Cost effective technical support Part Two

A+ has become the baseline for the technical section at Nexinnovations, measuring the skill levels of new employees, and giving the company a common language and understanding. We provisionally employ non-A+ certified personnel. They then have three months to train for and pass the exam. Earning the

certification assures us they have mastered the material. It is also proof for our customers that our people are knowledgeable. We have roughly 500 A+ certified technicians.

A+ is a two-part proctored computer exam. The hardware exam covers:

  • Installation, configuration, and upgrading
  • Diagnosing and troubleshooting
  • Preventive maintenance
  • Motherboard, processor, and memory
  • Basic networking
  • The operating system exam covers
  • OS fundamentals
  • Installation, configuration, and upgrading
  • Diagnosing and troubleshooting
  • Networks

A+ is the foundation of NexInnovations’ training and certification program. This past year, we’ve started extensive work on training and certification for a new vendor-neutral certification – CompTIA Server+. Like A+ and other vendor-neutral certifications, it focuses on technologies that cut across the industry. In keeping with our layered training and certification strategy, we have designated fewer people in the organization to receive this mid-level training – those senior technicians who are working in the critical area of server technology.

A Server+ certified individual has demonstrated that he or she has the knowledge of a technician who has spent 18 to 24 months in the server field. By the end of 2002, we will have close to 100 Server+ certified technicians across Canada.

The Server+ Hardware Specialist:

Has in-depth knowledge of servers, including working knowledge of troubleshooting, physical security, and disaster recovery. Can recover from a server failure.

Ensures high availability by meeting the Service Level Agreement requirements, including proactively recognizing and responding to problems and performing recovery.

Has thorough working knowledge of hardware configuration and network connectivity. Includes the ability to perform problem determination for all aspects of the server (hardware, software, and networking).

Installs and configures server hardware to meet application requirements.

Implements current and emerging data storage and transfer technologies such as SCSI and RAID.

Has a thorough working knowledge of networking protocols (e.g., TCP/IP, IPX/SPX, SNMP, DMI) for diagnosing the impact of the network on the server and vice versa.

Provides support, including second level support for resellers and end-users.

Performs maintenance on server systems, data storage subsystems, and network devices.

Has good planning and integration skills necessary to upgrade a server without impacting network users.

Increases storage capacity without impacting network users.

Designs and implements a data recovery plan in the event of a network device failure.

Performs peripheral, BIOS, memory, processor, mass storage, and adapter upgrades.

Demonstrates high levels of leadership through mentoring and training others in server concepts and operations.

CompTIA recommends experience for this certification, including:

Hands-on experience installing, configuring, diagnosing, and troubleshooting server hardware and NOS issues

At least one other IT certification such as CompTIA A+, Compaq ACT, Novell CNA, Microsoft MCP, HP STAR, SCO, or Banyan

Ability to communicate and document effectively

Our senior level technicians successfully working on servers report that the training and certification exam are extremely challenging. Even these pros are not assured they can pass the exam the first time. And the challenging nature of the exam is exactly what the industry needs. Server technicians have a critically important role today. One of our objectives is to help educate customers that these individuals are fully equipped to solve problems. At NexInnovations, earning Server+ is a distinction. In the future, this certification will be mandatory for job advancement to the senior server technician level.

We felt so strongly about our industry’s need for a vendor-neutral certification at the server level that we participated in the development of the exam, first by becoming a member of the CompTIA Cornerstone Committee and later as Subject Matter Experts in item writing and review. We were also one of the first in Canada to engage the services of a training provider for this new certification.

Since the program is new, we are still collecting benchmark data on its impact on customer service. Early indications are that Server+ certified technicians are performing at a higher level of competence.

We continue to send technicians to vendor-specific training, but in fewer numbers and in cases where it makes the most business sense – in areas heavily populated by one vendor’s products. Interestingly, Server+ technicians have reported back that vendor-specific training is easier for them, because the first few days are a review of technologies covered in the vendor-neutral course.

Today, NexInnovations has 86 Microsoft MCSEs on staff, and in keeping with its partner centric model has 20 Novell CNEs, 489 IBM certified technicians, 195 Compaq certified technicians, over 400 HP certified technicians, and in excess of 120 Cisco certifications across Canada. Training has both been provided by the manufacturer and independent training organizations. NexInnovations provides the funding for successfully completed exams, as well as incentive bonuses.

In an industry that relies heavily on providing high levels of service and helping customers solve their problems, NexInnovations is proud of its leadership evidenced by strong Service 800 benchmark results, customer and industry analyst awards, and the on-going confidence of our customers.

We believe the layered approach to training and certification, from vendor-neutral upwards to vendor- and company-specific training and certification is where the industry is heading. This strategy helps organizations of all sizes achieve optimum return on investment for their training budget and high customer satisfaction objectives.


Glen Robertson is the vice president, technical services for NexInnovations Inc. He can be reached at: [email protected]

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