License To Thrive

By Alan C. Brawn On October 10, 2012

Sorting Out Industry Certifications in a Converging AV/IT World.

To paraphrase the Bard, “To get certified or not; that is the question.” Which professional development certifications, if any, might be right for the forward thinking AV, IT, and digital signage technology managers of today?

This is actually an interesting question in light of the vast number of certifications that appear to be popping up all around us. It seems that every manufacturer of the technologies or developers of software utilized in the AV and IT universe have a “certification” of some sort attached to their offerings. At first glance, this is not a bad thing. The fact is that these programs are aimed at making a person familiar with the details and performance parameters of a particular product, what the tangible benefits are, and what problems are solved by using that product. There is a subliminal purpose of these certifications as well—to get a person enveloped and dedicated to the brand, keep them as loyal users, and perhaps even turn them into proactive proponents to others. The company tries to consciously instill a sense of pride and accomplishment in the process. There is an old axiom that says “an educated user is our best customer,” and it is certainly true.

On the face of it, most education properly delivered is good, but left uncontrolled and learned in a random and almost ad hoc nature, this conglomeration of disparate knowledge might actually be confusing. At the formal education level, this is what a curriculum is all about. By definition, a curriculum is “a group of related courses, often in a special field of study: e.g. the engineering curriculum.” The important words are “related courses.” A curriculum focuses on how one topic or level of course relates to another. We are all familiar with 100-, 200-, 300-, and 400-level courses, and also in each category there are pre-requisites that are required before moving from one course to another. If left unchecked and in disorder, this can cause the confusion we are speaking about. Herein lies the problem, or perhaps better said, the short coming of disparate certifications from multiple companies. Typically they address part of a subject, but rarely all of it—this is where “generalist” certifications takes center stage.

The Details Matter

It is important to note that any so-called certification without industry acceptance and recognition are more or less meaningless. A silly but apt comparison is a minister who is “ordained” by a church with two members versus a recognized denomination. A person can even be selfordained, but in reality, who cares. The key here in any certification is recognition by a significant cross-section of those involved in a profession or industry.

The “generalist” certification is one where the curriculum covers the broad scale and scope of an industry and in the process of learning teaches on overview most often with some degree of detail about the major segments of an industry. It is like an umbrella over the industry with the minute details underneath the protective cover of general knowledge. Several good examples of this are the Certified Technology Specialist (CTS) certification from InfoComm, the Digital Signage Certified Expert (DSCE) from the Digital Signage Experts Group, MCSE from Microsoft, the Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA), and the Project Management Professional (PMP) from the Project Management Institute.

In the case of the CTS certification, it covers all the basics of audio, video, design, and integration of an AV system. By design (pun intended), an AV system is comprised of numerous types and brands of technologies and equipment. Each product might have a certification offered by their respective manufacturers, but InfoComm offers a generalist approach from a purely impartial perspective without prejudice and only from an accepted and best practices point of view. The certification is completed upon passing an in-depth exam before a person can sport the CTS designation. This entire process ensures a fundamental understating of each segment of the industry and illustrates how they all fit together.

The buzzwords we hear all the time in the AV, IT, and content creation world is digital signage. This new industry crosses numerous boundaries of required expertise, all of which may ultimately require a certification of their own. Understanding this, a group of recognized (that word again!) industry experts, authors, and consultants created the Digital Signage Experts Group (DSEG). Its mission is to provide education and certifications in each of the seven key elements involved in the digital signage. To date, the DSEG has produced the Digital Signage Certified Experts (DSCE) certification along with a Digital Signage Network Experts (DSNE) and Digital Signage Display Expert (DSDE) certifications. On the drawing board are new certifications in content and media and also in logistics and installation. The DSEG is impartial, agnostic, and vendor neutral as any good generalist certification should be. As with other programs, an exam is required to pass each certification. The key with all the recognized certification programs is to place the subject matter in the context of the overall industry and make it understandable in terms of how one key element relates to another.

IT Certification

Some of the oldest certifications are in IT. In a recent article, I opined that unlike truly impartial certifications like CTS, PMP, and the DSCE, many IT certification programs are designed to address specific brands and product families from mega companies like Microsoft and Cisco, and for our purposes are lumped into the generalist category because they are so pervasive and create the environment in which many other products work.

As with other true certifications, each of the following takes time to study and review and most importantly they have comprehensive exams that are necessary to earn the coveted designation and certificate of completion. Some of the most recognized programs that have relevance in the digital signage universe are:

• MCSE—Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer - Requires seven exams to complete!
• MCSD—Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator - This certification is recommended by Microsoft both for experienced IT professionals and for people new to IT.
• CCNA—Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) validates the ability to install, configure, operate, and troubleshoot medium-size route and switched networks, including implementation and verification of connections to remote sites in a WAN.

Project Management Certification

Our last example of a recognized certification is the Project Management Professional (PMP) from the Project Management Institute (PMI). Over the years I have suggested that “there is a place in heaven for good project managers.” These are the folks who take what the sales person sold, and the designers designed and make it all work to the satisfaction of the end user. I think most would agree that this is an often daunting task and on a par with the variety of elements in IT and digital signage in terms of complexity. Like the CTS program, experience is necessary to earn the PMP, but the rewards are significant and well worth the effort. PMPs earn a higher salary–up to 10 percent more than non-certified project managers. Over 70 percent of employers require or encourage a PMI certification and 93 percent of PMPs recommend the certification to others. The best example of adoption of a certification that I know of is that there are over 400,000 PMPs globally—and growing.

The best path for professional advancement for each of us irrespective of the industry is to earn one or more formally recognized certifications. In the first place, professional certifications put all the elements of an industry and your experience in context rather than residing as a desperate group of facts and knowledge rolling around inside your head. Secondly, certifications are proof positive to your employers, clients, and those outside of your inner circle that you are committed to your profession, not complacent and that you actively seek the latest information available to make you and your efforts the best they can be. This has the added benefit of giving people you come in contact with well-earned confidence in your abilities. Research has shown that certifications make you more valuable to employers and all else being equal the nod usually goes to the certified person in a company.

The Benefits of Certification

The following is a list of just some of the benefits of certifications.

• Hiring and Promotion Eligibility—New and timely certifications is the key to standing out in a crowd of resumes and having a competitive advantage over candidates without certifications.
• Career Improvement—Most AV and IT professionals do their job and only their job. There aren’t many opportunities to gain more responsibilities, challenges and therefore more pay, unless you’re promoted. But how many times have you been promoted lately? Certified people get promotions first.
• Earn higher wages
• Certifications Provide Differentiation—Both for you and your employer
• Job Retention—Lay-offs are the norm in this new economy and, in general, the people who are not being laid off are the ones with the most skills, knowledge, and certifications. Of course, there are exceptions, but we’re sharing best practices.
• Salary Maintenance—With a certification, companies will be much more likely to pay you what you are really worth.
• Certifications Increase Relevance—Everything in technology is in a constant state of change. As real world needs evolve, so must certifications and so must you!
• Organizations Need to Reduce Costs—A recent national marketing study proved that certifications enable organizations to reduce expenses, identify knowledge gaps and improve productivity.
• Confidence Proves Crucial During Turbulent Times—You need this more than anything right now. Pick yourself up and get your certification.
• Networking with other true professionals of like mind. Interacting with the best among us keeps us all on our toes and improves our “game.”

There is, of course, a deeply personal benefit to all of this and that is personal pride and confidence. Each of us must look inward at who we are as individuals and what we provide for our families, our communities, our companies, and our clients. There is an often unspoken sense of pride and accomplishment that certifications bring at all levels. Whether it is an MCSE, CCNA, CTS, PMP, or DSCE, each of these show your dedication to being the best you can be for all the people and companies in your life. If you are certified in one area, look to the next progression up the ladder; we should never stop learning or developing our skills no matter what profession you are in. The fact is that it all starts and stops with you.

Alan C. Brawn, CTS, DSCE, DSDE, DSNE, ISF, ISFC, is a principle of Brawn Consutlng, an audiovisual consulting, training, educational development, and market intelligence company.

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