Get certified?

Though they can be expensive, IT certifications are increasingly necessary for physical integrators
Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Okay, so your tech can install a card-reader on a doorway with ease, throw up a video system at the local convenience store without blinking and secure a home’s windows with a state-of-the-art alarm system in no time at all.

But what if he had to plug that card-reader or video system into an IP network, as is increasingly the case these days? Does he know how a device might fit into a WAN? Does he know what a WAN is?

If you answered “yes” to all those questions, here’s another: Can you prove it? Are your installers certified?

As physical security and the networking worlds continue to intermingle, experts say it’s becoming increasingly important for integrators, in particular, to be able to speak Cisco, or Microsoft. And certifications, well, certify that your experts have the knowledge to play on the network.

“It’s the nature of this convergence that everyone likes to talk about. When you take two environments like physical security and IT and smash them together, you have to be ready to speak both languages,” said Kevin Dailey, vice president of IP Physical Security at Consiliant Technologies. “That’s kind of what the Cisco certification gets you.”

Dailey noted three different levels of Cisco certification that integrators might want to consider.

Cisco Certified Design Associate, or CCDA, is a basic level, showing apprentice knowledge of network design. Cisco Certified Network Associate, or CCNA, signifies a person can install, configure, operate, and troubleshoot medium-size networks. The top certification, the highest level, is Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert, or CCIE.

“It’s a dramatic career step for the employee; believe me, they’ve earned their stripes after they come through the testing,” said Dailey. 

Paul Cronin, chief executive officer of 1nService, a network of high-level network and advanced technology integrators, said certain parts of certification are more valuable than others, depending on where you want to play in the ecosystem of the sales process.

Sales people should look at certifications that are big-picture and give a broad understanding of business drivers and network technology, he said.

The engineers, the technicians, will want more in-depth certifications such as CCNA, he said.

Certifications provide benefits to the organization and to the employees who get them.

More and more, a sales call will include talk about firewalls, SANs, VLANs, the IP backbone and what the depth of knowledge is around networks, said Dailey.

“From an organization’s standpoint, it’s more to be able to play in a very competitive marketplace, to be able to have conversations with clients that prove to the client they’re invested in the convergence movement and they’re doing their homework as they consult, design, and validate things that they’ve got the background in more than just their own technology products,” said Cronin. “It’s a differentiator, an indicator of sincere investment in meeting clients’ needs.”

Certification can also equal equipment discounts for companies, said Cronin.

Bill Bozeman, president and chief executive officer of the PSA Security Network, said other advantages of certification include job control, job cost management, and the ability to expedite the job quickly and professionally. 1nService and the PSA Security Network recently announced a formal agreement between the two groups, where professionals in each group could tap each others’ expertise.

There are online certifications and courses you can take at a training company’s sites, said Cronin. There are some companies, such as FireFly Communications, which will come to your business, look at what holes your people have in networking skills and certifications, and teach to your weaknesses, he said.

It may cost a company hundreds of thousands of dollars to get every team member certified - but that would be an extensive investment by a very large firm. Some courses/certifications are free; others range in the $2,000 area. The certification courses you travel to generally take a few days.

From an individual’s standpoint, experts with certifications can hone their skills in new ways, and those certifications make them more marketable, said Cronin.

 “The more certifications I have, the more I’m going to be expecting to be able to work on new technology and keep my skills current. I’m going to be higher paid,” said Cronin. “Certifications are that roadmap for growth.”

Bozeman said the recent agreement between 1nService and the PSA cooperative demonstrates the need for both networking and physical security skills in today’s marketplace.

“We’ve determined network integrators still lack the intricate knowledge needed to be first-rate physical security integrators; life safety issues, locking hardware, camera positioning, and the basic needs of a security department are often not understood by the network integrator,” said Bozeman in an email interview. “On the same hand, the physical security integrator doesn’t have the skill set necessary to deal with the new physical security products that are going onto the network of the end user.”

Bozeman said he anticipates consolidation coming from the more powerful physical security integrators acquiring local network integrators and vice versa where larger network integrators acquire smaller physical security integrators.

That convergence space is still an early adopter marketplace, suggested Cronin.

“There’s still a lot of posturing, but as we go through this convergence conduit, there’ll be new emerging leaders in this space and I believe there will be some physical security integrators who adapt, and a lot will be networking integrators, too,” said Cronin. “The demarcation will be at the door lock. Access control and video - network will latch onto that. At the same time, physical security that gets involved will get involved at the plumbing level, the network level, to be able to plug in ports and so on.”

But there is still a feel-your-way-as-you-go aspect to the whole interface between physical security and IP, with regards to what levels of certification should be standard.

“Integrators on both sides are both waiting for someone to take a lead in determining what specific certifications they should have. Consultants are beginning to write into the specifications what certifications are required to qualify for a project,” said Bozeman. “Until the lack of certifications costs system integrators business, the majority won’t step up and volunteer to take multiple certifications. As soon as an industry leader steps up to the plate or de facto standards take place, the majority of the integrators are taking a wait-and-see attitude.”