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7/26/2006
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New Certification Sets Professional Standards For Outsourcing Experts

The International Association of Outsourcing Professionals says companies will look to entrust their outsourcing relationships to individuals who have earned official certification.

Would you feel more confident about your company's outsourcing relationships if they were overseen by someone deemed an outsourcing expert, with the professional certification to prove it?

The International Association of Outsourcing Professionals, a member-based organization launched last year, is of the mind that companies will look to entrust their outsourcing issues to individuals who have earned an official professional badge of accomplishment.

In fact, IAOP, whose mission is to "build outsourcing as a profession and an industry," just graduated its first group of newly minted certified outsourcing professionals, or COPS, for short.

COPS is the first and only professional certification for people who have deep expertise in outsourcing, says IAOP executive director Michael Corbett. The certification is available for customers, providers, and advisers of outsourcing services and is sort of a one-size-fits-all seal of approval for experts among a variety of outsourcing, not just IT.

In fact, IAOP's first COPS graduates have an array of career experiences, including individuals who have spearheaded and overseen outsourcing pacts related to R&D, manufacturing, real-estate, and other areas of business in industries such as pharmaceutical, consumer products, consulting, and yes, IT.

What they all have in common is demonstrated experience in designing, building, implementing, and managing outsourcing relationships, says Corbett.

COPS creates a common framework and lexicon for professionals involved with outsourcing, setting standards for experience and knowledge related to selection processes, governance, legal issues, and many other activities involved with outsourcing, including how to successfully drive value out of outsourcing relationships, Corbett says.

"Outsourcing is a career path in its own right," he says.

The first crop of COPS was granted to 13 individuals who have an average of 15 years experience in outsourcing. The main requirement for the certification is for candidates to have had end-to-end responsibility for three different outsourcing projects at two different companies.

Certification candidates undergo peer review based on their COPS application, which must describe demonstrated experience in outsourcing, including information about specific outsourcing projects and their significance at their companies. They're expected to have experience in challenges like scoping out outsourcing opportunities and identifying early warning indicators that outsourcing relationships are going awry or have problems that need to be fixed.

IAOP also offers four-day, intensive master classes that can help individuals round out training in key areas, including governance and legal, Corbett says.

IAOP has 55,000 outsourcing professionals listed in its database, but Corbett estimates that there are easily 100,000 or more outsourcing professionals in the United States who might be candidates for attaining certification. IAOP charges a $500 certification application processing fee for its certification. Training classes cost between $3,500 and $4,000.

Jagdish Dalal, president of consulting company JDalal Associates, was among the first group of professionals earning the COPS credential earlier this month. During his long career, Dalal has held senior IT leadership positions at several companies, including Data General and Xerox, and was also a partner at PriceWaterhouseCoopers.

"Outsourcing is processes, people, technology, but most importantly, results," Dalal says. To Dalal, the certification is a "seal of better business," and he expects it will become the price of admission to market yourself as a professional in outsourcing.

Joe Hogan, Unisys VP of strategic programs for outsourcing, has been in the IT industry for 25 years and is also among the first group receiving the IAOP certification. Hogan plans to encourage others at Unisys to get certified. "Anytime a person gets independent certification from a third party, the individual carries a seal of approval," which is a competitive advantage for the person, as well as for the employer, he says.

Still, not everyone agrees that all professional certifications are equal.

"The IT industry is chock-full of certifications that are largely ignored by employers," David Foote, president and chief research officer of Foote Partners, which closely follows IT skill and pay trends, said in an e-mail interview. "My feelings are mixed about this sort of certification actually helping an IT pro with his pay or career."

One way outsourcing certification could work to a professional's advantage is if it provides practical knowledge such as second language skills, a better appreciation for other cultures and how to work in them, and solid vendor management skills, Foote says.

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