Microsoft's certification team has announced that in order to earn the new Enterprise Desktop Support Technician credential for Windows 7, candidates will also need to pass an exam from the Help Desk Institute. Is this a step forward for customer service?
We've discussed the forthcoming release of Windows 7 in the User Support blog already. Now Microsoft has announced a development that will shake things up for those support pros who need official certification of their skills.
I mentioned previously that MS was looking for beta testers for Exam 70-680: Technical Specialist: Windows 7, Configuring. This exam is one of the first addressing the new OS, and it is one step on the path to becoming a Microsoft Certified IT Professional with a specialization in Enterprise Desktop Support. Another requirement is that candidates pass Exam 70-685, MCITP: Windows 7, Enterprise Desktop Support Technician. This is not unusual; historically, Microsoft's desktop support credentials have required two MS-branded exams, one covering how to configure the OS, and a second test addressing enterprise-support topics. This week, however, Microsoft Learning announced that in order to earn the Windows 7 Enterprise Desktop Support cert, techs would have to pass a third exam. What's really interesting, though, is that Microsoft has partnered with another certification developer, the Help Desk Institute, to provide the third part of the new MCITP credential. The addition of the new material, according to Microsoft, will validate a candidate's customer service and service management skills.
I have to say that I do not know very much about the Help Desk Institute or their certifications. Before this news, I had only heard of the company in passing. I can't say I'm thrilled that Microsoft has partnered with them for the Windows 7 exams. Mostly, I am disappointed because their exams and study resources are expensive. The fee for a qualifying exam from HDI runs $225 (less for "members" of HDI). That's comparable to other industry certs, I guess, but the costs don't stop there. The real pinch comes from the prep materials. HDI's approved methods of preparing for their exams consist of on-line course packages costing around $500 or in-person training with an instructor costing upward of $1,000!
I don't know about you, but I prepared for my present Microsoft certifications using my own workplace experience and a book that cost me $40. I could not find any self-study resources for HDI's exams on Amazon.com, and that makes HDI's certifications seem more like a proprietary revenue stream than industry-standard accreditations. I admire that Microsoft Learning wants to bulk up the "soft skills" portions of the Desktop Support cert, but why partner with HDI? Microsoft has accepted CompTIA's exams as electives for other certifications, and their A+ track has a ton of customer service objectives in it. At least you can find A+ prep materials in any sizable bookstore or library.
The Microsoft Learning Team has maintained all along that they are attempting to address the concerns of hiring managers by clearly mapping certifications to the roles that techs have in their companies. I am fine with this idea. I'm even okay with the idea of expanding the customer service component of the Desktop Support certification. Why choose such an expensive option, though? Based on the information available right now, a Windows 7 Desktop Administrator certification will cost less to obtain than the new MS+HDI Desktop Support credential. And that just doesn't seem right.
I've been trying to decide whether I should update my XP Desktop Support Technician credential for Vista or Windows 7. The addition of an HDI test as a requirement will ensure that I don't pursue a Desktop Support certification for Windows 7. There isn't a value proposition for me in the additional test and the additional expense it carries. The sad thing in all this, I think, is that Microsoft's move will discourage help desk techs from pursuing the Windows 7 Desktop Support certification.
I have always thought that it is important to have a reputable and affordable option for support techs who want to certify their skills. At least we have the A+ to meet those criteria, if Microsoft's support certification won't.