Product and service reviews are conducted independently by our editorial team, but we sometimes make money when you click on links. Learn more.

IBM Certification Guide: Overview And Career Paths

IBM Certification Guide: Overview And Career Paths

IBM's IT certifications help IBM employees, partners and consultants bring solutions to customers more quickly and efficiently. IBM credentials can also mean higher salaries and upward mobility for IT professionals who invest in them.

The International Business Machines Corporation, better known simply as IBM, is a world leader in IT products and services, covering the gamut from enterprise applications, to middleware and operating systems, to computing systems, storage, cloud computing and business analytics.

IBM was incorporated in the state of New York in 1911 as the Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company (C-T-R). The company became known as "Big Blue," most likely because of the color of its mainframes in the late 1960s. IBM is a Fortune 100 company with revenues exceeding $92.8 billion, and employs over 403,000 full-time individuals worldwide plus an additional 24,000 complementary employees. 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 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 certifications.

In the past, IBM classified its certifications according to software, hardware, IBM PureSystems, solutions and "other." While individual certs 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 nine main categories including:

  • Analytics
  • Cloud and Mobility
  • Cognitive Solutions
  • Commerce
  • Global Technology Services
  • Security
  • Systems
  • Systems: Middleware
  • Watson Health

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 provides test objectives, sample or assessment tests, and a plethora of training resources and reference materials to help candidates prepare for 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 USD. 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 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 2016. Seating is frequently limited so interested professionals should check out event offerings and register early.

IBM makes navigating certification easy with web pages 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.

MORE: IT Career Paths & Certification Guides
MORE: Best IT Certifications
MORE: Best IT Training
MORE: All IT Careers Content

IBM Analytics

Featuring more than 120 certifications, IBMAnalytics 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 six areas -- platform, solution, content management, Internet of Things (IoT), collaboration and social business, and public safety. While there is some overlap among products, each concentration area features credentials in different portions of the IBM Analytics product portfolio:

  • Analytic Platform: Includes credentials for DB2, Cognos, PureData System, Informix, SPSS, Risk Information Governance for BI and InfoSphere, and Big Data
  • Analytic Solution: Includes multiple credentials for Cognos (TM1, Controller, Disclosure Management, Real-time Monitoring, and more), Algo One and Algo Financial Modeler, OpenPages, and Predictive Maintenance and Quality
  • Analytics Enterprise Content Management: Includes credentials for Datacap, Content Manager, FileNet, Enterprise Records, Case Manager, Content Collector, Case Foundation and Content Analytics
  • Analytics Internet of Things: Includes credentials for TRIRIGA (Real Estate Manager and Application Platform), Maximo Asset Management, Tivoli, Rational, and  Rhapsody products
  • IBM Collaboration Solutions and Social Business: Credentials focus on social business solutions such asLotus Notes and Domino, Connections and Connections Cloud, Sametime, Social Business, OpenSocial and SmartCloud Notes Hybrid
  • Safer Planet: Includes certifications for i2 products (Analyst's Notebook and i2 COPLINK Detect) and Intelligent Operations Center

Analytics credentials offered range from entry-level certs to expert.

IBM Cloud And Mobility

The IBM Cloud and Mobility certification portfolio is relatively small, encompassing only eight certs. Despite being small in number, the program is robust and features credentials ranging from the developer and administrator levels all the way to the IBM Certified Solution Architect – Cloud Computing Infrastructure.

Featured products include Cloud Platform, Rational UrbanCode (Deploy and Release), Worklight Foundation, SoftLayer, Cloud Computing Architecture and Cloud Computing Infrastructure.

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 and Algo One is a tool 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.

This category of certifications also includes the Safer Planet credentials, which are analysts, implementation professionals and solutions specialists who must process and analyze specialized data geared toward law enforcement, government agencies and municipalities (utility-related). The associated IBM products are i2 Analyst's Notebook, Intelligent Operations Center and i2 COPLINK Detect products.

IBM Commerce

IBM Commerce certifications are all about the customer and how professionals working with IBM technology can help the customer conduct and grow their business. Because the Commerce certs are customer focused, they come in two flavors—those focused on engaging the customer and those focused on partner and supplier relationships.

Customer Engagement certs feature credentials focus on maximizing the customer experience for products, such as WebSphere Commerce, Digital Analytics, Tealeaf, Marketing Operations, Sterling (Configuration, Order Management), Campaign and Interact. Credential roles in this category include business analyst, solution designer, specialist, system administrator, application developer, and deployment and implementation professional.

Partner and Supplier Engagement certs focus on professionals managing partner and supplier relationships. Products featured include Sterling Connect Direct, WebSphere Transformation Extender, Emptoris Contract Management and Sterling B2B Integrator. Depending on the specific credential involved, certifications are available for the administrator, application developer, deployment professional and solution implementer roles.

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, along with networking, mobility and cloud), including technical support services.

IBM offers a single cert in this category: the IBM Certified Specialist - IBM U.S. Technical Support Services V2. This cert is only available in the U.S. and is geared towards business partners who provide Level 1 or 2 technical support. Prep courses are available to business partners through IBM's PartnerWorld University. Candidates must pass a single exam to earn the credential.

IBM Security

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 a specific IBM security product, such as IBM Security Guardium, Security QRadar SIEM and IBM Security SiteProtector. The IBM Security certification portfolio offers IT professionals 31 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 almost half of the available security credentials (14 total) followed by the certified associate certifications which offers 8 different certs.

IBM Systems: Middleware

Coming in at the number two slot in the IBM certification portfolio (as far as sheer number of credentials offered) is IBM Systems: Middleware. This category offers professionals a total of 82 different certs to choose from to validate their skills and grow their career. Middleware certs encompass five different categories: application platform, digital experience, integration, service management and smart processes.

  • Application Platform: The Application Platform category features numerous credentials including associate developer, BPM system administrator, deployment professional, developer, and multiple solutions credentials (designer, expert and specialist). Various products are featured including Rational products (application developer, integration and virtualization server test, performance test, manual tester, functional test for Java, Team Concert, ClearCase), Business Process Manager, WebSphere Application Server (Developer and Network Deployment and Collaborative Lifecycle Management.
  • Digital Experience: Digital experience certifications are offered across six roles—advanced system administrator, application developer, associate, designer, solution developer and system administrator. Most of the certifications focus on the WebSphere Portal and Web Content Manager products. Other certs focus on Digital Experience, Forms, Forms Experience Builder and Web Experience Factory.
  • Integration: Available Integration certs include advanced deployment professional, application developer, developer, solution designer, solution developer, solution implementer and system administrator system programmer. About half of the Integration certs focus on WebSphere, WebSphere MQ and WebSphere Message Broker. Other products include Integration Bus, CICS Transaction Server, DataPower Gateway, API Management and IBM Service Management.
  • IT Service Management: With 29 available certs for IT professionals to choose from, IT Service Management is the largest Middleware certification area. Certs are primarily focused on various Tivoli products (Monitoring, Netcool) along with IBM Service Management products, SmartCloud Control Desk and Rational products (ClearQuest and Quality Manager). Depending on the product, a variety of certification roles are available including administrator, advanced deployment professional, associate, deployment professional, solution advisor, support associate and specialist.
  • Smarter Processes: These certs focus on technologies designed to improve business process management (BPM). Available credentials include application developer plus a variety of BPM credentials (analyst, application developer, business analyst and business process analyst), integration developers, solution designers and system administrators. Featured products include those focused on BPM, such as Operational Decision Manager, WebSphere Operational Decision Management, Blueworks Live, Business Process Manager (Express and Standard), WebSphere Business Modeler Advanced Edition, BPM Advanced, WebSphere Enterprise Service Bus, Rational System Architect and WebSphere DataPower.

IBM Systems

IBM currently offers 31 different IBM Systems certs aimed at users, advanced users, implementers and sellers. IBM Systems certs fall into five categories: Power Systems, Storage Hardware, Storage Software, z Systems, plus a category simply referred to as Other, which serves as a catch-all for certs that don't fall neatly into any of the other categories.

  • Power Systems: There are six Power Systems certs offered—three focused on sales and three on system administration. Sales credentials include Certified Sales Specialist and Technical Sales Specialist for professionals working with solutions for Power Systems with POWER8. Three 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 Hardware: Nine different Certified Specialist credentials are offered for Storage Hardware, each focused on either sales, support or technical solutions. Focus areas include Enterprise Storage Sales, Storage Technical Support, FlashSystem Technical Solutions, High-End Tape Technical Solutions, Midrange Storage Sales, Midrange Storage Technical Support, Storwize Family Technical Solutions, System Storage DS8000 Technical Solutions and XIV Storage Systems Technical Solutions.
  • Storage Software: There are seven different Storage Software certs with five of the seven certs targeting Tivoli products (Storage Manager and Storage Productivity Center). The remaining two certs focus on Spectrum product (Spectrum Scale and Spectrum Storage Family Solutions). Candidates may earn administrator, associate, advanced deployment professional or deployment credentials.
  • z Systems: IBM offers three Certified Specialist credentials for z Systems. Two are focused on sales (System Business Resiliency Solution Selling and z Systems Solutions Sales), and the third targets technical support for z Systems.
  • Other: This category encompasses certs for systems that don't readily meet the criteria for the other areas such as Enterprise PL/I, IMS, SOA, and systems architect. Credentials include application developer (both developing and programming with Enterprise PL/I), database administrator (IMS) and system programmer (IBM, SOA and Infrastructure Systems Architect).

IBM Watson Health

You may remember the now famous game 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 has kick-started the IBM Watson Group with a healthy $1 billion in funding. 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 only two Watson Health certs available: IBM Certified Application Developer - Cúram V604 and IBM Certified Associate Business Process Analyst - Cúram V605. The Certified Application Developer - Cúram is an intermediate credential that targets Java professionals who also work as Cúram developers. The Associate Business Process Analyst - Cúram is an entry-level credential for professionals such as testers, business analysts or consultants seeking to establish foundation level Cúram skills or implement Cúram projects. A single test is required for each certification.

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.

MORE: IT Career Paths & Certification Guides
MORE: Best IT Certifications
MORE: Best IT Training
MORE: All IT Careers Content