The International Business Machines Corporation, better known simply as IBM, is a world leader in IT products and services. It covers IT comprehensively, encompassing enterprise applications, middleware and operating systems, computing systems, storage, cloud computing, and business analytics.
IBM became known as Big Blue, most likely because of the color of its mainframes in the late 1960s. Some of IBM's best-known product brands include B2, Lotus, Tivoli and WebSphere. Today, the company is making its name known with Watson, IBM's cognitive technology.
IBM certification program overview
A company as large, widely followed and revered as IBM is bound to have a well-developed certification program, and indeed it does. The IBM Professional Certification Program boasts almost 300 credentials.
In the past, IBM classified its certifications according to software, hardware, IBM PureSystems, solutions and "other." While individual certifications may still fall into those general categories, certification classifications have been revamped to more closely align with the company's product portfolio. IBM currently classifies its certifications across 11 main categories:
- Cognitive Solutions
- Global Financing
- Global Technology Services
- Watson Health
- Watson Internet of Things
Certifications are aimed at IT professionals who implement, support or sell IBM products at the Associate, Professional and Advanced Professional (including Expert) tiers. Most certifications can be achieved by passing one or two exams focused on a specific IBM application, system or service, although some expert-level certs require up to five exams.
IBM exams and retake policy
IBM certification exams are delivered through Pearson VUE testing centers. An exam may last 60 to 150 minutes, include anywhere from 22 to 97 questions, and cost $100 to $200. Exam details vary greatly across certifications, so we provide only high/low information here, and exam prices may change as of the first day of any calendar year. Exam prices also vary by geography, so candidates need to check prices for their localities.
A candidate who fails an exam the first time may retake it as soon as possible but must wait 30 days before making subsequent attempts. To help defray costs, IBM occasionally offers a Take It Again promotion in which candidates can retake an exam for free if they fail the first attempt. IBM has also been known to offer exams for free at events such as InterConnect 2017. Seating is frequently limited, so interested professionals should check out event offerings and register early.
IBM makes navigating certification easy with webpages dedicated to its certification process, along with one-stop shopping for test information (exam name and number, associated certification, number of questions, exam length, passing score requirements, plus links to the individual exam page) and easy-to-find exam pricing.
The following sections provide a high-level view of IBM certifications in each of the main categories.
Featuring more than 100 certifications, IBM Analytics is IBM's largest certification category, reflecting the growing industry use of analytics and IBM's leadership in this area. Analytics certifications are designed for professionals working with IBM solutions for performance management and business intelligence.
IBM offers Analytics certifications in four areas: Cloud Content Services, Cognos Analytics, Collaboration Solutions and Social Business, and Platform Analytics. While there is some overlap among products, each concentration area features credentials in different portions of the IBM Analytics product portfolio:
- Analytics Cloud Content Services: Includes credentials for Content Manager onDemand, Datacap (Datacap Taskmaster Capture), Enterprise Records, FileNet (Business Process Manager and Content Manager), Case Manager, Content Collector, Content Navigator and Case Foundation
- Cognos Analytics: Focused entirely on Cognos-related credentials, including Cognos TM1, Cognos TM1 Data Analysis, Risk Information Governance for BI, Cognos BI, BI Reports and Multidimensional Reports, BI Data Warehouse, BI Metadata Models, BI OLAP Models, BI Scorecards, and BI Controller
- Analytic Platform: Includes credentials for DB2, Cognos, PureData System, Informix, SPSS, InfoSphere, Big Data and Apache Spark
- IBM Collaboration Solutions and Social Business: Credentials focus on social business solutions such as Lotus Notes and Domino, Connections and Connections Cloud, Sametime, Social Business, OpenSocial, and SmartCloud Notes Hybrid
IBM offers Analytics credentials from entry level to expert.
Formerly IBM Cloud and Mobility, the IBM Cloud certification portfolio has grown exponentially and now offers more than 70 certifications, making it IBM's second largest certification portfolio. IBM Cloud credentials focus on six primary areas:
- Cloud Integration – Application Platform: Includes credentials for Business Process Manager, WebSphere Application Server, Worklight Foundation, PureApplication System and WebSphere Application Server Network Deployment products
- Cloud Integration – Dev Ops: Credentials focus on Rational, SmartCloud, Tivoli, Service Management, Control Desk and Workload Automation products
- Cloud Integration – Hybrid Integration: Provides credentials for IBM Service Management Asset Management, CICS Transaction Server, API Management, MQ, Integration Bus, WebSphere, DataPower Gateway, API Connect and WebSphere DataPower SOA Appliances Firmware
- Cloud Integration – Process Transformation: Includes credentials for WebSphere Business Modeler, Business Process Manager, Blueworks Live, Operational Decision Manager, and IBM BPM using Process Designer product families
- Cloud Platform: Credentials in this category target Cloud Platform and SoftLayer.
- Cloud Solutions: Includes credentials for Cloud Reference Architecture and Cloud Platform Solution
This portfolio features credentials for developers, administrators and solution architects.
IBM Cognitive Solutions
IBM Cognitive Solutions certifications focus mainly on the Cognos, OpenPages and Algo One products. Where Cognos is geared toward business intelligence, analytics and financial strategy management, OpenPages facilitates governance, risk and compliance management. Algo One is a tool used for analyzing risk factors and models. IBM's Cognitive Solutions certifications are available at the administrator, associate and advanced developer, solution designer, and specialist levels.
IBM Commerce certifications are all about the customer, and how professionals working with IBM technology can help the customer conduct and grow its business. Commerce certs come in three flavors: engaging the customer, partner and supplier relationships, and digital commerce. These certs cover a wide swath of credential roles, including business analysts, solution designers, system administrators, application developers, and deployment and implementation professionals.
The Customer Engagement category features credentials that focus on maximizing the customer product experience for WebSphere Commerce, Digital Analytics, Tealeaf, Marketing Operations, Sterling (Configuration, Order Management), Campaign and Interact.
Partner and Supplier Engagement certifications focus on professionals managing partner and supplier relationships. Products featured include Sterling Connect Direct, WebSphere Transformation Extender, Emptoris Contract Management and Sterling B2B Integrator.
Digital Experience credentials target professionals charged with enhancing the customer's digital experience and focus on WebSphere Portal, Web Content Manager, Digital Experience, Forms, Forms Experience Builder and Web Experience Factory.
IBM Global Financing
IBM offers a single Global Financing credential, the IBM Global Financing Sales Master Specialist Professional certification. A single exam is required to earn the credential.
IBM Global Technology Services
IBM Global Technology Services is promoted as the IBM group that builds and manages "the backbone that powers the era of enterprise hybrid IT." Simply put, GTS is all about services (both outsourced and managed services) for Watson, hardware, software and general technical support.
IBM offers a single cert in this category: the IBM Certified Specialist – IBM U.S. Technical Support Services V2. This certification is only available in the U.S. and is geared toward business partners who provide Level 1 or 2 technical support. Candidates must pass a single exam to earn the credential.
In today's cognitive era, IT infrastructure security is essential to ensuing IT services are not only predictable but compliant and secure as well. An individual with an IBM Security certification has proven skills in designing, implementing, configuring, testing and/or supporting specific IBM security products. Many IBM Security certifications target professionals who process and analyze specialized data geared toward law enforcement, government agencies and municipalities (utility-related).
IBM security products include IBM Security Guardium, Security QRadar, i2 Analysts Notebook, Security SiteProtector, Endpoint Manager, MobileFirst Protect and many others. The IBM Security certification portfolio offers IT professionals 32 different options to hone and validate their security skills.
Depending on the certification, available credentials include administrator and associate administrator, analyst and associate analyst, associate, deployment professional, integration professional, solution advisor, security intelligence, and specialist. Deployment professional certs make up approximately one-third of the available security credentials (11 total).
IBM currently offers 29 different IBM Systems certifications aimed at users, advanced users, implementers and sellers. IBM Systems certs fall into five categories:
- Power Systems: IBM offers five Power Systems certs. The three Sales credentials include certified sales specialist and technical sales specialist for professionals working with solutions for Power Systems with POWER8. Two certified system administrator credentials focus on either AIX or IBM i. Candidates for any of the IBM certified system administrator certifications should have two or more years of experience working with Power Systems server running AIX 7 or IBM i 7.1/7.2, and are required to pass a single exam.
- Storage Software: There are nine different Storage Software certs, six of them targeting Spectrum products (Storage Management, Cloud, Protect, Scale, Computing and Storage Family Solutions). The three remaining certs focus on Tivoli Storage Manager and Cloud Object Storage. Candidates may earn administrator, deployment professional or solution advisor credentials.
- Storage Systems: There are nine certified specialist credentials in this category, with solutions targeting midrange and enterprise storage systems, as well as flash technical solutions, XIV storage systems and high-end tape technical solutions.
- z Systems: IBM offers four certified specialist credentials for z Systems. Two are focused on sales, while two target technical support for z Systems.
- Other: This category encompasses certs for systems that don't readily meet the criteria for the other areas. There are two credentials in this category: Certified Database Administrator – IMS and Certified System Programmer – IMS.
You may remember the now-famous bout where IBM's Watson supercomputer won the "Jeopardy" game show challenge, ushering in a new era in cognitive computing, big data and analytics. Since that time, IBM kick-started the IBM Watson Group with a healthy $1 billion in startup funding. Today, IBM Watson is rapidly becoming an industry leader for technology platforms that leverage the power of natural language and machine learning.
Eighteen IBM Watson certs are available. Seven certifications focus on Maximo Asset Management solutions, while the remaining certs are divided between TRIRIGA, Collaborative Lifecycle Management, Rhapsody, Predictive Maintenance and Quality, and Rational. Available credentials include associate, consultant, solutions (specialist, expert and advisor), deployment (infrastructure and advanced) and application developer.
IBM Watson Health
A brainchild of The Watson Group, Watson Health is one of the newest rising stars at IBM. Watson Health boasts numerous partnerships with healthcare industry leaders.
There are currently two Watson Health certs available: IBM Certified Application Developer – Curam V604 and IBM Certified Associate Business Process Analyst – Curam V605. The Certified Application Developer – Curam is an intermediate credential that targets Java professionals who also work as Curam developers. The Associate Business Process Analyst – Curam is an entry-level credential for testers, business analysts or consultants seeking to establish foundation-level Curam skills or implement Curam projects. A single test is required for each certification. Note: IBM Business Partner candidates who've purchased a Value Package qualify for IBM's You Pass, We Pay (YPWP) Program. Under the YPWP program, candidates are reimbursed for exams and some preparatory courses.
IBM Watson: Internet of Things
The internet of things, or IoT, is certainly changing the way we connect, interact and conduct business. The IBM Watson: Internet of Things portfolio is a new addition to the IBM family. Like IBM Watson certs, the IBM IoT certs focus primarily on Maximo Asset Management, Rational and TRIRIGA products. Credentials include specialists, associates, deployment professionals and more.
Related jobs, careers and training resources
You'll find IBM-certified professionals employed in a variety of job roles that span all industry sectors. A simple job search for "IBM professionals" on Simply Hired turned up more than 40,000 job postings. For example, we found these postings:
- A major telecom company looking for a senior data scientist experienced in building predictive modeling tools, including IBM SPSS
- A company in Illinois seeking a certified WebSphere system administrator
- An Arizona-based solution team with an opening for an experienced IBM sales and marketing account executive
- A New Jersey healthcare company seeking a systems analyst
Other common job roles included developers, business analysts, technical solution engineers, platform support engineers and integration leads. Career choices are limited only by your personal interests and aspirations.
IBM maintains a list of training resources for each exam on the individual exam webpage. Here, candidates will find test objectives, sample exams and assessment tests, as well as links to more formal training and other resources. Additional training materials, including books and e-books, may be purchased from the IBM Professional Certification Marketplace. On the IBM Training and Skills webpage, candidates will find links to blogs, articles, learning opportunities, events, Redbooks and PartnerWorld.