Google has launched a programme to certify that staffers at Google Apps resellers have specific expertise, knowledge and experience working with the company's hosted collaboration and communication suite.

The Google Apps Certification Programme will offer badges for various areas of expertise, including Apps deployment, sales, software development and technical support. At launch on Wednesday, the programme will offer globally its first certification, Google Apps Certified Deployment Specialist, for IT professionals who know how to configure and implement the suite.

The materials, including study guides, are only in English, but Google plans to translate them into other languages. Certifications for other areas, like sales and application development are in the works. Demand for a certification programme came both from channel partners and from Apps customers, said Stephen Cho, director of Google Apps Channels.

"Customers have been asking for a way to identify partners who have expertise on staff, to make sure they have successful deployments," he said. "And partners have been asking for a way to differentiate themselves by showing the depth of their expertise."

The ideal candidates for the deployment certification should have several years of IT services experience in general and be very knowledgeable about Google Apps through study and online seminars, as well as through at least three hands-on deployments, he said.

This program shows that Google is making a more serious effort for its enterprise business by strengthening its partner ecosystem, said industry analyst Rebecca Wettemann from Nucleus Research.

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"It will be easier for customers to make the leap with Apps if they can easily identify a local partner that can help them with installation and administration as well as user adoption strategies," she said.

Channel partners interested in having staffers certified need to buy a special, US$45 webcam from Google and pay $100 per person who takes the test.

The tests, which last several hours and consist of multiple-choice questions, are monitored live by a Google representative through the webcam. Results are computed as soon as the test is over. Those who pass, receive via email a diploma and access to an official badge graphic. Those who fail are told which areas they need to improve upon.

IT professionals who pass the test are understood to be qualified for deployments of all Google Apps versions: Apps for Business, Apps for Education, Apps for Government, as well as the standard edition of the suite.

After obtaining the certification, IT professionals will have to attend a minimum number of Google Apps webinars. Google will keep tabs on this. The certification has to be renewed every year by taking the test.

While the certification is primarily aimed at channel partner staffers, it is also available for Apps customer organisations that want to make sure that their IT employees are qualified to deal with their Apps implementations.

Until now, Google only had a certification program for channel partner organisations, called Google Apps Authorized Reseller Programme. This new programme is aimed at individuals within those channel partners.