CompTIA, CEA Plan Home Integration Certification

Called Digital Home Technology Integrator+ (CEA-CompTIA DHTI+), the certification is in beta mode and is available to integrators free at Plans call for the certification to officially launch in March. It will cost $180 for CompTIA members and $225 for nonmembers.

The certification is designed to give digital integrators an industry-accepted seal of approval to show their mastery of home integration standards, including networking, audio/video, telephone and VoIP, security and surveillance, home control management, and documentation and troubleshooting, said Miles Jobgen, CompTIA product manager.

"The main reason behind this is that the mass market is beginning to adopt advanced technologies in the home. They are beginning to demand integrated home networks," Jobgen said. "It's getting to the point where this technology and products are no longer boutique offerings available only to the upper echelon of society. Some of the technology is relatively easy to install. But once you start adding multiple components to the home network, it becomes too complicated for the average homeowner. They need somebody to help them configure and optimize those solutions."

The program shows recognition by CompTIA and CEA, under its Tech Home Division, of the growing need for skilled digital integrators in the home construction and retrofit markets. Industry leaders expect that demand to grow with the upcoming release of Microsoft's Windows Vista operating system, which brings added multimedia muscle. Also fueling demand, they said, are the growing need to receive, store, manage and share music and video files available over broadband connections; the influx of cost-effective home technology solutions, such as IP-based surveillance, control, automation and entertainment; and fully networked computing.

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CEA, for its part, is taking a tiered approach to certification. While DHTI+ focuses on mass-market integration, CEA's Tech Home Division recently partnered with the Custom Electronic Design and Installation Association (CEDIA) and the National System Contractors Association (NSCA) to launch the Electronic Systems Professional Alliance, which will provide cross-industry certification for the upper end of the custom installation market.

The new programs offer training and certification tailored for different types of integrators, but the initiatives are designed to help those professionals gain widespread recognition as a unified "fourth trade" group, along with builders, architects and interior designers in the home market.

"There are so many different training platforms, but nothing has gained traction," said Jay McClellan, president of Home Automation Inc. and president of CEA's Tech Home Division. "We want to ground the training on a basic foundation that each group can build its own content on top of. Then we can continually upgrade the programs to further refine what the groups are doing in the market."

Although CEDIA offers comprehensive training and certification for high-end installation and integration through its CEDIA University program, it has just begun to add sections on IP-based networking that are aimed more at the mass market. Gerry Lynch, CEO of System Seven, a Topsfield, Mass.-based home integrator, said a trusted certification program in that realm would be useful.

"There have been other programs, but I just wish some of them would stick. CompTIA offered HTI+ certification, but I couldn't find anywhere to take the exam," Lynch said. "A lot of companies that offer certification say, 'Take the test with us because you're guaranteed to pass.' But, hey, I actually want my guys to learn something. I want them to know a lot more tomorrow than they know today."

PC-related and IP-based networking skills are particularly important in today's home integration environment, Lynch noted.

"We need PC skills and things like Apple desktop support skills, but we don't necessarily need to be MCE or Cisco certified," Lynch said. "My guys don't work on corporate networks or hide in the server closet. I have guys hooking up home theaters all day long, and they want to learn more PC home integration skills. They just don't have anyplace to go."

DHTI+ courses and exams will be offered by several third-party groups throughout the country, Jobgen said.