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Godfrey Pinto has great credentials. He has three master’s degrees, including an MBA, and a bachelor's in economics. He has a solid position as director of offshore outsourcing, a role he has held for six of the nine years he has worked in IT at a large US technology company.

Now Pinto is adding one more accomplishment to his list: earning the certified outsourcing professional (COP) qualification. He acknowledges that many people have not yet heard of the certification, but he believes it is a valuable one. "It means you've obtained a certain level of expertise and your skills are transferable," says Pinto. "This differentiates you."

Industry leaders say IT outsourcing professionals need skills in technology, finance, law, negotiation and project, change and performance management. They should also be able to work in various corporate environments and national cultures. Knowledge of Hindi or Chinese is a plus.

Because so few people have the combination of skills required to manage an outsourcing relationship, companies often assemble teams to negotiate, implement and oversee outsourcing deals – or they appoint inexperienced and unprepared workers to the job.

The new COP qualification is one option for accrediting knowledgeable professionals working in outsourcing. Universities and higher education institutions also offer courses that include outsourcing, offering professionals another option.

Many in the IT community say they are looking for this kind of training or certification, says Christina Powers, director of association and professional development at the International Association of Outsourcing Professionals (IAOP). “Outsourcing used to be a Band-Aid and not a strategic move, but now it is [strategic], and companies are looking for people to lead their relationships with other companies," she says.

Michael Corbett, who has worked in outsourcing for about 15 years, started the IAOP in early 2005 in response to this need. "Everybody was talking about the disappointing results from outsourcing," he says.

Corbett, who now serves as the IAOP's executive director, says companies want professionals who can align outsourcing with the organisation's overall strategy, identify the right opportunities for outsourcing, and structure and implement outsourcing arrangements.

The IAOP's goals including setting standards for the profession as well as recognising experienced professionals through the COP qualification.

Powers compares the certification with the more established project management professional (PMP) qualification awarded by the Project Management Institute. http://www.pmi.org/info/default.asp Like the PMP, the COP requires applicants to demonstrate experience and a thorough knowledge of the discipline. They must also have executive sponsorship.

Applicants need 150 points to earn certification, with at least 50 gained from mapping their experience against a body of knowledge compiled by the IAOP's standards committee. Applicants can also earn 75 points by taking the IAOP's four-day masterclass.

In July, the IAOP announced it had awarded the first COP qualifications to 13 professionals from companies including pharmaceutical firm Johnson & Johnson, telecommunications company Bell Canada International and cleaning products giant Procter & Gamble, working in areas such as IT, contract management and pharmaceutical research and development. This inaugural class also represented both sides of the outsourcing relationship: customer and service provider.

Powers says 10 more applications for certification are being reviewed, and hundreds of people have signed up for the web-based seminars held twice a month to explain the new programme.

William Metz, the external business development manager in business services and IT at Procter & Gamble, is among the first 13 COPs. Although he has experience in managing outsourcing relationships, Metz says he saw value in earning the COP. "You have to know and understand your competence in a particular area to understand how and where you can improve," he says.

His executive sponsor, Carlos Amesquita, director of innovation for global business services at Procter & Gamble, agrees. "For [employees], it provides something widely recognised outside of P&G. And for us, it's a way to benchmark that we're getting the best skills over time.”

Will other executives share Amesquita's view? Time will tell. Meanwhile, IAOP officials acknowledge that they have to market the organisation as well as the qualification. And even with those efforts under way, they expect the COP to take years to become an industry standard.

Joseph Hogan, vice president of strategic programmes for outsourcing at IT consultancy Unisys, is another member of the inaugural 13. He says he is surprised by the number of phone calls and emails he has received from colleagues, not only congratulating him on earning the COP qualification, but also asking questions about it. Hogan tells them that the new certification recognises people with the complex mix of skills required to successfully arrange and manage outsourcing relationships.

But he does not expect any immediate star status from his new designation. "In five to 10 years, it definitely should be a preferable qualification," Hogan says.

Others stress that any certification is only one arrow in a professional's quiver. Kate Kaiser, an associate professor of IT at the US Marquette University and coordinator for a recent Society for Information Management (SIM) http://www.simnet.org/ study, The Information Technology Workforce: Trends and Implications 2005-2008, says certification is not necessarily required by employers. “I always say it's not [just] your degree, it's your degree, your motivation and what you bring to the table. You can do that without certification.”

Even so, Kaiser lists outsourcing management as one of the hot skills for IT workers. Discussing the mix of abilities required, she says, "To get that in one package is pretty rare."

Christine Bullen, professor of information systems and director of the IT outsourcing programme at US specialist university the Stevens Institute of Technology, highlights the case of one financial company that sought a person with this package of skills. "They were looking for the person who could walk on water in this area," says Bullen, who interviewed the company's chief information officer for a SIM study.

After a year of searching, the company found the ideal person, she says. The problem was that everyone else wanted him, too. The company offered a high salary and bonuses, but the candidate was looking for additional concessions, such as extra holiday time. "I was amused that this person had this much power," Bullen says.

Along with other UK and US universities, the Stevens Institute has introduced new courses to cover outsourcing skills. "We felt it was such an important area for management students," Bullen says.

So far, only about 25 of the institute’s 2,100 MBA and information systems MSc students have completed the outsourcing courses, but Bullen is not deterred. "As outsourcing increases, there [will] be more demand," she says.

Certified Outsourcing Professional – the key skills

These are the key skills covered by the International Association of Outsourcing Professionals’ COP qualification.

1) Defining and communicating outsourcing management practice.

2) Developing and managing an organisation's end-to-end process for outsourcing.

3) Integrating outsourcing into an organisation's business strategy.

4) Creating and leading outsourcing project teams.

5) Developing and communicating outsourcing business requirements.

6) Selecting outsourcing service providers.

7) Developing the financial analysis and pricing an outsourcing opportunity.

8) Developing and negotiating the contract for an outsourcing agreement.

9) Managing the transition to an outsourced environment, including the effect on employees and communities.

10) Providing outsourcing governance.

Mary K Pratt writes for Computerworld (US)