The new IQ for installers: understanding the skillsets necessary for today's software

Ellen Cools
Wednesday September 05, 2018
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Internet of Things (IoT), big data, video analytics and the cloud are terms security professionals hear constantly these days.

But they’re not just buzzwords. These technologies are making security systems such as cameras and access control much more complex.

As solutions become increasingly complicated, the question arises — are integrators (and vendors) finding qualified installers for today’s systems, and, by extension, what skillsets and qualifications should installers have?

Becoming part of a bigger ecosystem

Before that question can be answered, let’s look at how the industry has evolved.

“In the last 10, 20 years...the industry has transformed from analogue to IP cameras,” shares Ken Francis, president of Eagle Eye Networks. “In the analogue world, we used coaxial cable, and when you plugged the camera in, it just worked — there was no programming or networking necessary to get a camera image.

“As we moved into IP and we introduced cameras and recorders and things with software that were all requiring networks, the technicians had to get a lot smarter and more certified,” Francis adds.

“The previous training was strictly limited to a single device configuration, checkboxes,” says Liliana Andjic, general manager, low voltage services, at Houle, a Vancouver-based systems integrator. (Houle is also a two-time winner of SP&T’s Integrator of the Year award.) “There wasn’t really a level of complexity from the device itself, because...each and every single system was operating in an isolated environment.”

But as the industry has turned toward more connected solutions, often running on the cloud, this is no longer the case.

“We’re looking at the systems, including the camera systems, as part of the total operational delivery,” Andjic explains. “The camera system becomes a part of the bigger ecosystem — that requires software configuration, that requires networking experiences in order to achieve the outcome the end user is looking for.”

This means installers have to focus not just on the installation, but also on the information that a device transmits to the whole system, she says.

“You’re talking about information sharing, you’re talking about dashboards, you’re talking about end users having information at the tips of their fingers,” she continues. “So it’s not just...a device sitting on the wall.”

Being “in-tune”

Consequently, the necessary qualifications and skillsets for installers and integrators have changed.

Installers need a greater understanding of the software, networking and routing, Andjic says.

“They don’t have to be Cisco trained but they have to have VMware, which is becoming a big part of the virtualization, becoming a big part of the camera installation,” she elaborates.

“So the technicians have to understand how to configure the system, and, sometimes, work the applications [and] create the software applications that the camera will actually do.”

Jim DeStefano, head of security solutions for Siemens Building Technologies, adds, “While we still need installers to know inputs, relays and basic wiring, we now favour more IT backgrounds, a problem-solving mentality when it comes to the more complex projects.”

Consequently, “those that have an extensive IT knowhow and expertise are more in-demand as installers,” he says. Networking skills are highly desirable “because our customers expect us to be the experts.”

As a result, when hiring new technicians, Siemens is particularly interested in those with networking degrees and prior experience.

Additionally, cybersecurity education is key. “Cybersecurity is a very important step that can’t be overlooked because most of our systems are on our customers’ networks, so we need to stay on top of these,” DeStefano says.

If technicians install a device and set it to its default password, “it creates a huge risk, a security hole in the customer’s network,” Andjic adds.

“So it’s very instrumental that any installer has a very basic knowledge of cybersecurity.”

Sam Shalaby, CEO of Feenics, maker of the cloud-based access control solution Keep, agrees: “We need them to be in tune with the latest available technology, i.e., whether it’s software, whether we’re using the cloud, why and how we’re using the cloud, etc. The hardware is changing a bit so they need to be in tune with what changes.”

With regards to access control solutions, “Every controller has a resident IP on board, so it’s changed from the days of RS45 communication to now IP communications. So they need to understand IP communication, the utilities that allow them to address these panels,” says Shalaby. “They don’t need to be full- edged IT people, but more or less [they need to] understand IP, understand cloud, understand the internet.”

Consequently, certifications are important.

“Installers should have networking skills and certificates that relate to their primary job responsibilities,” DeStefano says.

Certifications such as Cisco Certified Network Associate Routing and Switching (CCNA), Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA) and Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE) are particularly helpful, he says, along with other BICSI certifications.

Feenics also looks at integrators’ and installers’ certifications when choosing a dealer.

“We like to qualify our integrators to see if they can handle the software that we are selling, because the more qualified they are, the less taxing it would be on us,” Shalaby explains.

But Cisco and Microsoft certifications are not 100 per cent necessary, he argues.

“If you [the integrator] have a Cisco certification, if you have a Microsoft certification, of course it’s a plus,” he explains. “But we also look at how long you’ve been in the business, who are the installers that you have — are they technologists, do you have engineering staff or engineering qualifications on staff?”

Training

Houle, Feenics and Siemens all provide training for their installers.

Andjic says that continuous training is integral to ensuring installers understand the potential vulnerabilities in today’s security systems, as well as networking skills.

“It’s essential that ongoing training is being provided, not only from the manufacturing side, because there’s always critical updates that the manufacturer provides us ...but in this complex Internet of Things environment ... we have to make sure that we recognize what impact the camera creates on, perhaps, the building automation system,” Andjic explains.

“If they’re sharing several devices sitting on the same network, how to build secure net- works, how to re-route a secure network, what sort of information can be stored at the facility, what sort of information can be transferred off the site [is important to understand],” she continues.

Houle has adopted a layered approach to training, Andjic shares, with entry-level, mid-level and then professional level networking training. The professional service group are Cisco trained and certified.

Likewise, Siemens provides a lot of on-the- job training.

The company provides basic training on topics such as compliance, data privacy and security. New installers also shadow experienced colleagues in similar roles and take online courses that are pre-requisites for classroom courses, DeStefano explains.

“Typical on-the-job training might include basic wiring techniques, reviewing project drawings, basic access control and video terms,” he elaborates. “We also partner with certain equipment manufacturers and have technicians become certified in specific products and competencies.”

But in addition to general IT security train- ing and education, “installers need to share effectively their experience as they encounter new areas of vulnerability. Lessons learned and information sharing need to be institutionalized in the organization through regular workshops with peers,” he says.

As a vendor, Feenics also provides training, both online and in classroom settings, on their software.

“We do training on the hardware itself and the utility that we use for the hardware to address the panel and how to address it,” Shalaby elaborates. “And we do a little bit of recap on the network and how it works, and that’s not specifically our network but in general.”

Additionally, Feenics provides cybersecurity education to both vendors and end users.

“If an integrator took our product, we explain what we’re doing and how we’re doing it and what their role is and our role,” he shares. “We really take all the responsibility about cybersecurity ourselves, and we explain it to the integrator so the integrator can explain it to the end user. But we are also available for the end user to address all cybersecurity skills.”

Eagle Eye Networks also provides web-based and classroom training teaching technicians how to install their products, Francis shares.

A different perspective

However, Francis has a different opinion about the impact of today’s security systems, particularly those that operate via the cloud, on the installer’s role.

“In a cloud system, when you install the appliance or bridge, the bridge phones home to the cloud, like E.T.,” he explains. “And it does it on its own without the technician having to know how to do that. The technician does not have to open any of the customer’s ports and their networks, there’s no cybersecurity vulnerability that’s created through installing the appliance.”

In Eagle Eye Networks’ case, their cloud software identifies cameras and automatically sets them up for the installer, essentially making the camera plug-and-play, Francis says.

“That removes the burden of network skills and network savviness from the technician altogether,” he argues.

“The installing company needs to understand networking skills because they have to decide whether or not they’re selling the right product,” he continues. “But the onsite technician does not.”

As a result, the company does not look for heavy certification such as Microsoft or Cisco, he says.

“The quality of the installation for the customer is really about three things. One, everything is done on a schedule. Two is the quality of the craftsmanship of the cable and device being installed. And three is the programming of the system,” Francis says.

Consequently, Eagle Eye Networks looks for program management and cabling skills in installers.

Specifically, the company looks for RCDD (Registered Communications Distribution Designer) certification, which “teaches [installers] how to properly install the cable so that the cable is not damaged, and how to put the ends on the cable so you get the best possible connection between the cable you’re installing and the network you’re plugging it into.”

Meanwhile, program management skills are key to meeting customers’ needs, Francis says.

There are a lot of logistics with customers who have a large number of sites spread out across the world, he explains. The project manager has to coordinate with other teams to get the equipment and cable-running parties to the correct locations.

“Getting all of that done on schedule for the customer and communicating with the customer about how they’re progressing with the schedule are all elements of project management that are really important,” he concludes.

Industry next steps

So are integrators and vendors finding qualified installers for today’s systems?

Francis argues that there are more qualified installers in the industry compared to 10 years ago. Shalaby agrees that while it’s difficult, the industry is “getting there.”

“And we’re helping them get there,” he says. “As a vendor, we have a role to play with the integrators and we’re doing the best we can.”

However, DeStefano says, “Finding new people to go into the trades has become somewhat challenging.”

Siemens, therefore, is working with technical schools and high school programs to interest students in technology and recruit from that base, he says.

Andjic agrees that the challenge today is a lack of education.

“From a typical program, they [installers] come with a very limited knowledge,” she explains.

“We ended up finding the young engineers that have a combination of electrical or software development or electronics background, and we trained them to become some of those technicians.”

“It’s very, very difficult to find qualified techs,” she adds.

As such, Andjic believes the industry must create more awareness about this need and the current market.

“The industry has to educate more institutions, [develop] more programs that are tailored along the lines of where the industry is going,” she concludes. “Because I would say we are 10 years back in terms of training and where the industry is going, and it’s changing fast and furious.”


This article originally appeared in the August/September 2018 issue of SP&T News.

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