Continuing education is the key to effectively managing changes in technology

June 1, 2019
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The Industrial Revolution, a period of time extending from the late 18th century through the early 19th century, marked a point when western culture moved from hand-production methods to machines that were powered primarily by steam. The rise of the factory hastened urbanization, and the standard of living for the general population began to increase consistently for the first time in human history. Over the course of several generations the shape of the world changed.

The Second Industrial Revolution brought advancements in manufacturing that enabled the widespread adoption of the telegraph and railroad networks. From the end of the American Civil War until the start of World War I, electrification powered progress. Over the course of just a few generations the shape of the world changed again.

The Third Industrial Revolution emerged in the 1950s and lasted until the end of the 20th century for most advanced nations. It defined the move from mechanical and analog electronic technology to a world where digital communication and computing ushered in the Digital Age. In just two short generations the very foundations of our relationship to each other, and to the world, changed profoundly.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is bringing us a fusion of technologies that are blurring the line between the physical and the virtual. We are immersed in a roiling sea of robotics, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, quantum computing, the Internet of Things, fifth-generation wireless technologies (5G), fully autonomous vehicles and virtual reality. In 1990 only 0.05 percent of the world’s population was “connected.” In just a quarter of a century that number has increased by a factor of 1000. Today more than half the nearly 7.5 billion people on Earth are intimately tied to the internet. In just one generation—the course of a single career, if you will—nearly everything has changed.

Looked at from the perspective of accelerating technologic transformation, the importance of continuing professional development becomes self-evident. A half-century ago we had the time to anticipate a new future and develop skills that the market would demand. Today we can barely count on a smartphone being able to run new apps after two years! The success of your business depends on leveraging existing technology, even as installations and projects are (or should be) optimized for the evolutionary result of this pervasive change.

Creative destruction

What drives this wholesale and accelerating transformation? It’s called Schumpeter’s Gale; more commonly known as “creative destruction.” Schumpeter first described this theory of the business cycle as the “process of industrial mutation that incessantly revolutionizes the economic structure from within, incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one.”

How do we prepare for this level of change? What can we do today to properly anticipate and prepare for tomorrow’s technology? The answer is continuing professional education.

A large part of my job responsibility at Legrand is delivering technical training to both customers and stakeholders. I often start a topic by reminding the audience of a simple fact. If an AV professional started a career 40 years ago and invested the time and energy to really understand how analog AV signals propagated and behaved, then nothing about the changes the industry experienced between 1978 and 2008 were overly surprising or challenging.

It wasn’t until the Information Age that we were suddenly faced with VGA cables that couldn’t connect a new laptop to installed AV assets. Instead we are faced with DisplayPort, HDMI and USB links that seem expensive, alien and limiting. In truth, the alien and limiting part of that equation is just our skillset and perspective being challenged. If an AV professional is starting her career now, in 2019, and makes an investment to understand the nature of the digital AV payload and the abilities and limitations of a handful of physical layer connections, then nothing about the technology of the coming decade will be all that surprising.

Let me illustrate this point with an example. In 2016 most professionals in the AV industry had experienced multiple 4K video demonstrations and were keenly aware that 4K product was beginning to ship. As with most nascent technologies, the format wasn’t seen as delivering enough content or having enough impact to warrant inclusion in an institutional AV philosophy. That is until it became clear that 4K performance will be a mainstream technology by the end of 2019. In truth, by the end of 2017 nearly every quality video panel greater than 55 inches diagonal had moved to a 4K performance level. Suddenly many organizations need to face the reality of the additional bandwidth demands and performance opportunities with UltraHD. How could training have helped with this?

Regularly participating in professional AV training may have revealed the nature of the AV Quality Triangle, which is a way of looking at AV payload and recognizing that “resolution” numbers are just shorthand for a group of advanced video performance parameters including high dynamic range imaging, deep color, accelerated frame rates and expanded spatial resolution. With a solid knowledge of the working relationship of these parameters, a data communications professional could have predicted those locations and content applications where enhanced bandwidth would be leveraged soon and ensure that all physical layer links support the ultimate expression of the system’s performance evolution.

It’s important to note that very little of the analog past would have illuminated an efficient answer for this new, high-performance technology. While the way we physically mount flat panels may not have changed dramatically, the ability to deploy HDR and UHD is a performance feature that has come to the market very quickly and from many different directions, creating confusion that only quality continuing education can effectively counter.

Certifications across sectors

The need for continuing education isn’t unique to the AV technology sector. It is equally important for many data communications specialties including security system implementation, network installation and maintenance, distributed antenna solutions, building control and life safety systems. Looking at just the AV sector, the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and AVIXA (formerly InfoComm) have published no less than nine comprehensive guidelines including audio coverage uniformity, AV system performance verification, AV drawing symbols, projected image system contrast ratio, and image size for analytic and basic decision-making AV installations. Training classes are dedicated to promoting the use and implementation of these performance standards.

Industry certification is a key indicator of any professional’s commitment to continuing education. AVIXA administers the CTS suite of certifications, accredited by both the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC). BICSI offers the Registered Communications Distribution Designer (RCDD), Data Center Design Consultant (DCDC) and others. The National Institute for Certification in Engineering Technologies (NICET) offers certification in video security system design. It’s common to see these and other certifications called out in bid specifications and job postings. Of course, each certification comes with a requirement of continuing education to assure clients that the training and experience of the folks brought into their projects is up-to-date and of the highest caliber.

Continuing education and industry training are critical responsibilities of every organization aspiring to the highest levels of performance and success. Devices can become obsolete, but skills and talent may be honed to an edge so fine they’ll cut a clean path to the future. As President John F. Kennedy said, “Let us think of education as the means of developing our greatest abilities, because in each of us there is a private hope and dream which, fulfilled, can be translated into benefit for everyone and greater strength for our nation.”u

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