevant detail about the variety of applications they deploy, troubleshoot and monitor on a daily basis.

It is important to note that engineers are not the only staff that should be certified. Both an MSP and its clients benefit when employees of that MSP in all types of roles hold certifications relevant to their responsibilities. For example, employees with project management certifications, such as the PMP, and certifications related to service delivery methodologies, such as ITIL certifications, can implement best practices around process that improve the quality of service that an MSP’s clients receive.

While all of the focus in this section thus far has been on the benefits of employee certifications to the MSP and its clients, such certifications also provide direct, personal benefits for the employees who hold them. For instance, employees may receive promotions, raises and/or bonuses for attaining certain certifications. Additionally, obtaining certifications can greatly increase an individual’s prospects outside of their current organization should they ever wish to make a career move.

Managed Service Provider Training Programs

The best way to ensure that employees are attaining and maintaining certifications is to aid them in their efforts to do so. An MSP has several options in this area. The most effective approach – though also the most expensive – is to establish an internal training department. This department would consist of subject matter experts who could educate employees on their areas of expertise and prepare them for the related MSP certification exams. For example, a Cisco networking expert could teach employees about Cisco networking and get them ready for the CCNA exam.

Other approaches that MSPs can take to help their employees obtain certifications are to provide employees with access to a training platform, such as Pluralsight, or to offer a tuition reimbursement program. It can also benefit an MSP to provide employees subscriptions to managed service provider publications to ensure they are staying up to date on the latest information in the years between their recertification attempts. Regardless of the approach that is taken, any managed service provider training program should focus heavily on company and client needs but also be attuned to the interests and envisioned paths of those employees seeking certifications.

The Big Idea

Managed service provider certifications are a great way for an MSP to validate for clients that they possess knowledge and expertise in areas of relevance to those clients. While obtaining certain certifications can be a difficult, resource-intensive process for an MSP and its employees, doing so is often essential for gaining access to particular markets. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the pursuit of certifications can establish a mindset of continuous improvement within an MSP that will ensure it is always evolving towards a better future for itself and its clients.

This blog post was authored by Logan Aubeuf, a senior member of Optanix’s unified communications engineering team.

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