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Saving IT Certification

An Interview with Bill Horzempa, Chairman of the IT Certification Council

By Rick Gregory

IT certifications were held in high esteem in the mid to late 1990’s. They were highly sought after by IT professionals and required by many employers and contractors. But, over time, IT certifications have lost some of their luster.
doug howard
And it’s no wonder that the perceived value of IT certification has become a bit tarnished. Do a Google search on the certification of your choice and you are presented with hundreds of mind dumps, black market exam copies and forged credentials. We’ve all heard about "hired guns" who specialize in taking certification exams for those willing to pay and proctors who accept payment for making sure a tester passes.

So what can be done to restore the integrity and the reputation of IT certification? We asked Bill Horzempa, chairman of the IT Certification Committee (ITCC) to talk with us about the ITCC and what it is doing to address the problems with IT certification.

Gregory: Bill, can you tell us exactly what the ITCC is and give us some background on how it was formed?

Horzempa: Sure. The ITCC is a group of representatives from the major IT companies that grant certifications. It has been a formal legal entity under the auspices of CompTIA since November, 2007.

bill horzempa

It actually started out informally several years ago among a group that attended industry events like the CompTIA Colloquium, the Performance Testing Council, The Association of Test professionals. We would talk informally as an industry about the issues we had experienced. At a certain point, we realized that we had the major players involved and there were things we could do to assist certified individuals and things we could do to enhance IT certifications across the board.

So we organized the Council as a legal entity and the member companies pay fees to belong, which funds our initiatives. We currently have thirteen companies on the Council and the representatives are all top notch.

Gregory: What are some of the initiatives the ITCC is working on?

Horzempa: There are several we are working on today, but the primary one is the clearinghouse project. It will be an independent database operated by the ITCC that will allow an individual to get a Universal ID that will tie all of his vendor certifications to a single number. He can then have the clearinghouse send all of his credentials, or a selected subset, to an end user company for a job interview or a contract. The end user will receive electronic verification from a trusted source that the individual actually holds the certifications.

This will provide a lot of benefits. It will make it easy for the individual and for the end user. For the individual, it ties all certifications across vendors to a single ID. For the end user, he gets verification that the individual actually holds the certifications.

Unfortunately, you can go out and purchase a certificate that says you are IBM qualified or HP qualified, or for any vendor, for about $150 on the internet. If you print it on a good quality printer, anyone would be hard pressed to tell if it was legitimate or a forgery. So one of our goals is to enhance security in validating credentials.

Gregory: When will the clearinghouse be implemented?

Horzempa: It is in the design phase at present. It will be built during 2008 and we hope to roll it out in 2009. But it’s a large project and it will be a staged rollout with continuous enhancements over 12 – 18 months.

Another major project is putting controls in place to protect the certification exams.
There are companies that are acquiring the intellectual property of the certifying companies and reselling it to individuals. We’ve identified about a dozen of the largest sites and are sharing ideas on how to put controls in place that will make it much more difficult for these third parties to obtain the exams and sell them on the black market. A lot of them also show up on ebay. They have been very responsive in removing information from these fraudulent organizations when they have been identified.

Gregory: What types of controls are being considered?

Horzempa: Well, there are a variety of measures under consideration, but I don’t want to discuss specifics at this point. I don’t want to tip our hand. We want people to know that we take certification exams seriously. They are the intellectual property of the companies that develop them and we are going to take action to protect the IP.

Exam fraud hurts everyone. When we first publicly announced formation of the ITCC, the feedback we got was, "This is good, this needs to happen." The people who get their certifications legitimately want the exams to have meaning and they want the fraudulent activity stopped. They work hard to get certified and they want to preserve the value of the credential.

Another project is a marketing initiative to rebuild the value of certifications to the end user. We are building a website and developing materials that explain the ITCC and our activities. We think that in the mid to late ‘90’s, certification was well regarded and employers and contractors required it. We want to re-energize that image and reputation by driving up the knowledge about certification and its importance.

Gregory: Can you discuss the entrusted proctors program?

Horzempa: Sure. The Entrusted Proctor program will give IT vendors the flexibility to offer select exams at sites other than traditional testing sites, including testing at key events and at company sites. One of the main reasons is to minimize time out of the office to take exams. We are still working on the details of how this program will be implemented.

Gregory: Are any initiatives being considered to prevent impersonators from taking exams?

Horzempa: That is one of the areas of security that we are evaluating. Typically today, the requirement is that a person has to present a government issued photo ID plus one other form of identification to take an exam. However, we know that some of the hired guns slip through. We are looking at a range of options from fingerprinting, pictures, digital signatures, eye prints. We are looking at options but it is something that will have to be implemented carefully because privacy rules differ around the world. We have to make sure we adhere to all the right to privacy rules. It can be a fine line in some instances.

Gregory: Are any other initiatives underway?

Horzempa: We have others we are considering, but these are the major ones now. When we get through these, we will move on to others, but these are the first that will be implemented. I think the important thing at this point is that we have the major certifying companies committed, financially and by providing talented individuals to be active members of the ITCC. The companies that grant certification are taking these issues seriously and we are determined to correct the problems in the IT certification process and enhance the value of certified professionals in the industry.

Bill Horzempa is chairman of the IT Certification Council and Director of Global Certification & Partner Education Development for Hewlett-Packard.

ITCC Member Companies

CompTIA
CISCO
HP
IBM
Kaplan IT
LPI
MeasureUp
Microsoft
Nortel
Novell
Pearson VUE
Prometric
SUN

© 2008 Bluestone Media, LLC