Cisco will make its certified channel partners broaden their own areas of expertise as the networking vendor itself expands the role of networks, Cisco was set to announce this week at its annual partner conference.The new requirements, which all certified partners will have to meet by March 2008, are intended to help customers buy complete, advanced networks with new capabilities such as security, IP telephony and wireless from one provider, according to Andrew Sage, senior director of worldwide channels marketing. A survey of Cisco customers revealed they are using a greater variety of network technologies than before and want fewer partners with more expertise, he said."It's the one-hand-to-shake concept," Sage said.For partners, more certifications add the capability to carry out bigger jobs, he added. The huge San Jose networking vendor will make big investments in training and certification testing for the partners, including both free online courses and paid in-person classes, he said.Raising the bar for its Gold, Silver and Premium certifications is the most significant of several changes Cisco is announcing at the conference in San Diego, which will draw about 2,200 executives from the company's channel partners worldwide, Sage said. In addition to about 2,800 certified partner companies, approximately 25,000 other resellers deal in Cisco products worldwide. Cisco derives about 85% of its revenue from sales through channels, he said.The changes to be announced this week are Cisco's way of pushing its resellers to compete on expertise rather than price, which is likely to help maintain profit margins but also to help customers find a good supplier, said TC Doyle, an analyst at Amazon Consulting, in Mountain View, Calif.The idea is that, for the customer, "In front of them on their bids is a really proven expert in a given field," Doyle said.Resellers that want the highest Cisco certification will need to have proven expertise in routing, switching, wireless, security and voice technologies, Sage said. Silver and Premier certification will also require certain specializations. Partners at any level will also be able to earn special distinction through programs that recognize their depth of expertise, called the Express, Advanced and Master Specializations. To further flesh out partners' expertise, Cisco is making "lifecycle services" -- system planning, design, implementation, optimization and operation -- part of the training for all its specializations, Sage said.Cisco also plans to launch three channel partner programs over the next year specifically for partners that sell globally or provide outsourcing or managed network services. Up until now, Cisco has had a single program that is meant to fit all types of partners but is primarily suited to companies that resell Cisco products within a single country, Sage said.For example, today a partner that wants to provide managed services to customers in one country from a network operations center in another would have to become certified to sell and support Cisco products in the traditional sense, "on the ground," in both countries, Sage said. Under the new managed services program, Cisco would recognize that the partner was providing a service over a network, across the border, and would leave aside the requirement for traditional country certification, he said.