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Identity Crisis

In case you missed it, there's been a dust storm centered on AV credentials and certification programs among the various industry trade groups.

In case you missed it, there's been a dust storm centered on AV credentials and certification programs among the various industry trade groups. Although this storm's been developing for some time, it only recently became public when InfoComm International attempted to expose what it believed were the “smoke and mirrors” of NSCA and CEDIA legislative efforts.

The aftermath of the storm includes new alliances among trade organizations, and new certification options. And if you were confused over which credentials best represented our industry before, you're probably even more confused now. And I'll bet the government regulatory watchdogs are, too.

Now you can get C-EST, C-SI, and R-ESI from NSCA, and CTS, CTS-D or CTS-I from InfoComm, in addition to four different flavors of credentials from CEDIA. Recently, CEDIA, NSCA, and CEA (the consumer electronics “mega-association”) have announced the Electronic Systems Professional Alliance (ESPA), a new alliance that promises yet another menu of education programs and certifications. And don't forget the increasing importance of networking credentials (Cisco, MSCE, and CompTIA). It seems that there are too many chefs in the kitchen, and too many ingredients in the recipe.

Frankly, a lot of the problem is rooted in our ongoing industry identity crisis. To me, when one of our associations says it represents “the industry,” it isn't clear to which industry they're referring. InfoComm Executive Director Randal Lemke has a point when he says “there is no such thing as an electronic systems or ‘low-voltage' industry.” These are product applications, not industries. InfoComm suggests calling it “AV communications” — is that any closer? It sounds like telephone, cable, and IT companies could also fall under this same umbrella.

Why are we so confused about who we are? In a word (although a very tired one): convergence. You might say multiple convergences, really, of technologies, product applications, distribution channels, and even entire industries reaching far beyond and into our own world of pro AV.

The result is that there's no single trade association that represents everything that makes up our day-to-day businesses. It stands to reason that there can be no one certification program that can cover the entire gamut of our schizophrenically over-converged businesses either.

Maybe what we need is yet another convergence — of trade associations. Let's recognize the common ground and overlap that we all know exists (but don't like to talk about), and work out a way to define what our industry is. Then we can begin a holistic approach to building certification programs that truly represent all that we are, and the value we bring to our customers. Until this happens, we can expect to continue to attract the attention of government regulators, who'll assume we can't do it ourselves.

And while that's happening, we'll continue to be picked apart by the more established outside “industries” looking to adopt our revenue streams as their own.


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