Standardizing Integrators: Program Organizers Speak Out

Last week, SIW reported that the Security Industry Association (SIA) was developing a web-based training program for integrators (see story). Called the SSDS (Security Systems Design Specialist), the program would provide training via the web and would certify those who are integrating systems, whether they’re the designer or the installer or the technician.

Currently the program is in its infancy, with the RFP to develop the training program just going out now. The certification component hasn’t been expressly defined yet, and SIA hasn’t formally budgeted for the program. Nonetheless, this SSDS program looks like a go and is generating quite a bit of buzz among the security industry. We caught up with SIA members and staff involved with the program to get the low-down on this new program.

According to SIA’s Manager of Industry Groups Doug Wright, the SSDS program has been specifically created to be for those who are “integrating systems by the way of IT type technology,” and it won’t happen overnight. Hanger and Wright project that the training program could be in place by the third quarter of 2006, and while they hope that the certification program could be in place around the same time, they say that the first priority is to train the workforce, not to certify the workforce. In fact, the requirements of the certification test still need to be formally developed and will depend on the modules of the web-based training program.

SIA’s Education Director Jay Hanger says that the call for some sort of standardized skill set for integrators has been heard from within the manufacturer community as well as the dealer/integrator community. “Some high-level integrators brought this need for standards to SIA, and the manufacturers understood their concern.”

For the manufacturers who are providing these security integration products, it’s a no-brainer. “When something is installed incorrectly and it ‘breaks’, the end-user often blames the product manufacturer, not the installer,” explains Wright.

What it takes

Some of the requirements for the certification could include that “they would have years of experience working with both security systems and in the IT world,” says Hanger. “The idea is that the certification will indicate that they have the successful experience and knowledge to integrate systems for other clients.”

That experience seems especially useful as technology rapidly makes the 1-2-3 jump from analog to digital and from digital to IP-based. Today’s security systems being sold are often forced to run over IT networks that may or may not be part of the same network as the company’s business systems -- i.e., email, company databases, company web-access. And according to SIA’s staff, there just wasn’t any criteria that spelled out this intertwined skill set of IT and physical security.

“We looked at programs like the CPP and the PSP from ASIS, and we had lower level technical standards like the NICET program,” explains Bill Nuffer, chair of SIA’s SSDS committee and president of Deister Electronics Inc. USA, “but there really wasn’t a certification for the people doing the design function.”

“All dealers and integrators, every one of these companies, is out there stretching the limits of what they can do with today’s technology,” added Hanger. “What we’re trying to do is to get the cart before the horse. We’re trying to get them a trained designer and installer before they attempt these advanced kinds of projects.”

Adopting the program

Unlike a certification like the Certified Security Project Manager (CSPM), notes Nuffer, the SSDS is designed to make the certification and training portions easily approachable for those who already have some experience and knowledge.

Nuffer explains that it’s his personal opinion that the CSPM program has seen slow adoption partly because applicants are required to take the entire training program before they can take the test to earn the designation. That kind of testing requirement doesn't account, he says, for those who already know the material.

The proposed SSDS program has been designed specifically to avoid that kind of pitfall. Nuffer explains that training is modular and the full training pogram isn’t required to take the test. From an integrator’s perspective, he notes, a full training requirement would mean losing an employee for a length of time -- meaning also that the company loses income based on that designer’s work. With this system, designers will be able simply to take the test to prove their knowledge, or can brush up on a specific training module before taking the certification test.

“The SSDS is structured so that people who already know this stuff don’t have to go through the training program just to take the test,” Nuffer reiterates.

It’s important they avoid that hurdle, says Nuffer, because he says there have already been some hiccups with the program from integrators’ perspectives. There’s the concern that once becoming certified, trained designers could be stolen away by another company. Company owners worry that the new certification will mean they have to pay their certified designers and certified technicians more to keep them, and there are even concerns of duplicated training. Some say that the lowest level of the SSDS program –- the “installer” level -– might inadvertently compete with the NICET certification programs.

Why we need it

SIA’s Holly Wells explains that the program is patterned somewhat off the IT world, where skills and technical knowledge are codified by a number of certifications. She notes that, in terms of certifications, the there will be similarities with the CSPM (Certified Security Project Manager) designation, and that while the two certifications will be “in the same world, they’ll exist for different reasons.”

Nuffer adds that there’s a strong tendency in the IT world – a world integrators are more and more involved with – to look for certifications before hiring. Being able to prove you have the knowledge, he says, means that integrators can access new jobs.

And while much of the standardization of integrators is coming from directly within the integration and manufacturer communities, end-users will likely smile at the possibility of seeing their integrators standardized. At the SecureWorld Expo, where Security Technology & Design magazine offered a convergence education track for end-users, a number of top end-users expressed their frustration in working with integrators. The comments varied widely, but themes included that their experience with integrators was one sometimes of just “smoke and mirrors”; others said that the IT skills and knowledge they needed from an integrator often vanished from the hired company if a particular employee departed.

And while there are some early cries for standardization from the end-user community, in order to really get the program adopted, it’s going to take a pattern of adoption from industry security consultants.

“They are the ones who can write it in their RFP that ‘SSDS certification will be a plus,’” explains Nuffer. “There will be some enlightened integrators who will jump on this as soon as it's available, but we’ll probably have to rely on the consultants. They are the ones who could force the adoption of SSDS.”

Learn more:
SIA's Doug Wright can provide additional information about this proposed SSDS training and certification program. He can be reached via email at dwright@siaonline.org.

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