IEEE releases new Certified Biometrics Professional program

Pilot exam round done, next certification window closes May 31
Tuesday, April 27, 2010

NEW YORK—IEEE, which bills itself as “the world’s largest professional association dedicated to advancing technological innovation and excellence for the benefit of humanity,” has begun administering testing for its new Certified Biometrics Professional program. A small initial group took the pilot exam in October, and IEEE is currently in the midst of its first regular testing window, which ends May 31. Another window will open November 20, and IEEE hopes to have roughly 400 people certified by the end of 2010.

Rick Lazarick, chief scientist at systems integrator CSC Identity Labs, is one of the first to have CBP after his name. “I chose to get in on the front edge of this because I thought it would be a benefit to my company and me personally,” he said. “We bid on a lot of contracted work for the government and non-government companies, and we’re hoping that the fact that we have certified professionals on staff in biometrics, which is still a relatively emerging technology, will be attractive.

“We hope they’ll be asking for this certification, and we’re hoping that we’re required to have these people on staff ... We’re at the very beginning of the wave and we’re looking to surf it.”

By introducing this, IEEE is filling a real market need, said Emily Csernica, marketing manager at IEEE, “and we had the right subject matter experts to put toward this.”

“To be a successful [certification] program,” she said, “it has to be developed and adopted by people working in the industry. There was a lot of direct input from the biometrics industry, to set the standard for the knowledge and skills that people need.” Using as many as 50 subject matter experts from all facets of the biometrics industry, IEEE first created a body of knowledge (they call it a “BOK”), then used psychometricians to develop a standardized exam that professionals could take to prove they’d mastered the BOK.

One of the developers of the body of knowledge was Cathy Tilton, VP of standards and emerging technologies at Daon, a maker of software that integrates biometric solutions. With 16 years in biometrics, Tilton said she accepted a role in developing the learning materials for the program because “this has been a long time coming. For me, it was important to the development and recognition of biometrics as a discipline. It’s an indicator of maturity for our industry.”

So, how hard is the test? “This is not the test that’s going to say you’re an expert,” Tilton said. “It’s not going to qualify you to be the person developing algorithms or anything. But it says you know a good bit about biometrics and you have a baseline knowledge ... I did go through and use the learning system and online materials, though, and I sat for the exam, and having been in the industry for 16 year, you think you know it all, but I definitely learned things, myself.”

Asked if any Joe Blow off the street could quickly read the learning materials and pass the test, Lazarick was unable to answer definitively. “I know the test had some challenging questions,” he said, “and the learning materials really helped. If you studied hard, you’d know a lot of the answers. They didn’t give me a score, though. The passing grade was 500, but they didn’t tell me if I got 501 or 799. I have no idea if you took someone with a couple of years of college experience and some industry knowledge and gave them the test what they would score. Do they score 501? That’s one thing. But if they score 780, that’s another thing. So, without knowing the scores, it’s really hard to evaluate the test.”

“As a technical person, you want a score back,” Tilton agreed. “You’re just wired that way. But I know that myself I hadn’t taken a standardized test in 35 years and the whole way of test-taking has changed so much. I’d answer one question and then come back to it if I wasn’t sure about it. And because I could do that I kept my own little metrics, and there were questions where I felt like I really wasn’t sure, so I kind of had a feel for where I was.”

“The test has really been developed and tested out to make sure it’s hard enough so that only a certain amount of people should pass,” IEEE’s Csernica said. “It’s tweaked and tested enough so that there’s a pass rate that’s allowable for the industry. It’s gone through rigorous review by subject matter experts, with plenty of cutting and rewording.”

Lazarick said he’s already seen one RFP asking for involvement of a CBP, and he’s hoping to see more soon. “I believe in it,” he said. “My company believes in it. I hope it’s as prevalent at the PMP [Project Management Professional]. Nowadays you can’t get along with out that. Once the CBP gets to that point I’ll be really happy.”