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Over the years I've been involved in the debate over whether or not IT certifications provide value to the individuals who attain them and the companies that employ these individuals. I've always held the belief that certifications are important, but there are quite a few people who make the argument that certifications aren't relevant today. A case can be made either way based on empirical data and anecdotal stories.
Now, an in-depth three-year IDC study provides real data that shows the relationship between training, certification and the functional performance of teams of IT professionals. The results of this study are in the November 2009 report by Cushing Anderson called "Impact of Training on Network Administration: Certification Leads to Operational Productivity."
IDC's 36-month study involved surveying more than 1,100 IT managers who are responsible for more than 3,000 teams. The survey asked for details about more than 80 IT performance metrics in 26 different functional domains, which include deployment, development, management, security, storage and support. Having analyzed all that data, IDC has come to the conclusion that certification in relevant areas matters, and here's why.
Increasingly, companies are relying on their IT departments to go beyond simply deploying and operating IT systems. IT departments are often included in business transformations and process improvements that will help the business grow and become more profitable. This means the department needs to have a staff of people with both business acumen and IT knowledge and skills. Anderson writes, "Organizations focused on driving growth, managing risks, and cutting overhead expenses rely on IT departments to manage convergence, complex infrastructures, and the proliferation of sophisticated edge devices (e.g., notebooks and PDAs). IT talent must combine technical capabilities with the ability to manage projects and complex situations that bring alignment with business goals."
This IT talent is often organized in teams -- groups of people who collaborate on projects to bring about the best results possible. IDC's research has shown that high-performance teams are comprised of individuals who possess current and relevant skills and knowledge. What's more, the team members' skills must be complementary and comprehensive enough for the project at hand. "Training and certification are effective measures of how well team members can work with specific technologies, hardware, and software," Anderson writes.
"Used properly, certifications play key roles at the convergence of business and IT trends. IDC research shows a direct relationship between higher levels of certification and improved performance -- when team skills improve, organizational performance increases proportionally," according to Anderson. "The percentage of relevant certifications a team holds is a reliable measure of an IT team's functional capability. Each new certification increases team performance."