AWS Partner Network (APN) Blog

Top 4 Recommendations for Partners to Achieve Success with the AWS Competency Program

By Cristian Torres Salamanca, Sr. Partner Solutions Architect – AWS
By Lukasz Dyjakon, Sr. Partner Solutions Architect – AWS

The AWS Competency program validates and promotes AWS Partners with demonstrated technical expertise and proven customer success.

Attaining an AWS Competency helps partners market and differentiate their business to Amazon Web Services (AWS) customers by showcasing their capabilities in specialized areas across industry, use case, and workloads.

AWS Partners are measured against a high bar to achieve the AWS Competency designation, and the program requirements ensure Competency status is granted to thoroughly validated partners that are able to address today’s cloud challenges.

When a partner is working towards an AWS Competency, its AWS Partner Network (APN) team will help guide the business towards success. The goal is for partners to receive an AWS Competency designation and assure customers they are working with a qualified AWS Partner.

To get there, it’s important AWS Partners have a list of best practices and recommendations. In this post, we will show how partners can achieve and make the most out of the AWS Competency program through four key steps:

  • Understanding AWS Competencies
  • Leveraging AWS Competencies
  • Choosing one or several AWS Competencies
  • Preparing for an AWS Competency audit

1. Understanding AWS Competencies

The purpose of an AWS Competency is to validate a partner’s experience and skills delivering on different workloads, and to provide AWS customers confidence the partner they are considering for a project has a proven track record.

To attain an AWS Competency, AWS Partners must (among other things) submit several case studies where they can showcase their experience. As a result, attaining a Competency is seen as validating the partner’s expertise through demonstrated customer engagements.

For instance, AWS Premier Tier Services Partner SoftServe is a member of three partner programs and has four service validations and more than 500 AWS Certifications. SoftServe recognizes the importance of adding AWS Competencies to its portfolio to further validate customer offerings:

“Customers mostly prefer companies that did this work before. Even 100 case studies can be not enough for clients to feel confident,” says Ruslan Kusov, AWS Cloud COE Lead and AWS Ambassador at SoftServe. “The AWS Migration Competency provides additional recognition from AWS—a ‘quality seal’ so customers would trust their migration to a partner who is on a list of AWS trusted partners.”

It’s important AWS Partners understand the main requirements associated with case studies that a business must fulfill to earn a Competency designation:

  • AWS Partners must have customer case studies which showcase engagements that have been completed successfully. Most Competencies require several of the case studies be publicly referenceable.
  • A customer engagement can only be successful if a sales team has qualified an opportunity and presented a customer with an appropriate solution. Similarly, the delivery team which is responsible for the delivery of the project should produce and share with customers key documentation (including AWS best practices) about the implemented solution.
  • Optionally, both the sales and delivery engagements may be presented to the customer in the form of a packaged offer. This could, for example, be a solution with a business and technical objective that’s to be delivered within a certain time frame or at a defined price.

Whether the customer engagement came from a packaged offer, software-as-a-service (SaaS) solution, or as a bespoke engagement, all of the engagements would have stemmed from a “practice” within the partner’s organization. A practice is a collection of professionals who have developed certain skills, tools, and processes to deliver outcomes with precision and timeliness.

If an AWS Partner does not have any packaged offers, delivery kits, or practices, then taking a step back would be advisable at this point. There are many programs in the AWS Partner Network that help partners create those solid foundations to drive consistent and repeatable results, on top of which they can earn an AWS Competency later on.

We recommend starting off with APN Navigate tracks that are relevant to your business and the type of Competency you want to pursue. Navigate tracks will help your teams learn the basics of specific service areas, solutions, or workloads, attain AWS Certifications, and level up with AWS Service Delivery designations. These are similar to Competencies but focused on particular AWS services such as AWS Direct Connect or Amazon DynamoDB.

Eventually, AWS Partners will have built out the skills, tools, and processes needed to produce the collateral necessary to attain an AWS Competency. If there is interest in learning more and getting additional details about Competencies, please reach out to the AWS Partner Organization team via your company’s alliance lead.

2. Leveraging AWS Competencies

One of the benefits of attaining an AWS Competency is that it helps partners stand out with AWS customers. This level of technical and business validation from Amazon Web Services helps customers find the right partner with the right skills and experience they are looking for.

On top of differentiating their businesses to AWS customers, more opportunities will be available for AWS Partners in the form of new funding mechanisms to accelerate projects and support demand generation activities. Partners will also have opportunities to engage with AWS subject matter experts in different types of technical events and training sessions that sharpen their skills and build relationships with AWS teams.

Visibility with Customers

There are thousands of AWS Partners visible on the APN’s official “Find a Partner” website, which helps customers discover, research, and connect with partners that have the appropriate technical skills and AWS validations, including AWS Competencies.

If a customer were to search this database for the “financial services” use case, for example, they would see partners that have earned the AWS Financial Services Competency and are validated by AWS for this type of engagement. If a customer was to further narrow that search to include security skills, the list of qualified partners becomes even more focused.

As you can see, the more validations an AWS Partner has earned, the easier it is for customers to find qualified companies to help them on projects and workloads. AWS Competencies are big part of the “Find a Partner” search experience for AWS customers.

Funding for Partners

Another benefit of obtaining an AWS Competency is that some designations have funding programs attached, which helps make partners’ offerings more competitive.

For example, the funding program associated with the Migrations Competency is the AWS Migration Acceleration Program (MAP). This program allows customers to benefit from funding that helps offset the cost of work a partner performs for them across the different phases of a migration.

Marketing Development Funds (MDF) is a funding option that’s directly tied to the number of AWS Competencies a partner has achieved. Therefore, the more Competencies a business has earned, the larger their MDF bucket will be for the year. Partners can leverage MDF to support their go-to-market (GTM) activities, generate demand, and grow their businesses.

Jonathan LaCour, Chief Technology Officer at Mission Cloud Services, an AWS Premier Tier Services Partner with eight AWS Competencies, believes the benefits from obtaining those designations helps the business strengthen its cloud managed services offering:

“Achieving an AWS Competency is a challenging endeavor, ensuring that partners like Mission truly raise the bar for our shared customers,” says Jonathan LaCour, Chief Technology Officer at Mission Cloud Services. “By achieving a Competency, Mission has accelerated our growth through a stronger go-to-market partnership with AWS, and smart funding programs to incentivize customer success.”

AWS Support and Unique Benefits

When attaining AWS Competencies, partners get the opportunity to connect with AWS subject matter experts. This is one of the best ways to engage with AWS specialists and business development teams. When those internal AWS teams want to work with partners on projects or use case, the organizations that have earned AWS Competencies have more visibility.

AWS Competency Partners also get special invitations to technical events and training sessions such as AWS GameDay, Deeper Learning NDA product roadmap sessions, APN Immersion Days, hands-on workshops, and Q&A opportunities with AWS experts. Competency Partners get preferred access to beta testing of new services and features as well.

In obtaining six AWS Competencies, Cloudwick Technologies, an AWS Advanced Tier Services Partner specializing in cloud data management and analytics, has been able to leverage these exclusive opportunities and programs to help advance its business:

“Our continued investment in the AWS Competency program provides our company with increased GTM opportunities with the AWS field sales organization, product teams, and provides Cloudwick with access to AWS funding programs that help our customers migrate and modernize their data and analytics to the cloud faster,” says Mark Schreiber, General Manager at Cloudwick.

3. Choosing One or Several AWS Competencies

When exploring an AWS Competency to pursue, the first thing to consider is there are different types of Competency designations based on industry, use case, and workload. Here are a few AWS Competencies available in each area:

  • Industry: Retail, Travel and Hospitality, Healthcare
  • Use case: Data and Analytics, Machine Learning, Migration and Modernization
  • Workload: Microsoft Workloads, Oracle, SAP

AWS Partners can find several Competencies, not just one, that may be a fit for the team’s current or future skills or experience. See the full list of AWS Competencies.

Having so many options can be challenging for a partner that is trying to set a development plan with AWS, however. Following are the main considerations we have identified when working alongside AWS Partners that are going through the process of choosing a Competency designation.

Focus on the Long Term

A partner’s AWS Competency strategy should be aligned to its long-term business plan. Sometimes the Competency attained is in an area where the partner wants to differentiate its business, while other times it’s an opportunity to build new business avenues based on market trends. Partners should always work backwards from the vision and goals their companies have to find the right AWS Competency to pursue.

There are specific AWS Competency validation checklists for each designation and for AWS Services and Software partners. Therefore, it’s crucial partners choose the right validation checklist when reviewing a Competency based on the type of projects and offerings you’re looking to validate.

Existing or New Practices

Does your business have a practice already built, or is the objective to start working on a new practice? The answer to that question will likely determine the amount of time a partner will need to invest to be ready to apply for an AWS Competency.

Some partners have rich experience and consolidated practices, so they may already meet most of the Competency requirements, whereas other partners want to create that expertise from the ground up and go through the process of building the practice. That being said, AWS Partners can target one or several Competencies that fit their existing or upcoming practices based on their long-term business plans.

Expectations and Supporting Evidence

It’s important to note that getting an AWS Competency designation is not just about having the projects or case studies to submit the application. Competencies validate a lot of details regarding a partner’s experience, focus, and skills in the following areas: sales, pre-sales, delivery, marketing, support, and thought leadership.

Most of those items in the validation checklist require detailed documentation, established processes, and additional evidence that could take time to prepare and collect. For some items in the checklists, the following supporting evidence can be required: playbooks, statements of work, run-books, disaster recovery plans, live demonstrations, and verbal descriptions.

4. Preparing for an AWS Competency Audit

These are a few best practices we recommend to AWS Partners when they are working on achieving a Competency. By following these tips, partners can increase the chances of being successful in the application process and the audit:

  • Review the requirements in the validation checklist to identify what items are already covered and the ones that need to be worked on.
  • Identify potential case studies, setting up an action plan to fill the gaps and meet the requirements that need additional work based on the outcome of the initial assessment.
  • Assign a project manager, if possible, or an owner for the Competency preparation process to manage progress on the different areas of the action plan.
  • Assign the technical documentation preparation to several people or teams. Ideally, those resources were involved in the projects and can provide details. Define work groups and owners for each case study.
  • Decide on owners from the sales and marketing teams to work on those specific requirements in the validation checklist.
  • Have one or several audit dry runs, following the items in the validation checklist to make sure everything is ready: assets, supporting evidence, demonstrations, verbal descriptions, console access, presentation, microsites, and more.
  • Set a strategy to present the case studies during the audit, making sure all of the items in the checklist are covered.
  • Have the right resources joining the audit session. The technical resources that participated in the delivery of the projects should be there, along with folks from sales, marketing, and support who can provide details about the items in the checklist.
  • Perform an architecture review, based on the AWS Well-Architected Framework, in the workloads related to those projects prior to the audit. Auditors may ask to get into the console to demonstrate the deployment is following AWS best practices and the Well-Architected Framework.
  • Set an internal framework to capture case study details as you move through projects, and have a repository with all of the information that is collected. This is a best practice not only for being successful in the Competency process, but also to be able to track progress in the customer workloads and provide context between partner resources in case of internal handoffs.

Call to Action

We encourage AWS Partners to review the validation checklists of the Competencies that align to their long-term business goals. Start off by evaluating a practice relevant to a Competency while paying special attention to these questions:

  • Do you have an established practice for the use case or workload type?
  • Do you leverage packaged offers in your sales motions?
  • Are there sales kits and delivery kits that have been developed and are used during the pre-sales and delivery process?
  • Lastly, but probably most importantly, do you have customers you can use as references?

The above list is a high-level summary of what is required in order to achieve an AWS Competency. From our experience, the customer references can often be the most difficult thing to attain, so partners should plan the references out in advance and leave adequate time to collect all artifacts.

Learn more about the AWS Competency Program and the unique benefits that Competency Partners receive. To get started as an AWS Partner, join the AWS Partner Network (APN) at no cost by creating your AWS Partner Central account.