Two years ago, the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers (SCTE) board of directors launched a strategic planning initiative that altered its mission and resulted in a four-year action plan. Since the board adopted that agenda in February 2003, the Society has undertaken a series of projects, including monthly Web-based seminars, topical learning events and a broadband-oriented search engine. It also struck a deal with NCTI, clarifying the two organization’s respective roles in certification and training. At the same time, the Society has managed its ongoing work as a standards body. And it has continued to fine-tune its flagship events, Cable-Tec Expo and the Conference on Emerging Technologies. All of which makes the story of the SCTE at 35 one of both change and continuity. The strategic plan The strategic planning process began in September 2002 under the chairmanship of Keith Hayes. The board first took a hard look at the SCTE’s mission, quickly reaching a consensus on the need to make it more relevant. It did this by de-emphasizing training and folding certification into professional development, and by targeting information as a second area of focus. In terms of the mission statement, it left standards untouched. The next task was to set priorities. "The most significant discussion ensued when we started saying, `This is more important than that,’" current SCTE Chairman Wayne Hall recalls. The upshot was an action plan that had the Society aiming over the next four years to enhance membership and membership services, diversify revenue streams, and deepen chapter support. It furthermore planned, based on feedback from surveys of industry decision makers and membership as a whole, to develop specific activities that correctly positioned the Society going forward. The value of this exercise in terms of board/staff relations is worth noting. "It is so much easier to direct an association when you have a clear outline of where you want to go," John Clark, SCTE president and CEO, says. Professional development Subsequent developments clarified the Society’s affirmation of professional development. When first announced in April 2003, some observers jumped to the conclusion that the SCTE was getting out of the certification business. "Just because (certification) left our mission statement doesn’t mean it doesn’t remain a critical activity for the SCTE," Clark says. "It is an important part of the SCTE fabric." This was all the more so, given that the Society had just updated its certification test categories and migrated to online test-taking procedures. What the SCTE was stepping away from was training. Times had changed. Business consolidation made it all the more important to avoid duplicating the efforts of others, Clark says. That concern underscored the fast-moving initiative undertaken by the board’s professional development committee to reach a new understanding with NCTI. The deal, signed at this year’s Cable-Tec Expo, recognizes NCTI as an "official training partner" of SCTE and SCTE an "official certification provider" of NCTI. (For more details, see sidebar.) The deal helps align the SCTE with other professional organizations. The American Bar Association (ABA), for instance, doesn’t train lawyers; instead, it administers exams that provide the credential to practice law. In broad terms, that is where this is headed. Gene White, who chairs the professional development committee, says the first task has been to assure members that NCTI training remains current and affordable. Going forward, he aims to "convince more MSOs that we need a standard." "This industry has not had an accepted license or standard since the (FCC) second-class (microwave) ticket went away," White says. Establishing an industry-wide standard would entail comparisons and synchronization between MSO training programs, NCTI courses and SCTE tests—no simple matter. But the advantages are intuitively obvious. "Think of Mr. Goodwrench," White says. In another parallel to other professional associations that keep members current with growing and changing businesses, the Society launched a regular series of Web-based seminars and one-day learning events, such as this month’s VoIP symposium in Philadelphia (co-sponsored by Communications Technology). Key to all these efforts has been SCTE Vice President, Technical Programs, Marv Nelson. Advantage: Information Connecting with and growing membership is no small task. The new relationship with NCTI creates a pool of ideal prospects for SCTE membership, but there is another class of technical personnel that is proving to be a trickier catch. "It’s a new segment of the technical professional that we’ve got on teams out there because the headends and back-offices are networks of networks now," Hall says. On the plus side, Hall says these networking professionals are curious, capable, and realize they are unfamiliar with many physical aspects of the network. The challenge is to meet them on their own terrain. "They’re connected, and they know how to use connected technology: chats, messaging, heavy use of the Internet," he says. Thus the SCTE launched InfoScope, a members-only clearinghouse of technical information. Divided into 10 categories, ranging from Associations to White Papers, this vetted depository stands to benefit SCTE members of all stripes by providing the ability to reach certain, relevant destinations with a few logical clicks. Like the Web-based seminars, this service extends the Society’s reach. "We’re adding members from overseas that might not have been a natural fit for SCTE," Clark says. "Now with the Internet, you can get the benefit of the information part of our mission, primarily through Info-Scope, wherever you are in the world." From strategy to operations InfoScope is a good example of the relationship between the board’s strategic guidance and the operational expertise of SCTE staff. "If information had not been added to our mission, InfoScope would not have happened," Clark says. At the same time, Clark credits his staff with its implementation. Kimberly Maki, vice president of marketing and communications, led the project, and key contributors were Web Manager Jason Cann and Technical Trainer Steve Passen. This ability to blend industry and nonindustry-specific skills is increasingly critical to associations such as the SCTE. "Thirty years ago, life was simpler," says Allen Liff, an independent consultant to the association industry. "Volunteers could lead and manage. Today it’s much more specialized. Nine times out of ten, you’re going to need that other expertise to push the association forward." The same applies to other activities at the SCTE, where VPs bring their respective skills to areas such as membership services (Mark John), national conferences (Lori Bower) and finance (Pat Zelenka). It is particularly applicable in the third area of the SCTE mission: standards. When Steve Oksala joined the SCTE in early 2001 as vice president, standards, he said that the SCTE "has been like the secret organization. Not that many people are all aware of it from a standards perspective." The SCTE is less of a secret today. Since 2000, corporate membership in the standards program has soared from zero to 135; and SCTE standards now approved by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) have jumped from 7 to 127. Ironically, Oksala’s earlier comments about the Society now might be said of himself. How many realize that he also chairs the national issues committee of the ANSI board of directors and has drafted a document that is serving as a blueprint for a national standards strategy? Then again, there is plenty of unsung praise to go around in the standards world. As for the SCTE, there are the leaders of the Engineering Committee’s seven subcommittees, the chairs of the multiple working groups and the numerous, dedicated participants in each of these groups. Standards: Critical mission Given this growth in the standards program and the depth of its committee base, it is not surprising that the board let the standards component of the Society’s mission statement stand intact. In fact, the board approved a standards expansion in 1999. And as with the certification upgrade, SCTE staff already had invested heavily in this effort. Clark estimates that in 2000 he spent 40 percent of his time on activities related to standards, from ensuring alignment with NCTA and CableLabs, to getting buy-in from the industry’s CTOs, to recruiting a vice president of standards. The effort, which went live January 1, 2001, is paying off. Clark says that "standards went from being a sideline activity for SCTE to a critical, mainstream, expanded part of our mission." The SCTE’s standards work still wins the hands-on support of industry leaders, such as Comcast CTO David Fellows, who chairs the data standards subcommittee. And as it tends toward the development and maintenance of network protocols and interfaces, this effort also provides another way to attract the aforementioned networking professionals, i.e. those who may know more about protocol data units (PDUs) than F-connectors. Variety in members Hall says the feedback he received in the strategic planning process "validated an impression that I’ve held: The SCTE has meanings that vary based on where you are in the organization." Whether membership stays in the area of 14,000, declines or trends upward, it is clear that cable’s engineering professionals link membership to a wide range of career-enhancing benefits. Ambitious technicians join to get ahead. Technical managers are looking for data dumps. Product managers want to align standards and product roadmaps (and, naturally, do business at Cable-Tec Expo). The list goes on, but suffice it to say that SCTE membership holds a wide range of particular values. "Maybe our message needs to be functional at multiple levels of our membership," Hall speculates. Association consultant Liff applauds the recognition of accurate, if complex, information about one’s industry. He tells of one association divided by generations. Faced in focus groups with young prospects "too busy to join the club," the older members simply chose not to hear them. "They were being hit with reality and said `No, reality is wrong,’" Liff recounts. For several reasons, that mentality has not afflicted the SCTE. Six-year term limits on the board and two-year term limits on the chair help ensure good turnover, "which gives you a variety of opinions and input," Hall says. Then there are the intangible factors. Speaking of the past few boards, he notes, "It’s an animated, motivated and engaged group of people." Whatever accounts for that level of energy, it appears to be on the upswing. Among several other upward-trending, leading indicators (such as a record numbers of technical paper submissions and new vendors at Cable-Tec Expo), consider this: John Clark says he already has been contacted by four people interested in running for a board seat two years from now. The SCTE’s not-so-extreme makeover appears to be on track. But in 2006, it will be time for the next board to assess how well the plan has worked, and given that little stands still for long in this industry, probably time to update it. Jonathan Tombes is executive editor of Communications Technology. Email him at [email protected]. Bottom Line
Professional Development, Information, Standards
The SCTE turns 35 this year. But its recast mission is less than two years old. The changes aim primarily to enhance the career-enhancing benefits of membership. NCTI/SCTE Partnership FAQs How does this agreement benefit me as an individual? First, there will be a specific training resource to help prepare for SCTE certifications. The training and certification will be periodically reviewed to ensure they are in synch with industry developments. Second, each time you complete a certification preparation course, you will earn a voucher to apply toward SCTE certification and membership costs. Finally, you can take a pre-certification assessment to find out if you are prepared to sit for a certification exam. How will it benefit a company with technical staff? NCTI will provide an easy-to-follow career path for SCTE certification. Pre-certification assessments will allow a company to identify good prospects for certification. And the voucher system will help a company save on its certification and membership/dues budgets. Will NCTI’s curriculum train to specific exam questions? No. NCTI will not have access to the actual questions in the exam pools of any certification exam. However, NCTI will ensure that its certification-related curriculum contains the information and knowledge that will be tested during the certification exam. Which certifications will be supported by NCTI? All six, namely: Broadband Premises Specialist, Broadband Distribution Specialist, Broadband Transport Specialist, Broadband Telecom Center Specialist, Broadband Communications Technician and Broadband Communications Engineer. When will training be available? Training for SCTE certification is already available. But NCTI will align more closely the content and grouping of its courses to provide certification candidates a one-for-one correlation between an NCTI training course and an SCTE certification exam. Expect curriculum to be rolled out over the next 6 to 24 months. What happens to SCTE’s training materials? In a separate agreement, on Oct. 1, 2004, NCTI will take over ownership, selling and fulfillment of the following SCTE training materials: From Tap to Home, A Practical Guide to Broadband Network Calculations, Foundations for Delivering Quality Broadband Services, and Customer Service Essentials for Today’s Technical Personnel. I have taken an NCTI course in the past; how does this impact me? NCTI training has always provided knowledge to help you prepare for SCTE certification exams. In the future, NCTI will provide reference material that correlates past NCTI courses with new NCTI certification-track courses so you can determine what material you’ve already studied and what courses contain new information that will help prepare you for SCTE certification exams. I’m currently pursuing SCTE certification, how does this impact me? This agreement will make it easier in the future for you to gain the knowledge you need to succeed on SCTE certification exams. Currently, certification candidates have to obtain, read and study a wide variety of training and reference materials to prepare for most SCTE certification exams. In the future, one or two NCTI courses typically will provide all the information to support the competencies that a given exam is designed to test. Where can I get more information? For the next six months, NCTI and SCTE will release information as it becomes available. Check the Web sites ( and for updates. Or contact NCTI at 303-797-9393 ([email protected]); or SCTE at 800-542-5040 ([email protected]). Source: NCTI

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