certifiedDid you ever see a movie just because the actor had won an Oscar? No worries. It’s human nature to embrace credibility, and industry standards and certifications matter to both integrators and customers because they provide credibility! But how can you use standards and certifications to increase your own or your company’s competitive edge?

During my career, I have been told on numerous occasions that many AV companies are cowboys and hustlers that will do anything to win a deal; that they cut corners when doing the job, and ignore both standards and documented best practices. Certifications? Nah! They are expensive, tedious and don’t add value.

Can this really be true?

In this article, I’ll be looking at the following topics:

  • Why do certifications and standards matter to the end-user?
  • Why do certifications and standards matter to integrators?
  • A real-life example on how certifications can help a company stand out from the crowd
  • How are certifications and standards developed?
  • Which industry certifications and standards apply for AV?
  • What about manufacturer certifications?
  • Why are so few AV companies doing certifications?

Before we dig deeper on the quality aspect and look at a real-life example of how certifications can help your company gain a competitive advantage, let’s see why certifications are important both for end-users and integrators.

Why do certifications and standards matter to the end-user?

kungboy_photo_from_tripadvisorYou wouldn’t ask a carpenter to fix the plumbing, would you? And (hopefully) you wouldn’t call the plumber that comes in cheapest, but has neither the credentials nor the relevant certifications to do the job.

When you plan to invest in an AV installation, regardless of the size and complexity, you expect the integrator to deliver a high-quality installation, on time and budget – in a professional manner.

To reduce the risk of being exposed to unprofessional companies, make sure that your specifications – from the start – stipulate that the integrator holds the relevant certifications, employs industry-certified staff, and adheres to industry standards.

(Above photo is taken by Kungboy and posted on a Tripadvisor hotel report... Trust me, this is one of the better ones you can find if you google "bad plumbing"...)

Why do certifications and standards matter to integrators?

For integrators, there are two great benefits to having industry-certified staff and ensuring projects abide by standards.

  • Increased competitive advantage.
    If you have certified staff, follow standards and can document that, you can use it to your advantage in both marketing and sales processes when bidding for new jobs. If your previous jobs are well documented, you can present this as proof that you are a highly professional company – and you will stand out from the competition.
  • Increased profitability on projects.
    Following industry standards helps you avoid the pitfalls that others have already encountered. Why should you as an integrator need to spend three extra days to fix troublesome acoustic challenges in a conference room, when you could have designed yourself out of the problems by adhering to existing standards? And the costs for those extra days might come out of your pocket if your planning and estimates were wrong from the start.

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A real-life example on how certifications can help a company to stand out from the crowd

Last year, Dataton decided to implement HubSpot marketing and sales automation software. To find the right partner, HubSpot has an official list of global partners with contact details and certification level. We decided to go for the top tier partners (Diamond level) and, after discussing with a few, found our partner in the Norwegian marketing agency Markedspartner. So far, they have not let us down.

This is an approach that makes perfect sense for me. If you want to buy a service or product, search for companies that are certified for the service or product. Even if I have no guarantee that the service provider will be a great one, certifications will at least tell me something of their understanding of the product or service I buy.

PS! Yes, I know that the example above refers to a manufacturer certification standard and not an industry-wide standard.

How are certifications and standards developed?

The development project is often led by an independent industry organization, who will appoint an advisory board consisting of experts in the subject to help craft the content and ensure it is rigorously tested and verified. These projects can typically take three years or more.

An association like AVIXA (formerly InfoComm) defines its own Standards Steering Committee and has a large organization to support the development of standards. Several of the standards developed by AVIXA have also been approved as ANSI standards.

On a personal level, I have had the good fortune to participate in developing a standard through AVIXA, the ANSI/INFOCOMM 3M-2011, Projected Image System Contrast Ratio, which was published June 2011. The development team consisted of 13 industry professionals.

I am also currently part of the AVIXA Task Group to develop a new standard, Direct View Display Image System Contrast Ratio.

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Which industry certifications and standards apply for AV?

For the AV industry, the leading certification and standards organization is AVIXA. They have global reach and have both certifications for individuals as well as the development of industry standards.

“Certification shows your commitment to being the best, in the AV field and for your company.”
  • AVIXA Certifications (CTS)
    The Certified Technology Specialist™ (CTS®) qualification has been administered by AVIXA for over 30 years and is recognized worldwide. As of 2018, there are more than 11,000 CTS holders, and more than 2,000 have CTS-D (Design) or CTS-I (Installation) specialized credentials.
  • Image Science Foundation (ISF)
    Since 1994, the Image Science Foundation has been dedicated to improving the quality of electronic imaging, with a focus on residential installations, and provides certification training.
  • Image Science Foundation Commercial (ISF-C)
    ISF-C, led by Brawn Consulting, is the commercial branch of the ISF and provides certification training.
  • Digital Signage Experts Group (DSEG)
    DSEG is a globally recognized educational organization for digital signage and more than 15,000 people in 62 countries have become DSEG Certified.
    CEDIA Certification is related to areas of knowledge in the home technology industry. ESC Certification (Electronic Systems Certified) and specialist variations for Designer, Technician and Networking Specialist.

In addition to the abovementioned “pure AV” certifications, there are a several industry associations with both standards development and individual certifications credentials. BICSI and NSCA are two of the biggest:

  • BICSI (Building Industry Consulting Service International)
    BICSI is a worldwide association dedicated to cabling design and installation professionals. They are an ANSI-accredited standards development organization whose standards affect voice, data, security, and audiovisual systems.
  • NSCA (National Systems Contractors Association)
    NSCA is the leading association representing the commercial low-voltage and electronic systems industry. In the NSCA, you will find integrators, manufacturers, consultants, and architects – including those from the more traditional AV industry.

AVIXA is the largest single body to develop AV-related standards. Their standards list is already quite long, and they are also working on several new standards. Here is a selection of their current standards offering:

You can find the list of all AVIXA standards here.

What about manufacturer certifications?

In addition to the many agnostic and neutral certifications, almost all major manufacturers operate with their own product or service-specific certification offerings. These credentials play a major role in the day-to-day AV industry business, as they do not document a broad skill-set – they document a narrow, and highly specialized skill-set.

Some of these manufacturers also reach out to industry standard organizations to get their training approved and thus receive extra credibility from a third party. Companies like Dataton have built a training program where participants who get Dataton certified are eligible for renewal credits at AVIXA, through their Renewal Unit program.

This is a double win for the professionals in the industry as their day-to-day certifications help them maintain a broader industry standard.

Why are so few AV companies doing certifications?

Is it a myth that AV companies are not really interested in certifications, and are cowboys without professionalism and quality? Of course, this is very tough point to prove or disprove.

But let us have a try.

AVNetwork publish an annual list of the top 50 system integrators in the US. I decided to start there and took a look at the 2017 edition.

On the list, the top five companies are:

  1. AVI-SPL
  2. Diversified
  3. Whitlock
  4. AVI Systems
  5. Ford Audio-Video

AVI-SPL listed a staggering 70 certifications and partner programs where either their employees, or company are accredited. Both Diversified and Whitlock had about 40 each, AVI systems 45+ and it is first at fifth place, Ford Audio-Video, where I cannot find any list about certifications on their site. But they emphasize that “Ford AV engineers have multiple years of “hands-on” experience and industry certifications.”

The following companies are at the bottom of the list:

46. Interactive Digital Solutions (IDSolutions)
47. Vision Technologies
48. JKL Technologies
49. Presentation Products
50. SIGNET Electronic Systems

IDSolutions does not list any specific certifications, neither do Vision Technologies, but they do require certifications from their employees. When I last checked (February 2018) they had 25+ open jobs and several required valid industry certifications. JKL lists only a few on their site, while Presentation Products lists 25. SIGNET also promote the importance of certifications and how it builds trust, but only lists a handful.

What does this tell us?

Well, this was a very rudimentary test to see if there was a significant difference between the top listings and those at the bottom of the list. There was. The top 5 listed an average of 40 standards and certifications, and the bottom 5 had an average of 6.

What does this prove?

This simple exercise shows that top integrators are focusing on systematically building trust and gaining business advantage by documenting that their employees are certified and skilled. I think also that we can debunk the myth of AV Integrators not caring about quality, standards and certifications. 

But it is clear that companies who don’t list their credentials and certifications miss out on a marketing upside – and possibly also sales opportunities.

You do NOT want this to happen. Get certified. Follow standards. Go win the deals!

PS! I am the proud holder of an ISF-C Certification as well as a number of manufacturer certifications. :)

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