Many vendor and industry technical certifications—such as the Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer and the Cisco Certified Network Professional—reflect a person’s mastery of technical domains, but not necessarily the mastery of technology in a business and design context.

Today, Cisco unveils its newest and most advanced certification, the Cisco Certified Architect, a designation Cisco dubs “a master’s degree” in technology design. Rather than focusing on an individual’s ability to install, manage and troubleshoot specific pieces of technology, the Certified Architect is more about a person’s ability to put technology in a business context that produces maximum efficiency and highest return on investment.

“For a channel partner, those who have a certified architect will have the ability to deal with the technical challenges of their clients, and will gain the credibility when dealing with potential customers,” says Fred Weller, director of product marketing at Cisco Education, the division that oversees the vendor’s technical training curriculum and certifications.

Unlike certifications such as the Cisco Certified Security Professional or Cisco Certified Internetwork Professional, the Certified Architect certification will have no training program and no formal test. Rather, individuals will have to apply for credential, complete a rigorous design project and appear before an expert review board of Cisco and industry professionals.

The process is very much like a Ph.D dissertation project. Once an applicant submits his credentials to the board and is admitted to the program, he or she will be given a design challenge. The challenge will require the applicant to design an integrated system that meets specific operational, budget and business goals. The applicant will have to present the design to the board and defend his choice. The board will award or reject the applicant based on the submitted materials and the quality of the presentation.

Cisco believes the process will take applicants six to eight months to complete, and cost approximately $15,000. 

“It’s a significant commitment by the individual and their supporting organization,” says Weller. “There’s going to be very few of these people in the market. Those who have the certification are going to have an edge in credibility when dealing with large projects.”

The Certified Architect credential puts tremendous emphasis on putting technology into a business context, meaning that systems are designed to meet business needs and goals. Cisco believes this is necessary because, according to its research, businesses will waste more than $100 billion over the next five years on poorly designed IT systems.

Assuming that senior systems architects will need to interact with senior enterprise executives and boards of directors, Cisco is making communication skills a major component of the Certified Architect requirements. Applicants will be judge on the quality and finesse of their presentation skills when they present their projects to the review board.

Cisco expects to begin accepting applications for the Certified Architect credential this summer and hold the first review board meeting in the first quarter of 2010.