InfoComm CTS is Nothing Like a Driver’s License or a PhD

Cable MenuMy last day of InfoComm was Friday June 15th, and on that day I sat down to do an InfoComm PodCast for RedBand Radio with industry consultant Chris Neto, industry veteran George Tucker, and industry tech manager Mike Brandes.

We talked about everything from show standouts, to questionable content, to Rock ‘em Sock’em Robots outside the local Denny’s in Orlando.  We also talked about CTS and industry education.

Anyone who knows my thoughts on InfoComm and the CTS program knows that I have some issues.  In fact, the second I started to interject my thoughts that day, Chris quickly said, “I know here this is going!”  In case you didn’t hear it, or know my stance, here is the brief summation:



According to InfoComm:

Certification is not a guarantee for performance by certified individuals. Certified Technology Specialist (CTS) holders at all levels of certification have demonstrated audiovisual knowledge and/or skills. Certified individuals adhere to the CTS Code of Ethics and Conduct and maintain their status through continued education.  

I have a problem with the first line, and this is where I think there is a TON of room for improvement.  I have been advocating for a client report card system where CTS firms are given a grade by clients, and a minimum grade is required to keep and promote CTS certification.

Chris and George disagreed somewhat, and gave me the following two analogies.  In the moment of the show, I didn’t have a good answer to combat their analogies.  However, on the flight home, in true Seinfeld fashion, the answer suddenly hit me, so I’m turning the car around to give my retort.

Sorry Chris and George, CTS is NOT like a Driver’s License or a PhD, and this is why.

The Driver’s License Analogy

Chris Neto offered that CTS was like a driver’s license.  It says you know how to drive, but doesn’t make you a good driver.  He also offered up that you wouldn’t want to retest for your license continually.

Let’s explore that a little.  A driver’s license is an actual requirement for driving.  It’s not just a knowledge base.  It is issued by the state and can be revoked or suspended as easy as it was given.  How does it get suspended or revoked?  When people prove repeatedly they don’t know how to drive.  For minor infractions you have a point system.  Too many minor infractions result in a suspended license.  Major violations can mean many points or immediate suspension or revocation.  Now if you get caught driving, you pay fines or go to jail.

Maybe CTS SHOULD BE like a driver’s license.  An issuing organization has the right to revoke anything that they give, and CTS could create a program that does exactly the same.  Cumulative or major performance issues would mean that you are no longer CTS certified.  They could keep a database and searchable website for customers to verify the current status of their potential integrator before hiring them.  This wouldn’t stop firms from doing AV work altogether, but it would allow CTS to have some reasonable guarantee of performance over time.

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The PhD Analogy

George Tucker went on to say that CTS was a lot like a PhD.  A doctor may have a PhD, which says he graduated from college with the knowledge to be a doctor, but still go out and be a huckster selling snake oil.  It doesn’t mean that he still isn’t a PhD.  He added that the AMA may revoke their license to practice medicine, but the PhD would still stand.

Again, the major flaw here is that the AMA is the association that is issuing the license to practice medicine.  They are the “InfoComm” in this analogy, not the university issuing the PhD.  InfoComm promotes CTS to consultants and specifiers as a quality control mechanism and then sells CTS to integrators as an education and marketing tool to meet those qualifications, but then doesn’t offer a mechanism to control quality at all.  This is a cop out.  Instead they just put a line on the website that says:

Certification is not a guarantee for performance by certified individual.

Sure the initials would still stand, but my question is, “What good is a PhD if you are not permitted to practice medicine?”  People researching you would find you are not licensed to practice medicine, because you have proven that you are unable to do so reliably.  Sure you can keep the initials on your business card, but if you are caught giving medical advice or treatment, there will be some major repercussions.

If InfoComm is issuing CTS, then they have the right to revoke it, just like the AMA can pull a Doctor’s license.  Again a database of firms and their current InfoComm CTS status would cure much of what ails us.

At the end of the day, CTS is not a requirement to do business as an AV integrator and it never will be.  So the question becomes “What is InfoComm’s goal as an educational organization?”  There are really only two choices.

Is the goal to provide fee based education for a set of initials like CTS that vary in meaning from firm to firm and individual to individual?

Or is it to provide education that is valuable to the industry as a whole, by maintaining a standard of quality that gives those same CTS initials some real weight and marketable value for those who choose to spend their time, efforts, and money to achieve them?

If you think I’m crazy, ask why people at Cisco, Kramer, and many other are supporting the Association for Quality in AV (AQAV) initiatives that are out there.  Could it be that CTS needs a facelift and they don’t see InfoComm as interested in providing it?  Time will tell.

I’d love your thoughts in the comments below!

About Mark Coxon

Mark Coxon is an AV industry native and blogger for the rAVe BlogSquad. You can reach him directly at

  • To begin with, apologies in using the PhD equals medical degree relationship – the Red Band show was recorded on the last day of Infocomm 13 and I was suffering the waning mild effects of several days limited sleep and the river o’ libations we consumed only a mere few hours prior. The example still holds, just because one has a PhD (or an MD for that matter) does not mean that the individual will use the logic and information gained in an honest way. MD’s can have a licence to practice revoked but not the title -(both can insist on being called doctor as they have earned a degree which can only be ‘revoked ‘ if it could be proven that he or she obtained it by false pretenses (i.e. cheating).

    In a similar fashion I have always seen CTS as a general benchmark of knowledge for the Audio Visual Industry. The achievement of passing the test shows an understanding of how practical systems work, the general theory and fundamentals of the technology and an understanding of the general practices of our business. This is your ‘degree’. Like the levels of degree in higher education a CTS is the associates degree while CTS-D and I are the Masters degrees. An inherent code of conduct is expected from dedicated professionals based on the knowledge gained and proven.

    I can relate the difference in quality employees the process of studying and passing the CTS can, and does, have. During my tenure with a major manufacturer of automation and distribution equipment the policy of having all support folks CTS qualified was implemented. This was met with obligatory grumbles and kvetching but proceeded nonetheless. The policy stated that all new technical support employees needed to gain their CTS within Ten days of the first day of work (back when it was only a on computer test). Essentially one was payed for ten days of study and to take the test. Fail? You were handed walking papers. Those who were already employed were given a schedule where in office time was provided to study and test. We had a good number of the support staff, including sales reps and administrators CTS qualified in just under a year. Did it mean that all were competent to be sent out in the field to program and install? No, but their knowledge was expanded and therefore awareness of the proper methodology instilled. We found that people made better, and often more ‘ethical’, decisions more consistently. The knowledge is the power and motivator.

    Regardless, lazy and despicable folks are unavoidable no matter what level of omnipresent oversight and enforcement one attempts to implement. Audits more often than not do not catch the truly deceptive and lazy individuals/ organizations, we do, the clients do.

    AQAV (based on the ISO model) appears to be more a standardization of process than continuing education and utilizes the omnipresent oversight threat to ‘insure’ application and commitment to following the preordained set of standards. Is ISO workable in an industry where the majority of companies are those with under 100 employees? Perhaps, but the cost of certification, (not to mention pre audit, training ) and annual audit are not to be taken lightly. The link you provide has the wonderfully worded statement “Once certification is attained, the only annual costs would be a reasonable fee for the surveillance audits” , the emphasis is mine. While the cost of ISO certification does slide with the size of the company certified the return on investment takes much longer. I have seen a good deal of discussion about the percentage of companies who were able to recover ISO 9000 implementation costs, most site the McGraw-Hill/Dun & Brad-street studies which state something in the order of 50% in Three years or less. For something which requires the extent of effort and vigilance this is not a very good number, especially when applied to current economic model of AV Integrator. The big boys and manufactures might be able to swallow this but not so the smaller partnerships and mom n’ pops.

    To be clear, I am not against the concept entirely but my, albeit limited, experience with folks who are, have been and are maintaining ISO certifications do so only because it is required for specific types of contracts and is considered overbearing and clunky and not really a motivator to responsible practices. Does the AV Industry really need such oversight? Is the argument really stating that one cannot expect to be good without the threat of damnation? If true then we are already lost.

    • Mark Coxon

      Thanks for your well thought out reply! It is a blog in itself!
      I agree 100% that the ISO process would add a ton of unneeded cost to AV integrators and that in most cases the extra documentation would be unnecessary and prohibitive.
      It is exactly for that reason that I think InfoComm and the CTS program are much better suited to add a quality control component to their programs.
      I agree that 3rd party audits also pose a problem. A grading system that involves the client would be sufficient in my eyes, and you would need a certain number of reports from clients to stay listed as CTS on the InfoComm site.
      I like your idea of just hiding the others away, as even though they have initials, they have not performed at a level to be promoted or endorsed in the INfoComm database.
      Again, I don’t think CTS is bad, or should be scrapped. I think it should be enhanced to provide more quality and value to clients and integrators alike.
      Best, and thanks for the time to respond!
      Mark C

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