Cisco has raised the bar when it comes to qualifications by introducing a new, advanced certificate.

The company already offered the Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE) certification, the most difficult rank a network professional could achieve but the company has now trumped that with the new Cisco Certified Architect, attempting to marry the networking engineering know-how of the CCIE with the business acumen of a MBA.

As the highest level of accreditation available by Cisco, the CCA will train candidates to work with C-level line-of-business executives to translate business needs into effective IT systems. "Our research shows that companies will waste $100 billion in buying the wrong technology and services," said Ciso spokesman Fred Wieller. The source of that wasteful spending is the divide between those who deeply understand the business requirements and those who understand IT architecture. This certification, modelled after a traditional PhD, will train CCIEs in how to bridge the divide.

It won't be easy, nor will it come cheap. The certification will cost $15,000. The CCIE or the Cisco Certified Design Expert (CCDE) is a prerequisite. Additionally, the candidate must also have at least 10 years of industry experience. Candidates must apply and be accepted into the programme. Once accepted they will propose an architecture solution to a set of business requirements. The certification will be administered as a board exam and like a PhD, the candidate will be asked to defend and modify the proposal, live, in front of this board which will be composed of distinguished engineers and other subject matter experts from within and outside of Cisco.

"This certification will encourage the business to view 'network architecture' as a job function in itself and not as 'part' of a job," says Wieller.

Once accepted into the programme, the certification process may be completed in a matter of weeks.

Industry analysts applaud the new certification. "The CCIE has been the gold standard for network engineers. This is above the CCIE and is for a CCIE what an MBA is for the business world," said Zeus Kerravala, senior vice president, Yankee Group. "Companies often buy technology and then figure out what to do with it. That's very common. The ability to explain the technology in business terms is an especially needed skill."

Kerravala believes that the CCA will quickly become as valuable to those who achieve it as the CCIE has become. Many systems integrators must show the percentage of employees working on a project that have obtained the CCIE. He believes systems integrators will be among the first to send candidates through the CCA process. Kerravala also believes that network engineers at large and global enterprises will want to pursue this certification, perhaps even in lieu of traditional post-graduate business degrees. The certification will become particularly sought after by companies operating complex networks, he said.

Cisco expects that the CCA will remain an elite certification and that the total number of candidates to achieve it on an annual basis will remain low, only "in the double digits" for the first two years, said Cisco program manager Sanjay Mehta. Cisco will begin accepting applications in the fall and the first candidates will be scheduled to defend their proposals in January.