Training to IP

Integration, communication part of the network equation

The world of security technology is converging with network technology at a faster pace than ever before. Security professionals are challenged not only with new products, but also with how they integrate and communicate in a network-driven atmosphere.

The sales and installation process involves interaction between dealers and IT professionals, pre- and post-sale. The days of working with facilities managers and security directors are being replaced by the necessity of involving -- and sometimes deferring to -- IT managers and network limitations. The misconceptions and misunderstandings about IP-based security products have caused many dealers to avoid the systems or at least approach them with cautious pessimism. It is a lack of understanding of the world of IP security that creates fear and apprehension for most sales and installation professionals.

Consequently, most alarm dealers remain mired in the highly competitive, low-margin world of analog systems. Positioning your company to understand the language of the network world and to understand the challenges IT professionals face every day will give you a competitive advantage over those less willing to invest in training. Training on network-based products and network technology is a critical first step to achieving success in the everexpanding network-based security products arena.

Technical schools and community colleges offer various levels of network- centric training that would be extremely valuable to installation staff. The classes offered range from small business and home networking to CCNA (Cisco Certified Network Associate). The entry-level classes like SBHN give a technician the essentials to install most small- to medium-size IP-based systems effectively. For most applications, these level-one classes provide enough of a knowledge base to begin installing IP video or other IP-based security products.

For dealers looking to work in larger, more complicated network environments, a staff member who holds a CCNA credential may be useful. A CCNAcertified technician is competent in the ability to install, operate, configure, maintain and troubleshoot most medium-size routed and switched networks.

You may also want to consider the Network+ certification offered through CompTIA. This certification, along with the CompTIA A+ certification, will give any technician a thorough understanding of both hardware and network environments. The items that are tested in a Network+ certification include network hardware, software, the Open Systems Interconnect (OSI) model, connections and the different protocols used in LAN and WAN environments.

Another certification available is the MCSA (Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator). A person with an MCSA can configure networks in a Microsoft Server 2003/2008 environment. These certifications can range from relatively inexpensive to thousands of dollars in class time, books and exams.

You can best determine the right type of training for your employees based on the types of projects that you most commonly install. Be aware that it is not essential to have one of these certifications to work with most IP-based security products; it just may prove beneficial in both the design and implementation phases of your sales process.

Vendor trainings and websites offer some specific, product-based knowledge and can be extremely useful to both sales and technical staff. With the onslaught of IP-based products, more manufacturers are offering some level of network training, especially as it relates to their product offerings. In addition to specific product training, vendors are also offering training on network equipment such as switches and routers.

These training classes are conducted in numerous locations, such as the factory, distribution facilities and online. The advantage of these training classes is that they typically have little or no cost and are offered multiple times a year. Bosch, for example, offers extensive online training on its equipment, as well as detailed information on the networking essentials for making an IP video system work.

From a sales perspective, online information from manufacturers can be an invaluable resource when specifying the equipment for a particular job. Most manufacturers of network-based recording equipment offer bandwidth calculators to determine the type of switch needed to accommodate the IP video system. Some manufacturers also offer CPU and throughput speed analysis to make sure the network recording device can handle the amount of data being pushed through it.

In addition, almost all manufacturers of IP-based security equipment offer compatibility lists to make sure that the IP camera will work with the IP recording software and/or hardware specified, and whether it can integrate with the access control or intrusion alarms system required by the customer or already in place. These critical upfront decisions will certainly affect the installation and profitability of any IP-based installation.

Some vendors of IP-based security equipment also are offering certifications in their IP-based security products. Choosing a vendor partner and becoming certified in its product can prove to be beneficial for many reasons.

From a sales standpoint, having your sales team certified by one or many manufacturers allows them to confidently specify the right equipment to the end user. Also, once your technicians receive certification, they will be far more likely to install the equipment with fewer problems. Typically, manufacturers will offer a priority level of technical support for those dealers who choose to complete certification, as well. Another benefit of product certification is that some manufacturers offer pricing discounts for those who are certified in their products. They also may offer products not available to installing companies that have not completed the certification courses. This will limit the amount of competition that you could run up against in the sales or bid process.

One example is Panasonic, which offers its iPro Certification course throughout the year to certify dealers and train them thoroughly on its IP video solution. Some of the certifications are free, while others can cost in the thousands of dollars. Be sure to investigate costs to determine whether it makes financial sense to enroll in these classes.

There also are good sources of training available to sales and technical staff that may be enough to get you started in the IP security space. Distribution companies offer IP trainings throughout the year that can serve as an excellent source of information. For example, Tri-ed/Northern Video Distribution trained more than 2,000 dealers last year in networking basics (IP Video 101) at its facilities across North America. These classes were designed to give a product-agnostic view of networking and IP video combined with vendor presentations to present product-specific solutions in the network-based video security world.

In addition, dealers were able to receive CEU credits for this class, which is a consideration for those dealers and technicians required to renew their licenses. Manufacturers and distribution companies also teamed up to offer full-day expositions featuring IP-based security products in a tabletop format and seminars that covered the spectrum of IP security solutions. These types of events can offer the novice to IP security a chance to review the breadth of solutions available today, as well as the technology that is just around the corner.

If you are looking to partner with a manufacturer, attending one of these events can help you decide which products will fit the demand of your particular marketplace. For those looking to keep a “best product for the application” approach to sales and installation, distribution facilities host numerous trainings at locations near you and typically do not charge to attend. This will allow you to source the best product for the application while still being able to purchase the product at a competitive level. Local ESA associations and the like are also starting to offer basic network training to members. The associations are certainly aware of the necessity of training their member base in network-based security solutions as the industry is moving that way.

If you have attended an ISC or ESX show in the last couple of years, certainly you are aware of the number of manufacturers offering some type of network security product or network security solution.

The industry is trying to overcome some of the compatibility issues and confusion surrounding IP-based security products. In the IP video space, ONVIF and PSIA standards are in place today to allow for best-in-class solutions in the IP video market. The standards are supported by the major manufacturers of IP video equipment and software, and are designed to ensure the compatibility of various IP video solutions. As these two standards continue to develop and are adopted by manufacturers, the process of selecting an IP camera, a network recording solution and a software package will become more seamless and less complicated. An ONVIF-certified camera will record on an ONVIF-certified NVR or software package. While this is not directly related to training, understanding this will help an end user select the product or products for use in a particular application.

What type of training is right for you and your staff? What do I look for in an IP training class, and how do I get started? Those questions may be the most difficult to answer. Identify those team members who are a good fit for network training. These people are typically those who set up their own wireless routers at home, have a real comfort level around PCs, and don’t mind a little “self-study” to increase their knowledge and their value to the company.

Make sure that, initially, you attend a class that covers the basics of networking. If your sales team can understand the challenges IT professionals face, it will be more effective than your competition when working with IT departments. Your technicians will be able to at least have a basic glossary of terms and can communicate effectively with IT personnel.

Next, examine the analog-based systems that you are installing now and determine the IP-based projects that you want to go after as a company. This will help you determine the products and manufacturers that will best serve your needs. You can then decide whether product certification makes sense and would be worth the investment in time and resources. Next, consider if the class offers CEU credits. If it does, you can achieve two goals by sending your technicians. They will receive network or network security product training, and they will receive credits toward alarm license renewal.

Additionally, several manufacturers offer demo equipment at up to 50 percent off if you attend their class. Getting products in your facility for your technical staff to test and program is essential to their comfort level on the jobsite. Your sales team also can benefit by learning the feature sets and advantages of network-based security solutions, thereby making them more effective selling the solution in the field. Understanding the rapid shift in security products from analog to digital, from closed systems to network-centric solutions, and training your staff effectively can help move your company out of the ultra-competitive, low-margin analog world to the higher-margin, solution-based IP realm.

This article originally appeared in the March 2011 issue of Security Today.

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