Putting the Right People In The Right Place
Learn the difference between vendor-neutral certifications, manufacturer certifications, and affiliate programs
• Vendor-neutral certifications
• Manufacturer certifications
• Affiliate programs
There are major differences in the purpose and scope of these programs.
The cabling industry, like many industries, offers vendor-neutral, industry-wide certifications. These certifications provide design and installation training that can be applied to all brands of cabling. Professional associations, educational institutions, and non-profit organizations administer the vendor-neutral credential programs. Industry professionals are required to pass exams to obtain certification and then complete continuing education credits to stay up-to-date on current industry knowledge and best practices.
Numerous educational institutions, associations, and trade schools offer courses that lead to structured cabling certifications, including Building Industry Consulting Service International (BICSI), Fiber Optic Association (FOA) and Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA). See the sidebar for a description of each of these organizations’ vendor-neutral certification programs.
According to BICSI, the registered communications distribution designer (RCDD) is one of the highest design credentials in the information technology systems (ITS) industry. RCDDs are trained to provide the initial planning and design of network infrastructures, as well as manage the infrastructure installation through completion. RCDDs help minimize costly change orders, saving both time and money.
In 2011, BICSI introduced a new designation, the BICSI data center design consultant (DCDC) credential. The DCDC credential focuses on multiple areas of data center design, including mechanical, electrical, and telecommunications systems.
"The data center design discipline and methodology is predicted to continue to mature over the next ten years. The BICSI DCDC was created to recognize those individuals who have demonstrated the knowledge, experience, and ability to apply it over multiple facets within data center design. By becoming a DCDC, an individual proves they are capable of performing world-class data center design and are a master of the standards and best practices within the constantly evolving mission critical space," said BICSI president, Jerry L. Bowman, RCDD, RTPM(i), NTS, CISSP, CPP, CSI.
A certification, however, is not the equivalent of a license. About 26 states require some form of statewide low-voltage/limited-energy license, according to data from the National Low Voltage Contractors Association (see table 1). About 11 states do not currently require a statewide license specifically for low-voltage work even though some of theses states may require a form of low-voltage licensing at the municipal/local level. States that do not require a statewide low-voltage/limited-energy license may still require a license for alarm and security system installers and contractors, but these licenses may not qualify an installer to perform other forms of low-voltage work, especially as it relates to data centers. Some states require specialty licenses for subsets of specific kinds of low-voltage systems. In most states, installers and contractors must also have an electrician license and/or an electrical contractor license.
Brand-specific certifications are offered by cabling product manufacturers to provide training on installation best practices for the manufacturer’s products. Manufacturers provide these programs to ensure quality installation work and to promote brand awareness. Proponents of manufacturer certification programs maintain that the programs ensure proper installation of a manufacturer’s cabling products, while advocates of open-systems caution against the restrictions of certified cabling installer programs, as well as the often undisclosed quotas for installers who want to remain certified.
Pat McMurray, president at T&R Communications, Inc., RCDD, RCDD/NTS/OSP, PMP, says, “In order to be a manufacturer-approved installer, the contractor has to agree to train their technicians on the products. This training generally costs the contractor in two ways. The technician gets paid his or her salary and a fee is paid to the product manufacturer. This investment ensures that the contractor is serious about a long-term relationship with the manufacturer. I have attended some of this training and see the value in it, not just for a successful installation, but also in better productivity. I believe that the manufacturers are acting in the best interest of end-user customers by being selective with who they will certify to install their products.”
David Stoltz, RCDD, specification engineer at Leviton, believes in the performance value of end-to-end solutions, but he also states, “Certified cabling programs are not strictly necessary in the industry to guarantee a quality installation, but they are required to execute a warranty. The installer can train their people at local trade unions, through BICSI, or any number of training outfits. They can also get this training from a number of quality manufacturers without necessarily locking anyone into an end-to-end solution.”
Paul Vickers, MBCS, CITP, principal consultant at Arup IT & Communications Systems Consulting, prefers a combination of both vendor-neutral training and manufacturer training. “Manufacturer training should happen because all components have specific installation requirements, this training does not teach someone to install cabling though it normally teaches specific termination techniques and glosses over the current limitations of standards. An independent program that truly teaches installation techniques complimented with manufacturer specific termination accreditation is my preference.”
It is important to know the ins and outs of manufacturer certification programs because it can impact everything from your warranty agreement to your purchase price. Table 2 compares vendor-neutral certification programs and manufacturer certification programs.
WARRANTIES AND GUARANTEES
Determining the relationship between an installer and the manufacturer of the cabling products can help owners to avoid jeopardizing warranty agreements. Many warranties on cabling products are contingent require the system to be installed by a manufacturer-certified cabling installer. In fact, many cabling manufacturers will not extend a warranty on cabling products used in end-to-end systems unless a certified installer of the manufacturer’s products installs the system.
Warranty and guarantee information should be explicitly spelled out so there is no question whether the installer or the manufacturer offers the warranty. The warranty or guarantee must define what is a product issue and what is a service-related issue. On some projects a cabling project prime, serving as the manufacturer, designer, and installer, guarantees both products and service work under a single warranty or guarantee.
END-TO-END VS. OPEN SYSTEMS
Organizations are free to choose any brand of cable and components for a network infrastructure as long as the cables meet industry standards, as established by Underwriters Laboratories (UL), Intertek Group (ETL), and National Electrical Code (NEC). The TIA’s Commercial Building Wiring Standard (TIA-568) was established to encourage interoperability. However, many organizations purchase end-to-end systems, which restrict purchasers to the manufacturer’s brand of cabling only. In contrast, open systems allow companies to build a network infrastructure using the latest and best products from multiple vendors.
Manufacturers are less likely to offer discounts and price breaks for companies that are “hard spec’d in,” meaning companies that buy only one brand of cabling. When companies are hard spec’d in, manufacturers are less likely to offer competitive pricing because there is no competitive bidding involved.
In addition, if another brand of products are used in an end-to-end system, it may void the warranty on the system. With open-systems, organizations can request quotes from multiple manufacturers for competitive bidding, as well as add the latest and greatest new technologies from multiple manufacturers.
While some certified cabling installer programs provide hands-on design and installation training that is applicable to any brand of cabling, the focus is usually on brand-specific training. Usually at least one person within a company must be certified for a company to remain a certified installer. It may take a little digging to find out exactly who in the organization is certified. Is an actual technician certified or a local sales representative? If it’s the sales representative, then it is the program is probably heavy on marketing and light on any true technical hands-on design or installation training.
Manufacturer-certified cabling installer programs often require installers to meet certain sales quotas to remain certified. As a result, installers may be tempted to push a specific brand of cable to meet a sales quota, even though another, less expensive, brand of cable would meet an end-users’ needs for less. If a cabling installer has only one certification, end users might miss out on an opportunity to save money by obtaining multiple bids from competing companies that are trying to win your business. In addition, by obtaining a quote on only one brand of cabling, organizations may be violating internal policies on requiring competitive bids for a project, especially organizations that are government entities.
So what’s the difference between a certified installer program and an affiliate program?
Affiliate programs in the cabling industry can easily be confused with manufacturer-certified cabling installer programs, but there are major differences between the two. Affiliate programs are an aggregate of cabling installers that partner with a national company to tap into the benefits of working with a national company, including participating in group-buying power opportunities and having the opportunity to learn proprietary best practices. Some parent companies assume the risk for work completed by affiliate partners, while others require affiliate partners to assume the risk for projects as a separate contractor.
Each affiliate partner might have various certifications, including vendor-neutral, as well as manufacturer certifications. Cabling companies establish affiliate programs to ensure that they have steady, reputable partners, instead of come-and-go contractors, to carry out projects at various locations across the country. Through an affiliate program, you receive local on-site support, as well as consistency in project design, engineering and management, with minimal cost.
Vendor-Neutral Certification Programs
BUILDING INDUSTRY CONSULTING SERVICE INTERNATIONAL (BICSI)
BICSI is a professional association that provides credential programs in information technology systems (ITS) design or installation, including voice, data, electronic safety and security, and audio and video technologies.
These professional designations are recognized throughout the ITS industry. BICSI is accredited by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), as well as the International Certification Accreditation Council (ICAC). In addition, BICSI is also registered with the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation’s Division of Professional Engineers. BICSI offers vendor-neutral training and certification programs for the following designations:
• Data Center Design Consultant (DCDC)
• Registered Communications Distribution Designer (RCDD)
• Registered Information Technology Professional (RITP)
• Electronic Safety and Security Designer (ESS)
• Registered Telecommunications Project Manager (RTPM)
• Network Transport Systems Designer (NTS)
• Outside Plant Designer (OSP)
• Wireless Designer (WD)
FIBER OPTIC ASSOCIATION (FOA)
The Fiber Optic Association (FOA) is an example of a non-profit educational organization that provides training and certifications to professionals in the cabling industry. The FOA was established to approve schools offering training and provide certifications as a service to the fiber optic industry. FOA certifications are recognized by the U.S. Department of Labor, which reviews all FOA certifications. The FOA began offering Certified Premises Cabling Technician (CPCT) training when the Structured Cabling Association joined FOA.
The FOA offers three levels of fiber optic certification: First Level, Advanced, and Specialist Certifications. First Level certifications include classroom education, hands-on training, and an exam. Advanced Fiber Optic Technician certification (AFOT) includes extended courses, more in-depth, hands-on training and a more challenging exam. Specialist certifications are comprehensive training programs, which require extensive knowledge of a specialty area to pass the exam.
COMPUTING TECHNOLOGY INDUSTRY ASSOCIATION (COMPTIA)
The Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA) is a non-profit trade association offering of technology-neutral and vendor-neutral IT certifications and continuing education. CompTIA offers 17 certification exams, including PC support, networking, servers, convergence, training, Linux, security, IT sales, and green IT.
The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) accredits the CompTIA Network+ certification The CompTIA Network+ certification may be kept current through the CompTIA Continuing Education program.