Technology Integrator: Specialized Skills for the Smart Home
The shopping list of digital devices designed for the home seemingly grows daily. Video and audio entertainment components; gaming systems that are increasingly lifelike in the player interaction they allow; and home comfort and security systems deliver big returns on improving the quality of life. And these come at prices that are increasingly within the budget of the average consumer.
While many of these devices and systems carry the “plug and play” label, getting them to work properly, either along with or as part of an integrated home network, can still be challenging for even the most tech-savvy homeowner.
This is especially true in multiroom, networked entertainment configurations and when home control systems are involved. The typical consumer is not able to effectively integrate all home systems. That’s opened the door for business and employment opportunities for individuals who are trained, experienced and certified in digital home technologies.
Strong Market Growth Continues
In 2007, the U.S. consumer electronics industry totaled $161 billion in overall shipment revenues, according to “The 10th Annual Household CE Ownership and Market Potential Study” published this spring by the Consumer Electronics Association (www.ce.org). Even with the current economic uncertainty, the consumer electronics industry is on pace to do even better in 2008.
The average U.S. household spent more than $1,400 on consumer electronics products in the past 12 months, according to the survey. High-definition televisions (HDTVs) have the highest growth penetration this year. The CEA survey projects that by the end of 2008, HDTV-penetration could reach 50 percent of U.S. households. Lower prices for HDTVs have contributed to this growth, as has the upcoming transition to digital television on Feb. 17, 2009.
Cell phones, MP3 players, digital cameras and laptop computers also are helping drive growth in the consumer electronics industry, according to the study.
And while the slowdown in the U.S. housing market has dampened some rosy forecasts for continued growth, nearly one-third of home technology integration companies surveyed by research firm Parks Associates and EH Publishing anticipate more than 20 percent growth during 2008. That’s compared to 7 percent that predicted that rate of growth in 2007. One reason for optimism is increased emphasis on retrofits. Approximately one-half of home technology integration revenue comes from installation work within existing homes.
But one of the biggest challenges home technology integrators face is finding technicians who can perform a variety of tasks in the home technology environment. The growth of digital home networking could be stalled without qualified technicians to deliver service and support.
IP Network Makes Smart Homes a Reality
The worlds of CE and information technology are converging in the 21st-century home, with the personal computer as the controlling hub. The digital home market has adopted de-facto standards already in use in the IT industry.
For example, nearly every subsystem and electronic device in the home has, or soon will have, an Internet protocol (IP) address to enhance interoperability. This makes it possible to use an IP network as the backbone for integration of all digital systems, turning the residence into a “smart home.” This interconnectivity makes a whole host of applications possible. For example:
- When the phone rings, the caller identification is displayed on a television screen.
- The home’s temperature can be controlled remotely, allowing the homeowner to save on energy costs by adjusting the temperature according to changing weather conditions.
- Multiple rooms in the home can be video monitored via the Internet from anywhere in the world.
- A homeowner can adjust the home’s lighting remotely, allowing travelers to give the home a lived-in feel.
- Technicians serving the digital home technology integration market must have skills in both the CE and IT worlds to provide the product installation, integration, service and support consumers need to fully enjoy a connected home lifestyle.
This is particularly important for consumers who work at home and need confidence in the stability and performance of their home offices. Consumers whose work relies on reliable remote working need to know that the person installing their equipment is qualified to an approved level of expertise.
The five fastest-growing types of installations talking place today, according to CE Pro Magazine, are:
- Home automation and control.
- Home theater.
- Multiroom audio and video control.
- Home networking.
- Structured wiring.
A professional certification such as the Digital Home Technology Integrator + (DHTI+) (certification.comptia.org/dhti/default.aspx) credential jointly developed by the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) and the Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA) identifies the skill set necessary to perform the job functions required of a digital home network integrator.
CEA-CompTIA DHTI+ certifications signals that the certified professional has the foundation-level skills and knowledge necessary to configure, integrate, maintain, troubleshoot and comprehend the basic design concepts of electronic and digital home systems.
The digital home technology integrator is able to install and configure multiple systems: wireless Internet connections; remotely enabled domestic appliances; media servers; security, heating and ventilation systems; and digital TV set-top boxes. In short, a certified digital home technology integrator can bring order to potential chaos in the smart home.
The target candidate for this certification could work in a variety of industries and jobs related to home technology, including technology integrators; security system technicians; cable, satellite, telecommunications and A/V installers; electricians; and network administrators.
Plumbers, electricians and security system installers can learn how to set up and maintain new home technologies, many of which are able to integrate with traditional utilities such as central heating, lighting and plumbing. By introducing new skills to traditional home workers, they can offer a one-stop shop for a range of services that customers prefer.
Some of the most common day-to-day tasks performed by a digital home technology integrator include:
- Configuration, setup and maintenance of a residential local area network (LAN), including client configuration, remote access and network-device setup and integration.
- Installation, maintenance and troubleshooting of multiroom audio systems, including control devices, sources, proper cable use, amplification, speaker types and identifying common sources of interference.
- Installation of digital home entertainment and distribution, including digital rights management and IP, media center PCs and entertainment PCs.
- Installation and maintenance of digital home control of telecommunications, lighting, energy management and security.
Candidates for CEA-CompTIA DHTI+ certification should possess the skills and knowledge of basic PC hardware, hand and tool skills, safety precautions, basic electrical awareness, local regulations and building codes. Individuals should have 18 to 24 months of experience in some area of digital home integration technology.
John Venator is the president and chief executive officer of the Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA), the leading trade association representing the business interests of the global information technology industry. He can be reached at email@example.com.