As the video surveillance market heats up, standing out among your competitors as a certified expert is more important than ever.
According to research from IHS, by 2014 the global market for network-based video surveillance will reach $7 billion, surpassing for the first time analogvideo system sales, which are forecast to be $6.5 billion. As the IP surveillance continues to grow, resellers find themselves running up against a growing number of competitors. Besides the various ways you can sell and position bundled solutions, there’s no substitute for IP video surveillance expertise. I spoke with industry experts from Arecont Vision, Axis Communications, LILIN USA, and Samsung to get their advice on the best ways to gain expertise and distinguish yourself from your competitors.
Begin With IP Video Licensing Requirements
One of the most confusing aspects of becoming an IP video surveillance expert is learning which licenses, certification, and training are required — or even necessary. “Only licensing is required for VARs or integrators to become qualified to install IP cameras, and the rules vary from state to state,” says Tim Hsu, national sales manager for LILIN USA. “The state of Texas, for example, includes video surveillance rules on its website [www.txdps.state.tx.us] under a section called ‘Regulatory Services’ and under the subtopic ‘Private Security.’ The 49-page document, which also includes rules for private security personnel and physical security access-control systems, highlights all the licenses and examination fees required to install security cameras in the state of Texas.” For example, to become an authorized video surveillance system installer in Texas, a company needs to obtain (at a minimum) a class B security services contractor license, which costs $400.
“Several municipalities have low-voltage electric regulations that require additional licensing and/ or certification,” says Ted Brahms, director of field applications at Arecont Vision. “This covers the physical portion of an installation only, which entails installing cameras and running network cabling.” Beyond the basic licensing required by a state or local municipality, there can be additional requirements for specific markets. “For example, if the installation is in a casino, there may be additional state gaming-commission certification regulations that apply,” says Frank De Fina, senior vice president, sales North America, Samsung Techwin America. “Generally, relevant educational courses that may be applied to various certifications are offered through the Security Industry Association [SIA], Electronic Technicians Association [ETA], and National Institute for Certification in Engineering Technologies [NICET], and applicable professional certifications are available through the American Society of Industrial Security [ASIS].”
Select Viable Vendor, Industry Certifications
Each of the experts I spoke with feels that acquiring certifications is important for video surveillance VARs. "A certified employee will save company time, effort, and money. In fact, it's even better if a company can certify multiple employees to ensure it doesn't rely too heavily on one person who may not always be available," says Hsu.
When it comes to certifications, there are two primary categories: industry certifications and manufacturer certifications. "Manufacturer certifications are an excellent supplement to industry certifications, and together they form a solid educational foundation," says Randy Salimen, educational services manager at Axis Communications. He's quick to point out, however, that not all vendor certification programs are created equal. "Beware of empty certifications, which are awarded for simply finishing a course or completing a test with ‘softball' questions," says Salimen. "Instead, look for certifications that are earned by successfully passing tests administered by independent testing centers such as Prometric. Also, the certifications should focus on IP video technology as a whole, not just one manufacturer's products."
Two certifications that Salimen recommends every video surveillance expert should have are the BICSI (Building Industry Consulting Service International) RCDD (Registered Communications Distribution Designer), which is a physical IT infrastructure certification, and ASIS PSP (Physical Security Professional), which demonstrates security design expertise. According to the BICSI website, to sit for the RCDD certification examination, an applicant needs either five years IT systems (ITS) design experience or two years verifiable ITS design experience and three years additional ITS equivalents chosen from combinations of experience, approved education, and approved ITS license/certification. The test comprises 120 multiple-choice questions that must be completed within a 3-hour time limit, and it's closed book. "The ASIS PSP certification requires applicants to have a high school diploma, GED equivalent, or associate degree plus six years of progressive physical security experience or a bachelor's degree plus four years of progressive physical security experience," says Salimen. "The certification test includes 125 multiple-choice questions, and prep courses are available." The cost for each certification, which includes the application and test, is approximately $400 to $650, depending on whether the applicant is a member of the corresponding association or not.
Beware Of Knowledge Gaps
In IP Video Expertise
Becoming an expert at installing and troubleshooting video surveillance cameras and VMS (video management software) is an essential requirement to becoming an IP video surveillance expert, but that knowledge alone does not cover all your bases, according to Brahms. "There is a definite gap between the physical and network sides of an IP video installation, and I'm not aware of a single comprehensive certification that covers it all," he says. One organization Brahms recommends for networking training is CompTIA, which offers a Network+ certification program that covers managing, maintaining, troubleshooting, operating, and configuring basic network infrastructures. The cost to take the certification exam is $261, but some VARs will need to first take a preparation course, which can add several hundred dollars, depending on whether you buy a book and learn at your own pace (approximately $30) or enroll in a training program (starting at $400 for e-learning courseware).
Another reputable source for network certification that Brahms recommends is the Cisco CCNA (Cisco Certified Network Associate), which also confirms a candidate's fundamental networking knowledge. Similar to CompTIA, the actual exam cost averages around $200, but you can easily pay 10 times that amount preparing yourself or one of your employees for the exam.
Keep Your Licenses, Certifications Current
One final tip to keep in mind with regard to becoming licensed and certified to sell IP video surveillance solutions is that licensing and certification is not a "one and done" process — you'll need to maintain your certification status through ongoing education, training, and in some instances retesting every so many years. "Because many states require continued education in order to maintain certification, vendors and distributors often provide classes that meet the continued education requirements," says De Fina. Samsung, for example, created the Samsung Techwin IP Institute (SIPI) to address the growing need for higher level technical expertise in the expanding IP video integration space. "The SIPI training provides technical salespeople, security firms, and systems integrators with the basic skills needed to design a scalable video network for a small-to-midsize client," he says. "All participants receive 15 CEC [certificate of equivalent competency] credits that can be used for industry-recognized certifications such as ASIS and BICSI."
Axis Communications also offers its own certification program, which includes a closed-book, third-party-administered exam to verify a candidate's competency. "To help partners successfully obtain certification, we developed the Axis Communications Academy, which provides a broad offering of training, including the recent addition of a week-long boot camp," says Salimen.
For VARs and systems integrators who may feel a little overwhelmed knowing where to begin with the various licensing and certification options mentioned above, working with your IP video surveillance distributor account rep can be a good place to start — especially if the distributor represents several competing video surveillance vendor products, which increases the chances that you'll receive an unbiased opinion. Video surveillance associations such as ASIS, BICSI, ETA, NICET, and SIA can be great resources to help ensure you're arming your business with all the video surveillance certifications and ongoing training you'll need to distinguish yourself from your competitors.