CompuCom: Investing in Certified Solutions

Certification programs exist in many disciplines, from car mechanics to airline pilots, from accountants to nurses. But in few industries is certification so heavily relied upon as it is for Information Technology (IT) professionals. For these technologic

For the corporations that employ certified IT experts, these credentials are even more crucial. For these companies, the percentage of certified staff members help them both land big-budget projects and deliver them properly, ensuring repeat business and market success.

Take, for example, CompuCom Systems Inc., the New Jersey-based solutions provider whose services include IT outsourcing, systems integration and technology procurement. CompuCom has about 3,500 employees, including 2,400 technical personnel, all of them with certifications.

For CompuCom, certifications from technology vendors like Microsoft, Cisco and Novell and vendor-neutral organizations like the Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA) are more than just part of the corporate culture.

“It’s a differentiator for us, obviously,” said Dave Smith, vice president of technical services for CompuCom. “We’re seeing a lot more RFPs where customers specifically ask for those certifications. If you don’t have them, you’re prohibited from responding back to the RFP.”

CompuCom specifically seeks to hire certified professionals and also nurtures its professionals to get more certifications. It’s an investment for the company and for the employee that Smith calls “a career progression and advancement strategy.”

Cyndy Ewert, CompuCom’s director of human resources, agrees. Employees can pursue industry certifications or a CompuCom-specific credential. Working with Smith, CompuCom’s learning leaders keep an eye on technology trends and design programs to display staff expertise.

“We also look at the type of business we’re winning and pursuing, and we’ll work with our internal resources to determine what kind of knowledge people need to have to win that business,” Ewert said.

CompuCom’s sales professionals are also certified experts. In fact, the 16-year-old firm has more than 20,000 certifications among its employee base. About 75 percent of CompuCom’s training dollars in some way support certification efforts. That’s not small change; the company spends about $200,000 a year just on vouchers for testing, a figure that doesn’t even take into account training costs.

Gene Salois, vice president of certification for CompTIA, thinks that investment is justified for companies like CompuCom. Certified professionals have a proven track record of bringing a higher level of productivity and fewer errors to the workplace, he said.

“Certification is the method in which companies can identify candidates with the potential, prior to investing in their training and employee benefits,” Salois said. “Before I invest in an employee, using certification gives me checkpoints along the way to ensure my money’s being well-spent.

“For the CompuComs of the world, this is a huge differentiator in service agreements with their customers,” Salois added.

Certification is a strategy that’s working for CompuCom. The company typically performs better than national averages in its marketplace, Ewert said, and has for the past three years performed higher than average each month in customer satisfaction. CompuCom has been profitable each of its 16 years in business.

CompuCom has also won the “Star Award” from the Help Desk Institute (HDI) four out of the past five years. That award requires nomination by clients, and the company must prove a system for measuring quality.

How much of that is credited specifically to certification is hard to say, because CompuCom, basically, doesn’t know any differently.

“It definitely helps us with business,” Ewert said. “And because we invest in our people, our attrition rate is lower than the industry standard.

“Certification is a standard for us in the help desk, but there’s nobody on the help desk who does not have certifications,” Ewert said. “It’s kind of hard to answer the question, because we don’t know what it’s like to operate without them.”

May 2003 Table of Contents