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Certification has been traditionally associated to proprietary software vendors, although the system has been in place at FOSS vendors such as MySQL, RedHat and SUSE for a number of years. Certification strengthens the relationship with partners, while ensuring a quality of service good enough to avoid problems to final users. There are two distinct aspects to certification. One is to certify organizations that are recognized partners or franchisees and the second is to certify competence in specific sector skills. A typical certification program is divided into levels (most use the bronze, silver, gold, platinum scale) and sets different conditions for the partners, based on their level (paying a yearly fee, and having one or several people trained on the product). In return, the partner gets a "certified" stamp, and has some advantages like a dedicated hotline for support and several demo products). The partner is "certified" for selling and supporting the product, and for providing added value.
Certification, when properly handled, is not just another piece of paper, or an abbreviation next to the name, or a logo added to the business card. According to the TDF vision, certified professionals have the objective of extending the reach of the community to the corporate world, and offering CIOs and IT managers a professional recognition in line with proprietary offerings (in order to give them a comparable choice, not limited to software but including value added services).
Certification should be a valuable channel for deeper engagements, that lead to improved customer satisfaction. Through direct communication with individuals in the community, corporate users can provide suggestions to improve the program, communicate new ideas to TDF, and work together to increase the satisfaction of the structure and content of LibreOffice certification.
Certification helps in dealing with two of the intrinsic weaknesses of free software:
1. The perception that FOSS is better suited for early adopters and the bleeding edge over the early and the late majority.
2. The inability to generate sustaining revenue through software licensing, especially on the desktop.
TDF acknowledges these weakness and tackles them by providing a specific version of the software better suited to main street users, and growing an ecosystem capable of serving the needs of more conservative users and generating revenue for development.
The challenge, then, is to build a project, a product and an ecosystem (the components of the "whole" product, according to the brilliant theory of Geoffrey Moore, in order to cross the chasm (a drastic lull in market development that occurs after the visionary market is saturated and pragmatists will not buy into a discontinuous technology unless they can reference other pragmatists, which are highly support oriented)).
TDF will promote the ecosystem through it´s channels and with an aggressive marketing campaign targeted to corporate users, in order to increase LibreOffice adoption based on value added services provided by certified professionals for migration, integration, development, support and training. TDF members actively involved in one of these areas will be certified for free, provided that they can demonstrate that their skills comply with the standards. Otherwise, LibreOffice Certification will be fee based, and the fee might vary according to the value provided by the partner to the project.
Certified partners will sell value added services to their customers and promote them to their prospects, develop and promote specific value added services for vertical markets, bundle LibreOffice with personal computers, and grow customer relations together with TDF. Certified partners will be requested to stick to the certification requirements, and provide a report about challenges and opportunities related to LibreOffice Certification.
End users will benefit from value added services provided by certified professionals, and will indirectly support the growth of TDF and LibreOffice.
Certification is a key milestone for building the LibreOffice ecosystem, and increase the number of organizations capable of adding value around LibreOffice (and, hopefully, help to spread the adoption over proprietary and open source office suites). Certification is also going to be an additional opportunity for The Document Foundation, at least in the medium to long term, in order to sustain the growth of the ecosystem.
TDF certification model will be different from that of proprietary software companies, as TDF - for instance - cannot leverage discounts over list prices (one of the typical advantages of certified partners). Developing a new certification model is both a challenge and an opportunity, for TDF and for its partners.
TDF (informal) ecosystem already includes the resources for creating this new model of certification program, and to make it interesting for the market (i.e. individuals and companies which are not yet thinking about becoming TDF partners, but have the potential to do so). In any case, TDF certification will not be related to the sheer dimension of the business, although companies able to generate a larger business should also contribute more to the project.
Before starting to outline the certification program, it should be absolutely clear that it is not supposed to become a source of competition for TDF corporate sponsors (today: Canonical, RedHat and SUSE), for TDF partners like Lanedo, and for TDF members who provide VAS (value added services) to the market. On the contrary, it provides a method of regulating the quality of the services provided by these entities and a method of recognising that certain services conform to clear and transparent regulatory criteria. This will help build and sustain the ecosystem.
The main focus of the certification program is the corporate environment, although TDF - in the future - might also create an end user training program as a by-product of the corporate training (although most end users will ask for a basic training program, and possibly for a certification like ECDL, which might become a secondary source of income, based on trainings for the trainers). Although there might be a large request for end user certification, this is not as important as professional certification as it is not going to help building the ecosystem.
The Certification Program will be overseen by TDF Board of Directors through a Certification Committee, which will be purely functional and will be reporting to the BoD on a quarterly basis. The members of the Certification Committee will be approved by the BoD.
TDF Certifications will recognize the individual competence but will neither bind The Document Foundation to the actions of the certified individuals, nor will hold it liable for their actions. The quality of service is the sole responsibility of the certified individuals.
For a definition of the certification categories, see the "Individual Certifications" section below.
The certification path will be shorter and easier for TDF members, and will be exclusive to TDF members in the area of development. In order to become a Certified LibreOffice Developer it will be mandatory not only to be capable of hacking LibreOffice code but also to actively hacking and committing code for at least three months before being recognized as a certified developer, and for the entire length of the certified status. The Certified LibreOffice Developer status will cease three months after the last commit, unless otherwise granted by the Engineering Steering Committee.
TDF members will be also the first to be certified, according to the criteria set by the Certification Committee for migration, support and training.
Certification criteria will be defined by the Certification Committee, with the help of TDF partner companies and TDF members, together with the requirements to apply for certification, the training programs for each certification and the accreditation process. The Engineering Steering Committee and the Advisory Board members will also be instrumental for the creation and the evolution of the certification program.
Certification will be attributed to individuals who have demonstrated their skills by participating to the community, or who have followed a certification training and have passed the final test. Certification will last for 24 calendar months from the time of the test, and will be renewed for another 24 months by following another certification training and passing the relevant test before (three months) or after (three months) the expiration date.
The fee for the certification renewal will be 25% lower than the full certification fee. Individuals who will not follow the training or who will fail the test will lose the certified status, and will have to go through the entire certification process (including the payment of the full certification fee).
Organizations will be allowed to display a "certified" badge on their marketing materials (website, data sheets, etcetera) if they employ or contract a certified TDF member contributing in the technical area (development, localization, QA, infrastructure or support), or if they employ or contract a number of certified individuals, according to the following ratios: up to 8 employees / at least one certified individual, up to 20 / at least 2, up to 30 / at least 3, up to 50 / at least 4, up to 100 / at least 5, up to 200 / at least 6, above 200 / at least 7. The "certified" badge must be approved by the Board of Directors, and can be revoked at any time.
Organizations employing or contracting several certified individuals with different specializations might earn the special status of LibreOffice Competence Centre. This special status will be decided by the Board of Directors upon request of the Certification Committee, and can be revoked at any time at sole discretion of the Board of Directors. The status of LibreOffice Competence Center will be based on several parameters: competence, of course, but also relationship with The Document Foundation and global attitude versus free software.
Trainings will be either in English or in the local language, according to the certification: migration will be only in English, as this will be the official language for interacting with TDF, while trainer and support will also be in the local language (as the certified professionals will mostly interface with local users). Examinations will be in the same language as the training.
Some trainings will be provided through a videoconferencing system that will allow participants to attend using a standard PC (Windows, MacOS X or Linux), sharing presentations and other documents.
The Certification Program can be managed through a third party appointed by the Board of Directors. The third party can charge a yearly certification fee to make the process self sustaining. Profits will be fully reinvested in the project.
The Certification Committee will appoint trainers, picking the individuals more suited for each certification. The first tasks of these individuals will be to adapt the contents of the certification program to local needs (training and test materials). Trainers can be paid for their work by the third party collecting the certification fees.
The Certification Committee shall not form a body of The Document Foundation. The Certification Committee will oversee the certification process, approve individual certifications (which must be confirmed by the Board of Directors), and will submit to the Board of Directors the names of the organizations to be approved as LibreOffice Competence Centers.
The Certification Committee is staffed as follows:
Italo Vignoli (coordination); Olivier Hallot and Charles Schulz in representation of the Board of Directors; Sophie Gautier and Cor Nouws in representation of the Membership Committee; Jan Holesovsky (SUSE), Stephan Bergmann (RedHat), Björn Michaelsen (Canonical) and Tim Janik (Lanedo) in representation of developers; Jacqueline Rahemipour and Lothar Becker in representation of third parties.
The Certification Committee will operate mainly via email and IRC.
The Board of Directors will be able to change the composition of the Certification Committee at any time.
Is able to hack LibreOffice code to develop new features or provide L3 Support to enterprise users, researching and developing solutions to new or unknown issues, designing and developing one or more courses of action, evaluating each of these courses in a test case environment, and implementing the best solution to the problem. Once the solution is verified, it is delivered to the customer and given back to the community. Certified Core Developers need to be present TDF members, and part of their certification is peer review by the Engineering Steering Committee.
Is able to coordinate the migration process from MS Office to LibreOffice, working with the customer to manage the change in all aspects (integration, development of macros and templates, training and support) in order to have a smooth transition.
Is able to teach the use of LibreOffice at basic, intermediate or advanced level.
Is able to handle basic customer issues, gathering the customer’s information and determining the customer’s issue by analyzing the symptoms and figuring out the underlying problem. Technical support specialists in this group typically handle straightforward and simple problems like verifying the proper hardware and software set up, and assisting with application menus. In a corporate environment, the goal for this group is to handle 70%-80% of the user problems before finding it necessary to escalate the issue to L2 support.
Is able to assist L1 support personnel in solving basic technical problems and investigating elevated issues by seeking for known solutions related to these more complex issues. If a problem is new or a solution cannot be determined, is responsible for raising this issue to L3 support. Technical support specialists in this group typically handle complex functional problems. Within a migration project, is able to develop macros and/or templates reproducing those developed for MS Office, in order to offer to end users of the suite the same functionalities they were used to.