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Oracle To Revamp Partner Program, Emphasize Reseller Specializations

Solution providers to get first look at program details Sunday at OpenWorld OPN Forum

The new Oracle PartnerNetwork Specialized program replaces the current OPN program effective Dec. 1, said Judson Althoff, senior vice president of worldwide alliances and channels, in an interview prior to the program's unveiling Sunday at the Oracle OpenWorld OPN Forum in San Francisco.

"We feel it's a tremendous improvement in the value we're delivering to partners," Althoff said. The new program and its specialization options offer resellers the chance to differentiate themselves in the market, he added. "This will provide customers with a system of reference and they can recognize partners that have made the investments in key areas."

"This will help us differentiate ourselves from our competitors. Customers can easily see that we have particular strengths around Oracle products," said Mary Niemann, global Oracle alliance enablement manager at Cap Gemini, a solution provider with a big Oracle practice.

The new program charges larger membership fees for some partners, but Althoff argued that the benefits being offered outweigh the costs.

Oracle's increased emphasis on training and certifying resellers for expertise in specific technologies and vertical industries puts the company on a similar path taken this year by other vendors. Microsoft, at its partner conference in July, announced a similar re-vamping of its partner program that will rank resellers according to their competencies. And IBM now requires its software resellers to become certified in the products they resell.

Oracle, however, isn't requiring all of its 21,000 (worldwide) resellers to become certified unless they aspire to reach the new Platinum level Oracle is creating for its top-tier channel partners.

The new OPN Specialized program will have four channel partner tiers. The VAD Remarketers tier covers resellers who buy basic "1-Click" Oracle products, such as the Oracle Database 11g Standard Edition and Standard Edition One, from distributors and don't have a formal relationship with Oracle. Solution providers in the Silver tier, while largely selling the same 1-Click products as remarketers, will have a relationship with Oracle and receive support, training and development licenses from the vendor.

Gold-designated partners will have access to Oracle's full technology portfolio and be eligible to apply for certification in specific products, earning the right to brand themselves as "specialized" in those areas. Platinum partners will receive a level of benefits, including the largest discounts, which Oracle hasn't offered before, Althoff said.

Partners will be admitted to a program tier based on a mix of criteria that includes business results and the level of expertise they have with Oracle technology. Achieving Platinum-level status will require a solution provider to be skilled across Oracle's entire product line and have at least five specializations.

"It's up to the partners how much they want to invest in the specialization paradigm," Althoff said, adding that solution providers will have one year to apply for a program tier and "prove out" their specializations.

Somewhere around 40 percent of Oracle's current roster of resellers will likely fall into the Remarketer and Silver categories, Althoff predicted. Another 50 percent, including many of the company's currently certified partners, will become Gold partners with the majority of those choosing one or more specializations. He expects only about 10 percent of the company's resellers to join the cream-of-the-crop Platinum level.

Specialization certification will require demonstrating proficiency in implementing Oracle software and providing pre- and post-sales support. Oracle will require customer references and also may conduct joint sales calls with specialization status candidates as part of the certification process.

Oracle is initially offering certification in 35 specializations through the new program and expects to increase that to 50 by the end of the fiscal year in May 2010.

While most of the specializations will be on Oracle products, the company also will offer specializations in some vertical industries, including financial services, health care and the public sector.

The company currently charges an annual OPN membership fee of $1,995. Under the new program, Remarketers (as now) will pay no fee while the annual fees for Silver, Gold and Platinum partners will be $500, $2,500 and $9,995, respectively. But Althoff cautioned against comparing the old and new fee structures, arguing that Gold and Platinum members will receive benefits that outweigh the fees. Platinum members will receive free product integration validation services, for example, which the company now charges $10,000 to do, he said.

Oracle will update its online solution provider catalog, including a new search mechanism on Oracle.com, and other marketing materials to reflect channel partners' specializations, Althoff said. Other benefits include free assessment and exam vouchers, free support requests and access to implementation methodologies.

Under the old OPN program customers found it difficult to identify solution providers with the specific expertise they needed, Cap Gemini's Niemann said. "The previous program wasn't able to accommodate the complexity of all the products they had acquired," she added, noting that Oracle has acquired more than 50 companies in the last five years.

The specialization certifications also should make it easier for Cap Gemini to develop more of a team approach to how it works with Oracle products, she said. But she also acknowledged that some other solution providers might not be happy with having to get certified in areas they already consider themselves to be experts in.

"I anticipate some [partners] may oppose the additional administrative work that may be involved," she said.

Last year at Oracle OpenWorld the vendor unveiled an expanded partner education effort called "Enablement 2.0" that included more than 200 boot camps that some 12,000 partners participated in. Althoff said the new specialization program builds on Enablement 2.0.

Oracle is de-coupling its training and certification requirements from each other, allowing channel partners that already consider themselves proficient in Oracle software to take certification tests without taking training courses, Althoff said.

Oracle also is combining all of its disparate partner call centers into a single organization to which all Silver, Gold and Platinum channel partners will have 24-hour access, Althoff said. The company is also expanding the OPN portal to help partners figure out what kinds of training they need for Specialization certification.

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