Are You CTI Certified?

New training can help you marry voice and data.

The potential union of voice and data communications has spawned an array of technologies: interactive voice response systems, unified messaging, IP telephony and the like.

But the skills sets needed to sell, install and support such solutions havent come together as quickly as the melding technologies. Plenty of telecom consultants dont know how to "speak data," while data networking types would like to learn voice.

Against this backdrop, a couple of organizations have created certification programs aimed at voice and data convergence. The Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA, formerly the Multimedia Telecommunications Association) and CT Institute both have programs for convergent technologies. The Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA), meanwhile, may launch a certification program in this area.

TIA sponsors the Certified Convergent Network Technologies (CCNT) program. The program consists of six modules: basic telecommunications, basic data communications, local-area networks, computer telephony integration essentials, voice over IP essentials, and broadband technologies. Corresponding online tests are administered through Mastery Point Learning Systems.

"We view this as basics 101," says Mark McKersie, president of First Telecommunications Corp., of the CCNT program. "When we hire any new person from a sales standpoint or a technical person we put them through the TIA certification program and we expect them to pass within the first 90 days of employment." First Telecommunications is a Grand Rapids, Mich.-based solutions provider specializing in convergent technologies.

McKersie, who chairs TIAs Voice/Multimedia working group, adds that CCNT also reduces his training costs, since the certification program takes the place of various manufacturers entry-level training programs. Avaya, Mitel and Siemens are among the companies that have adopted CCNT.

"Its just an enormous burden for a company that represents a number of different manufacturers to … lose key personnel to every single one of those manufacturers training," notes Mary Bradshaw, TIAs VP of global enterprise market development. She says CCNT enables solutions providers to focus on a vendors product- or application-specific training, rather than spending time and money on the preliminaries.

Wayne Miller, director of strategy and business development at Avaya, says such programs help manufacturers to "save expenses on creating and delivering basic, vendor-neutral training, which frees up money for them to invest in manufacturer-specific certification programs."

Prosoft Training maintains the CCNT curriculum (the company owns the certification) and offers courseware for prospective test takers. The companys ComputerPrep division, for example, provides Web-based training for $558 and computer-based courseware for $1,020 (both delivery methods cover six courses).

Prosoft also has made the CCNT curriculum available through IBM Learning Services and New Horizons. IBM offers instructor-led classroom training at prices ranging from $1,000 for a one-day CTI essentials course to $2,075 for a three-day data communications basics course.

CT Institute, meanwhile, operates the Certified Telephony Engineer (CTE) program. This certification track, viewed as more in-depth than CCNT, consists of three core courses and electives.

The required courses are data networking (data communications, networking protocols, PC-based network operating systems, etc.), telephony and telecommunications fundamentals (switching concepts, wiring, traffic analysis, etc.) and CTI (standards, PC-based switching, etc.). Electives, or "solutions courses," include interactive voice response, call center, and Internet telephony.

To earn the CTE certification, individuals must take the three basic courses, two electives and pass the applicable proctored tests. Logilent (formerly offers a $4,495 training regimen to prepare test takers.

Logilents CTE training includes Web-based lectures, study guides, and hands-on labs. CT Institute reports that training time can take up to 130 hours, but can vary depending on a students experience.

Coming Attractions

More convergence certification programs are on the way. TIA plans to launch a Convergent Networking Professional (CNP) certification program in Q1 of 2002. TIA says CNP fits between the entry-level CCNT certification and CT Institutes more advanced CTE program.

Details on the CNP curriculum are limited, as the program remains in development. TIA describes the certification track as "narrower in scope, but deeper in content" than CCNT.

CompTIA, known for its A+ certification, also is looking into new certification tracks. Telephony, wireless and convergence are potential opportunities, says Fran Linhart, director of certification programs at CompTIA.

Preliminary discussions among CompTIA members started in the summer. The next step would be the creation of "cornerstone committees," in which interested companies commit development resources toward the certification program.