How to Boost Your Company’s IT IQ

It’s in all the magazine articles, all the trade shows and all the conferences. It’s seemingly everywhere we turn in the security industry, whether in video, access control, whatever. It’s enough to strike fear in the hearts of traditional integrators everywhere: Convergence, the inevitable meeting of IT networking and “our” industry. 

There’s no denying it is truly happening, although I don’t believe analog is going away completely anytime soon. The question is how can we take advantage of the changes happening now? The key to success in this new market is to adjust, to change with it. 

With that in mind, this column debuts this month as a guide to help security contractors transition to a converged environment, to better understand the technology, trends and how to most effectively communicate and work with IT managers. 

To start off, we’re going to look at two ways to cope with convergence: adding new staff and educating current staff.

Build Team With IT-Savvy Recruits
The first way to ride this wave is by adding people on staff that already know IT. This is probably the quickest way to enter “The Wave.” Caution needs to be observed, though, as there are differences between the two industries, differences that will make themselves apparent very quickly. 

Finding IT trained personnel can be as easy as trolling the local colleges for computer science majors. Getting a kid right out of college can be a great way to bring someone on board with a fresh outlook, hopefully not too many bad habits, and someone who is willing to learn. They should also be up on most of the current technologies. 

However, hiring recent college grads with little practical experience can be a double-edged sword. Yes, they may not demand the high salaries that more experienced professionals do, but they may also need to be guided more and may be more hands-on. 

What about picking off personnel from other local IT companies? Professionals at that level will generally have all kinds of practical experience, and usually some kind of certification. The downside of hiring from this market is they will also generally be more expensive than someone right out of school, as was said before. We’ll talk more about certifications shortly. 

One of the big “gotchas” to be aware of is that some of the technologies involved in the integration of our industries may be out of the scope of some of these applicants. While this certainly applies to the traditional analog technologies we’re familiar with, it also can apply to some of the IT technologies used by our “converged” products, especially video. 

Be aware that technologies such as multicasting, where a single stream of video can be routed to several different receiving devices at the same time to conserve bandwidth, are often beyond basic IT education levels. 

Something else to keep in mind is that attitudes and business procedures can be different in the IT industry. This would factor in if you hire an experienced IT professional. They may take a little longer to adjust to the traditional security market and customers. 

Bringing someone on board with the right experience or education is a quick way to join The Wave, but it can also be an expensive way. If you don’t have room on your staff for another professional, you may need to consider bringing one of your current employees up to speed. 

Select Current Staffers for Training
Another way to get your company in sync with the new marketplace is to bring existing staff up to speed with the technology. Educating current employees has several benefits, not the least of which is a minimal financial investment. Employees are always looking for ways to improve themselves, learn new skills and feel empowered at their jobs.

Getting current employees educated for IT convergence involves a few steps. First is picking the right employee. I can’t underestimate the importance of this. Not only does this involve finding an employee who can handle the information, but also knowing whether or not they will be loyal to you after receiving the education/certification. This new value will make them desirable to the other integrators in town, you can be sure. 

You do have to consider the capabilities of the employee as well. You have to make sure they will be able to comprehend the information and, in the case of certification training, be able to pass any necessary tests — which in IT certification are plentiful and often grueling. 

Another important item to look at is the willingness of the employee. Some of your long-time staff may be set in their ways, and although perfectly capable of understanding and retaining the knowledge, they may not have an interest. The worst mistake you can make is to force someone to learn a new skill when they don’t want to or see any benefit in doing so. 

So, let’s say you know who you want to educate, where do you go now? There are several options for IT education, from basic to advanced. Let’s look at some. 

The first place I would advise looking is your local community college. More and more of them are offering IT and computer science courses. This will be a long-term investment, however. You need to have plenty of time to go this route. You may even find your local college is running courses sponsored by an IT vendor, such as the Cisco Academy. This will have an added benefit of providing the student with a certification, as well as the skills and knowledge. 

Let’s talk a minute about certifications. They definitely have value in this marketplace, but don’t overestimate that value. Having letters such as CCNA, MCSE, etc. after your name on a business card is a good thing, don’t get me wrong, but don’t make the mistake of equating those letters with knowledge and experience, especially experience. They most certainly can indicate a level of proficiency, but they may also just prove that someone is good at cramming information and passing tests, known as a “paper” cert. 

Another source of IT education is the rapidly growing private education market. Companies all across the country offer courses from “How to Use a Computer 101” to “How to Configure Access Control Lists to Optimize Security on Cisco Core Routers.” In other words, from the most basic to the most advanced of concepts. 

These courses will generally be divided into two main categories, the long-term classroom based or the boot camp. The long-term course will be similar to the community college route, but maybe a little more focused. These will either be held by local IT companies or in some cases national companies like Global Knowledge or New Horizons that specialize in IT or computer educations. 

The boot camp is a different story. This type of course will attempt to cram two or more semesters of information into one week or less. The boot camp is designed to give those who work in the IT industry and have the practical experience an opportunity to get a quick set of letters after their name. If you are starting someone out who has little or no network or PC background, I highly recommend NOT enrolling him or her in a boot camp. It is a very intense process. 

Technical schools such as ITT Tech or Heald College are also excellent places to get an IT education. They often have various programs to fit any knowledge level and schedule.

For something like an IT education, unless your employee is extremely dedicated and disciplined, I would probably recommend staying away from any online courses. For someone coming in new to the IT world, they will definitely need a live person to bounce questions off of for more complicated concepts.

Another source y
ou need to check out is your vendor database. As more and more of our technology moves onto the network, more manufacturers whose products require the network are providing some level of IT training. As an example, Pelco offers a free basic networking course for those just starting out as part of the learning paths to certification on their Endura product. In some cases, these classes may be product specific, but some of them, as in Pelco’s case, are general enough to offer a good grounding in the basics, applicable to many areas.

Growth Abounds; Resisters Persist

The converging marketplace is providing limitless possibilities for growth for those willing to make the investment in that growth. There will also be those who, for whatever reason, resist the change and resent these new “IT folk” coming into their industry, their market. Make no mistake, they are coming, they are here.

I have attempted to show a few ways to get yourself up to speed and compete in a market that, in spite of changing technologies, you (the traditional security integrator) still know better than anyone.

If you enjoyed this article and want to receive more valuable industry content like this, click here to sign up for our FREE digital newsletters!

Security Is Our Business, Too

For professionals who recommend, buy and install all types of electronic security equipment, a free subscription to Security Sales & Integration is like having a consultant on call. You’ll find an ideal balance of technology and business coverage, with installation tips and techniques for products and updates on how to add sales to your bottom line.

A free subscription to the #1 resource for the residential and commercial security industry will prove to be invaluable. Subscribe today!

Subscribe Today!

Get Our Newsletters