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Best Unified Communications Certifications

unified communications certifications
Credit: Potapova/Shutterstock

The need for today's organizations to share information, along with the proliferation of high-speed broadband connections, has driven the global unified communications market for the past decade, if not longer. UC streamlines communications so that geologically dispersed employees can interact digitally as if they're in the same office, even if they're located thousands of miles apart.

Centralized administration also makes UC popular with IT managers because of the reduced time and effort needed to support and secure corporate communications of all kinds. Because of the need for specialized skills to make large-scale UC implementations run at their best, the top UC vendors offer certifications as a measure of workforce capability and quality.

Simply Hired lists $94,354 as the average salary for a UC engineer role, with the highest salaries reported at $140,636. Surprisingly, our latest salary analysis shows salaries down slightly from 2015 to 2016 (by less than 1 percent, though). Glassdoor lists UC salaries as high as $168,000 for senior and UC engineer positions.

We dug into various job boards to see exactly how many UC jobs are available, specifically targeting jobs that require our top five certifications: Avaya ACSS, CCIE Collaboration, CCNP Collaboration, IBM Sametime and MCSE: Productivity (which replaces the MCSE: Communication certification).

Job Board Search Results (in Alphabetical Order, by Sponsor)

Certification

SimplyHired

Indeed

LinkedIn Jobs

US Jobs

Total

Avaya ACSS

69

73

57

41

240

CCIE Collaboration

311

322

286

223

1,142

CCNP Collaboration

471

510

408

306

1,695

IBM Sametime

38

44

199

62

343

MCSE Communication

242

260

175

135

812



Because new UC technologies continually come to market, UC offers interesting and high-demand job opportunities as companies labor to improve communication and collaboration. However, UC is no easy career path. UC roles require knowledge of several IT areas and technical disciplines. As a result, earning UC certifications often requires multiple exams and credentials.

The following sections dig into the details for our top five certifications, which are listed in order of sponsor name, not by any other planned ranking.

For IT professionals supporting Avaya products, the ACSS is a must-have in credential portfolios. The company updated its certification programs in late 2015 and currently offers two separate professional certification tracks:
Sales and Design – this track offers three credentials:

  • Avaya Professional Sales Specialist (APSS)
  • Avaya Certified Design Specialist (ACDS)
  • Avaya Professional Design Specialist (APDS)

Services – this track is aligned with Avaya engagement solutions and products, and includes the following credentials:

  • Avaya Support Professional Specialist (ASPS)
  • Avaya Implementation Professional Specialist (AIPS)
  • Avaya Certified Solution Specialist (ACSS)
  • Avaya Certified Integration Specialist (ACIS)

The advanced-level ACSS cert targets more experienced Avaya practitioners both in support specialist and product specialist roles, covering more than 20 individual credentials. Candidates should possess technical skills sufficient to configure, install and administer Avaya products. In addition, they should be well versed in Avaya product maintenance, as well as in testing product implementations and troubleshooting issues. Successful candidates typically possess at least two years of direct experience supporting Avaya products and four years working with the chosen Avaya technology. Each certification is valid for two years.

The requirements to obtain the ACSS certification depend on which credential you choose to pursue. For information on prerequisite skills, curriculum maps, required training and the number of exams for individual credentials, visit Avaya's credential program webpage. (Click the Support box followed by the Show Me button to view the full Support Catalog. From the Support Catalog, you can refine your search to view available courses and curriculum maps.) Additional program information appears in the Avaya Professional Credential Program Overview.

Certification Name

Avaya Certified Solution Specialist (ACSS)

Prerequisites & Required Courses

Minimum of 4 years of experience in the relevant technology plus 2 years of experience supporting the Avaya product. Training is required and available in multiple formats (classroom, virtual classroom and on-demand); depending on solution track, candidates can expect to pay between $3,500 and $4,500 per course, $1,400 per 16-hour course, and $2,100 per 24-hour course.

Number of Exams

One exam per credential.

Cost of Exam

Most exams are $125. Exams administered by Pearson VUE.

URL

https://www.avaya-learning.com/lms/#/credentials/credential-program

Self-Study Materials

None

Cisco offers the CCIE Collaboration certification, which identifies expert skills in unified communications, video and telecom. Only the cream of the crop achieves the CCIE credential, and the CCIE Collaboration is no exception.

The expert-level CCIE Collaboration credential recognizes seasoned collaboration and UC architects, as well as voice and video network managers, who design, deploy and troubleshoot enterprise collaboration solutions that are moderately to highly complex. Although the certification requires no prerequisites or specific training, Cisco designed the CCIE Collaboration for individuals with true expertise and lots of relevant experience (three to five years, minimum) with UC solution integration, configuration and troubleshooting.

Like other CCIE certs, the certification has a written qualification exam and a hands-on lab exam, both of which are rigorous and often take several attempts to pass. Cisco includes emerging technologies in its assessments. A great value-add available through the Cisco 360 Learning Program for CCIE Collaboration is remote access to a lab environment that contains equipment to practice hands-on for the lab exam.

CCIE credential holders must recertify every two years or it will be suspended. It's the responsibility of the credential holder to keep track of their individual recertification deadline. You can apply for a one-year extension to complete the requirements, but if you miss that deadline, your certification is permanently lost.

Recertification involves passing a single exam. Currently, acceptable recertification exams include any current CCIE written or lab exam, or the current CCDE written or practical exam. Credential holders may also recertify by passing the Cisco Certified Architect (CCAr) interview and board review. Alternatively, credential holders may recertify through participation in the Cisco Continuing Education Program (CEP). To recertify through the CEP, credential holders must earn 100 continuing education credits, pay a $300 administrative fee, and agree to CEP terms and conditions.

Certification Name

Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE) Collaboration

Prerequisites & Required Courses

No course prerequisites. In-depth understanding of exam topics. 3 to 5 years of job experience recommended.

Number of Exams

Two exams: Written qualification exam (Exam 400-051: CCIE Collaboration), 90 to 110 questions, 120 minutes. Hands-on lab exam (Version 1.0), 8 hours. 

Cost of Exam

Written exam: $450, Exam 400-051.
Lab exam: $1,600 per attempt.

URL

www.cisco.com/web/learning/certifications/expert/ccie_collaboration/index.html
www.cisco.com/c/en/us/training-events/training-certifications/certifications/expert/ccie-collaboration.html

Self-Study Materials

Written exam: The CCIE written exam website maintains a list of Cisco Press resources, reference and design guides, training, self-assessment tools, and more. Additional self-study resources are available from the Cisco Learning Network Store.

CCIE Lab Exam: The Cisco Learning Network maintains a list of self-study resources for the CCIE lab exam.

The intermediate-level CCNP Collaboration recognizes network engineers who are well versed in Cisco Voice and UC devices and applications in enterprise networks.

Four exams are required to qualify for the CCNP Collaboration credential. A certified candidate designs, implements, configures, manages and troubleshoots Cisco UC applications, networks and devices. Candidates should have in-depth knowledge of all facets of unified networking, including gateways, IP phones, quality of service (QoS), voice, video and presence applications, and utilities for configuring Cisco routers and switches, in addition to one to three years of experience with these technologies.

Training is recommended but not required. Cisco offers in-depth training courses, both in the classroom and online, for each exam. Depending on the training provider, classroom live and virtual classroom live courses cost approximately $3,795, while online self-paced courses start at about $1,100. Training courses typically last five days.

The CCNP Collaboration, like all Cisco professional-level certifications, requires recertification every three years. To recertify, you must pass one Cisco exam before your cert's expiration date. Acceptable exams include any current 642-XXX professional-level exam, any 300-XXX professional-level exam, any CCIE written exam, any CCDE written or practical exam, or passing the Cisco Certified Architect (CCAr) interview and board review.

Certification Name

Cisco Certified Network Professional Collaboration (CCNP Collaboration)

Prerequisites & Required Courses

A valid CCNA Collaboration certification or any Cisco CCIE certification. Training recommended but not required.

Number of Exams

Four exams:    
300-070: Implementing Cisco IP Telephony and Video, Part 1 (CIPTV1)
300-075: Implementing Cisco IP Telephony and Video, Part 2 (CIPTV2)

300-080: Troubleshooting Cisco IP Telephony and Video (CTCOLLAB)

300-085: Implementing Cisco Collaboration Applications (CAPPS)

All exams 75 minutes, 55 to 65 questions.

Cost of Exam

$300 per exam; $1,200 total. Exams administered by Pearson VUE.

URL

http://www.cisco.com/c/en/us/training-events/training-certifications/certifications/professional/ccnp-collaboration.html

Self-Study Materials

Cisco maintains links to the course syllabus, study groups, exam prep materials, practice exams and more on the Cisco Learning Network Collaboration (CCNP) site.

The intermediate-level IBM Sametime administrator credential aims at systems administrators with existing skills and hands-on experience in IBM Sametime 9.0. Candidates must understand architectural considerations when running IBM Sametime within an IBM WebSphere environment. They must also demonstrate their knowledge of Sametime deployment and audio/video configuration within Sametime, along with management, troubleshooting, performance monitoring and optimization techniques.

The certification requires candidates to pass a 78-question multiple-choice exam, to be completed in no more than 105 minutes. IBM emphasizes the need for hands-on experience before attempting the exam, stating that "direct application of the skills learned cannot be substituted" with any of the self-study materials. The exam measures a candidate's knowledge of task performance rather than memorization of features and functions.

In addition to the Certified System Administrator credential, IBM also offers two related certifications:

  • IBM Certified Associate – Sametime 9.0: This is an entry-level certification for professionals with knowledge regarding the use and administration of an IBM Sametime environment. Successful candidates should possess a basic understanding of UC concepts, databases, and IBM WebSphere and IBM Domino V9.0 environments.
     
  • IBM Certified Advanced System Administrator – Sametime 9.0: This is an advanced professional-level credential for system administrators, application, infrastructure and solution architects. It requires an understanding of the WebSphere Application Server Network Deployment and Liberty Profile environments. Candidates must first obtain the Certified System Administrator credential and then pass an additional exam.

The IBM Certified System Administrator – IBM Lotus Sametime 8.5 credential is still available for those working in Lotus Sametime 8.5 environments.

While IBM certifications are evergreen and don't expire, the same cannot be said for technology. Credential holders should plan to move up and recertify on new technology as it becomes available.

Certification Name

IBM Certified System Administrator - Sametime V9.0

Prerequisites & Required Courses

Basic IBM Sametime administration knowledge plus hands-on experience with IBM Sametime V9.0

Number of Exams

One exam: Exam C2040-413: IBM Sametime 9.0 Administration (78 questions, 105 minutes, 66 percent passing score required)

Cost of Exam

$200. Exams administered by Pearson VUE.

URL

www-03.ibm.com/certify/certs/14011704.shtml

Self-Study Materials

IBM maintains a list of exam objectives, Technotes, product documentation and web resources for the exam.  Also, a web-based sample/practice exam (number A2040-413 Assessment: IBM Sametime 9.0 Administration) is available from Pearson VUE for $30.

The MCSE: Productivity certification targets professionals supporting enterprise-grade hybrid and cloud solutions for Microsoft Office. Key technologies include Microsoft Office 365, Microsoft Office, Exchange, Skype for Business and SharePoint.

Note: The MCSE: Productivity certification replaces the MCSE: Communication credential, which retired in March 2017.

To obtain the MCSE: Productivity credential, candidates must first obtain the Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA): Office 365, MCSA: Windows Server 2012 or MCSA Windows Server 2016 certification. Then, they must pass one additional exam from an approved list. Currently, there are eight different exams to choose from. In addition, Microsoft recommends three to four years of experience.

The Microsoft Certification Program underwent extensive changes in September 2016. Once you earn one of the latest MCSE credentials, you do not have to recertify within three years as was the case in the past. However, by passing an elective exam each calendar year, you add an entry to your transcript that indicates your commitment to staying current on technologies and expanding your skillset. 

Certification Name

Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE): Communication

Prerequisites & Required Courses

MCSA: Office 365, MCSA: Windows Server 2012 or MCSA Windows Server 2016 certification

Three or more years of experience recommended

Number of Exams

Candidates must pass one of the following exams:
Exam 70-345: Designing and Deploying Microsoft Exchange Server 2016
Exam 70-339: Managing Microsoft SharePoint Server 2016
Exam 70-333: Deploying Enterprise Voice with Skype for Business 2015
Exam 70-334: Core Solutions of Microsoft Skype for Business 2015
Exam 70-331: Core Solutions of Microsoft SharePoint Server 2013
Exam 70-332: Advanced Solutions of Microsoft SharePoint Server 2013
Exam 70-341: Core Solutions of Microsoft Exchange Server 2013
Exam 70-342: Advanced Solutions of Microsoft Exchange Server 2013

Cost of Exam

$165 per exam. Exams administered by Pearson VUE.

URL

https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/learning/mcse-productivity-certification.aspx

Self-Study Materials

Microsoft Learning provides links to training, practice exams by third-party vendors (including MeasureUp), case studies, exam study groups and more. Links to community support forums and other resources are listed on each exam web page. Microsoft also offers various training options through its Microsoft Official Courses On-Demand (MOC On-Demand) program.

The UC certification landscape is not as crowded as the pool of general networking certs or the increasingly popular cloud and mobile credentials, but UC is on the rise nonetheless. In fact, traditional UC is increasingly offered through the cloud, forcing certifications to take on a new flavor to accommodate the latest technologies and techniques.

In addition to the top five certs covered in this article, many colleges and universities offer courses in unified communications or certificate programs aimed at workforce training. Note that most of those programs incorporate Cisco equipment and applications. Other programs are available, though. We conducted a simple Google search that revealed several interesting choices, including the Information Technology: Network Specialist Concentration at the Pennsylvania College of Technology.

Another consideration is Mitel Networks. Although the company doesn't offer its own IT career certifications as of this writing, Gartner considers Mitel one of the leaders in the UC market, and the company name appears in job board searches for "unified communications" with great frequency. That means there's an abundance of open positions that call for Mitel experience and/or knowledge. When evaluating UC certifications, and especially certificate programs through colleges or universities, consider if the required skills and knowledge might transfer to a job working with Mitel technology.