In my opinion, one of the weakest points in the Magento ecosystem is in the way the partner program is build-up. At the beginning of this month I went to Los Angeles to attend the Magento Imagine conference, and I was eager to find out if, and how, Magento Inc. was going to improve the parter program. But in order to understand the (need for) improvements, let me first explain how the current program came to be and the problems it currently creates.
If you're already fully aware of the partner program and it's issues, just skip to the 'solutions' section below.
The current partner program
In the early days (just a couple of years ago) the Magento partner program was started with the goal to spread and promote the platform. Companies applied for the partner program and chose a partner level (first Platinum, Gold, Silver, Bronze, now Enterprise, Professional and Community). The difference between the different levels being the amount of money you were willing to pay for the partnership and the amount of revenue (in commercial licenses) you dedicated yourself to. As you install a partership program, you want to be selective and not call everyone a partner. A great and easy way to select partners on 'seriousness' is to ask money for the partnership.
The great thing about money is that it works pretty good (until a certain level) as a differentiator. Companies that just started out with Magento would start with a lower partner level, and when they get more experienced and certain about their choice for Magento, they would later on switch (and pay) for a higher partner level. And from an end-user point-of-view: when there are only one or two Magento partners in the neighborhood, chances are they will have a lot more experience wit Magento then companies who don't carry the partner label. The current program allows Magento Inc. to differentiate between partner levels, without going through the (quite difficult) process of partner qualification through other means like certification.
See here for the current Partner program details.
Magento has become really popular in a very short timeframe and spread widely, partly because of its many great partners. But now that it's so popular, the current program creates more problems than it solves.
Issues with the current program
The original goal for the partner progam (spreading Magento) isn't really needed anymore. The partner status was relatively easy to come by so larger e-commerce companies (that can easily afford the highest partner level) use the partner label as a marketing method to win projects before they actually have any experience with Magento. From their point-of-view a solid business decision: first see if they can get business out of Magento, then gain experience with the Magento platform. After all, they're already a large/successful e-commerce company, how hard can it be to implement Magento, right...? :)
This creates a problem for three other parties though:
- The uninformed end-users looking for help will (also) look at the partner level of both companies and erroneously assumes that a higher partner level means more experience/ quality. If the end-user isn't aware of this (which is most often the case) they end up choosing for a company for (partially) the wrong reasons.
- Other ecommerce companies that have invested in Magento and are already (highly) experienced though many Magento projects. Some of these may choose not to pay for the highest (or any) level of partnership. Following problem 1. above, this means that these companies suddenly have a (big) competitor if another company in the neighborhood (without any Magento experience) starts carrying the same or a higher Magento partner label, because that is one of the criteria end-users base their choice on.
- Magento Inc. itself. When end-users make a choice based on the partner program that turns out wrong, Magento Inc. gets blamed for either the choice the end-user made based on the partner program or the Magento software platform that turned out to be more difficult/ costly to implement.
Because Magento is growing rapidly there are now many companies (and partners) implementing Magento, making the above a rapid growing problem. There needs to be a better way to differentiate the quality of Magento implementation companies.
Another (smaller) problem with the current partner program:
- The Magento software editions cary the same labels as the Magento partnership levels (Enterprise, Professional and Community). This is a problem because it suggests a relation between the two that is not there. For instance: if and end-user already knows he needs/wants the Magento Enterprise edition, he might assume he will need a Magento Enterprise partner to implement the software. This is not the case.
Now you've read (and hopefully understand :)) what the issues are, you might be glad to hear that Magento Inc. has start roling out some solutions, starting with Training and Certifications as soon as next week!
There are currently 3 courses:
- Fundamentals of Magento Development (5 days)
- Core Principles for Theming in Magento (2 days)
- E-commerce with Magento (1 day)
For more information about the courses, take a look at the Magento Training page.
Eventually, companies will be required to at least have a certain number of officially certified employees to be able to acquire a certain partner level. The exact details on the transition to the new partner requirements aren't published yet, but with the Magento U Training program starting next week, it's time for all partners to start proving their experience and for all end-users to start using this as a better way of selecting a Magento partner, solving the above three problems.
Of course it will take some time to turn training into certification and individual certification into certified partners and reforming the partner program might even take to the end of 2011 (I don't know the official planning), but it's good to see this finally set in motion. Although this is long overdue as you look at the size of the current Magento ecosystem and the rapid growth it's going through, I'm also amazed by how Magento Inc. is keeping up with the growth, how it's effecting the company and how they are working towards a better ecosystem. Kudos for that!
With the training and certification in place (and properly executed), this will empower end-user to make better choices and for Magento companies to fairly compete on their experiences. I haven't heard anything about renaming the partner levels to anything else then Enterprise/ Professional/ Community, but I guess that will be the icing on the cake ;).