Why IT Certifications Matter
Mar 14, 2013 4:40 PM, By Tim Kridel
INTEGRATOR KNOWLEDGE NECESSARY
In the past, having a few people on staff with IT credentials could help an AV integrator stand out from its competition. Now it’s become almost table stakes, especially with IT integrators muscling into markets such as digital signage and videoconferencing. So it’s surprising how many AV integrators—both individually and the companies they work for—aren’t flocking to IT certification classes.
“This transition has been in the works for years, and I haven't seen the urgency from the industry to move in this direction—especially the integrators,” Cheshier says. “Currently only the larger integrators have started to move in this direction. Mid- and small-size integrators haven't seen the light yet.”
That could hurt them in more ways than one. From a revenue perspective, for example, certifications could provide the credibility necessary to access AV gear remotely via the client’s IT network. Without that credibility, it can be difficult or impossible to upsell that customer on professional services that require remote access.
From a brand perspective, the IT staff’s cooperation can ensure the kind of remote access necessary to identify and fix problems before they become noticeable to the client. In an industry as competitive as pro AV, reputation can make or break a sale.
“In my personal experience, the ability to understand and communicate properly with IT professionals has been absolutely essential to supporting and maintaining client relationships,” says David Judy, director of technical operations at Technical Innovation, an integrator specializing in video. “Having the ability to interface and connect with the IT professionals I worked with resulted in relationships based on trust and respect.
“The IT teams we work with became more willing to provide remote access into their systems allowing us to provide a level of support that would have never been possible otherwise.”
10 CERTIFICATIONS TO CONSIDER
Sound & Video Contractor surveyed a variety of vendors, integrators, and trade associations to identify which IT certifications are worth pursuing. Not surprisingly, multiple Cisco certifications made the cut.
“A CCNA or a CCNP will get you 95 percent of the way on everything I’ve ever dealt with on the AV side,” says Paul Richardson, IT director at Conference Technologies. “The reason why the Cisco certs are so relevant is even if it’s not a Cisco router, switch or firewall, since Cisco is so prevalent, you can extrapolate the rest. If you happen to find yourself on a Juniper or ADTRAN or something, if you’ve got that Cisco background knowledge, you’ll get all the concepts.”
Sometimes the client’s needs determine which certifications to start with. “Find out what sort of certifications are being required of anyone that is working on that network in their facility,” says Chuck Wilson, National Systems Contractors Association’s (NSCA) executive director. “The clients are starting to specify what certifications you must have to do work in their place.”
Here are the certifications that ranked the highest. They’re listed in (mostly) alphabetical order because the value of each one depends partly on the types of IT skills you’re looking to add.
Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA)
Cisco says this program is for entry-level network engineers—people with one to three years of experience—who want the ability to install, configure, operate, and troubleshoot medium-size routed and switched networks.
“CCNA is a recognized baseline for understanding and configuring IP networks,” Judy says. “This certification covers the essentials needed to understand STP, routing protocols and VLANS, among other things.”
Like many Cisco certifications, CCNA has a few specialties and related programs. “Cisco also has the CCNA Video and Cisco Video Network Specialist programs available to AV integrators,” says Blair Conley, director, video go-to-market, Cisco Worldwide Channels.
For more information about CCNA, visit www.cisco.com/web/learning/certifications/associate/ccna/index.html. For Cisco Video Network Specialist, visit https://learningnetwork.cisco.com/community/certifications/video/video_network_specialist.
Cisco Certified Entry Networking Technician (CCENT)
Officially there’s no prerequisite for CCNA, but Cisco and others say the CCENT certification can be helpful.
“The CCNA curriculum is not easy and can be very difficult for someone new to information technology systems,” Judy says. “These certifications are valuable regardless of the network infrastructure manufacturer, but I recommend finding a Cisco Certified Training Partner to assist with training and preparation.”
AV pros often start with CCENT when they begin adding IT certifications. “CCENT is Cisco’s entry-level certification and covers a body of knowledge that is roughly analogous to [CompTIA] Network+,” says Melissa Taggart, InfoComm International’s senior vice president for education and certification.
For more information about CCENT, visit www.cisco.com/web/learning/certifications/entry/ccent/index.html.
Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP)
CCNP covers the planning, implementation, and troubleshooting of local- and wide-area enterprise networks. It also provides the skills necessary to work with specialists—such as the client’s IT staff—on advanced security, voice, wireless, and video solutions. Cisco recommends having at least one year of networking experience.
For more information, visit http://www.cisco.com/web/learning/certifications/professional/ccnp/index.html.
Cisco Certified Design Associate (CCDA)
CCDA covers the skills required to design basic campus, data center, security, voice, and wireless networks.
“CCDA helps AV integrators understand the proper architecture and design of an IP network,” Judy says.
For more information, visit http://www.cisco.com/web/learning/certifications/associate/ccda/index.html.
The Computing Technology Industry Association’s Network Plus certification is another common entry-level program. It covers network technologies, installation and configuration, media and topologies, management, and security.
“Many AV professionals are already pursuing certifications such as CompTIA Network+ in order to gain a better grasp of the IT systems we interface with,” Judy says. “This certification is a great starting place for AV professionals who need to build a foundational knowledge of the networks we interface with.”
“It’s a good basic certification,” Wilson adds. “That’s the one I suggest people start with.”
CompTIA Network+ also is a prerequisite option for joining the Apple Consultants Network. That makes it worth considering if you work in higher ed, where faculty and students frequently expect to be able to use their iOS or Mac device for presentations. Apple hardware also is increasingly common in the enterprise market, thanks partly to the growing number of companies with bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policies.
“The leading BYOD [product] is some form of an Apple device,” Wilson says. “This certification can get you started toward understanding the issues of BYOD in a networked environment.”
For more information, visit http://certification.comptia.org/getCertified/certifications/network.aspx.
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