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It’s All Hands on Deck at CEDIA University

I worry about the future of CEDIA and the custom installation industry a lot these days. The changing world is a confusing place, and it’s been especially difficult for those in our business and the association that was built to service it to adapt and grow. For one thing, old-school veterans

by Jeremy J. Glowacki

I worry about the future of CEDIA and the custom installation industry a lot these days. The changing world is a confusing place, and it’s been especially difficult for those in our business and the association that was built to service it to adapt and grow.

For one thing, old-school veterans, some of whom helped create the CEDIA organization more than 20 years ago, and “new-school” entrants into the business seem to have different needs and tend to seek out knowledge in divergent ways.

These are just the latest challenges facing CEDIA, as it seeks to better engage current association members, reach out to new a new audience, and simply remain relevant as an organization. On the surface, you may have noticed CEDIA’s attempt at better social media engagement via “Old School vs. New School” Twitter debates, but behind the scenes the organization is also committed to better market research, technical training, and business education endeavors to serve its electronic systems contractor and manufacturer members.

On the education side, the association is reworking the way its CEDIA University courses are taught to help ESCs makes smarter decisions based on business goals and interests, not just job function. And, CEDIA is more aware than ever that “emerging trends” in technology must be addressed in a different way from how its more fundamental “core curriculum” has been presented. The goal is to seek out new contributions and input from the manufacturer, service provider, integration, and media communities, to help track and teach about these ever-changing technology categories.

“It was more important than ever for CEDIA education to take the next step and become more lean, agile, and make a direct impact on our members businesses faster,” explained CEDIA’s director of technical education, Jeff Gardner. “The University’s Content Action Team designated key topics that are vital to be delivered both dynamically and timely moving forward that include forums with industry experts from all sides of the industry, presenters from outside of the industry that provide unique input on topics such as home health, BIM, smart appliance, etc. as well as narrowing the focus of core curriculum to focus on the most valuable fundamentals while still providing hands-on learning opportunities.”

Gardner noted that while traditional “seminar-style” courses continue to be important for CEDIA, the association is building more of them with “working groups” rather than single subject matter experts. This, he said, brings a more balanced perspective and ensures that the content addresses the “big picture.”

It’s an initiative embraced by companies such as Access Networks and ihiji that are actively engaged in the curriculum to be delivered at CEDIA EXPO next month. “CEDIA continues to look to manufacturers and service providers for these seminars, because we’re the subject matter experts that live and breathe this technology everyday,” Access Networks CEO and founder Hagai Feiner said. “At Access Networks, we’ve deployed networks in just about every automated environment, so we can share not only our knowledge of the underlying technology, but also our experience in the field.”

Despite his tech credentials, ihiji VP of technical operations Mike Maniscalco was even called upon to teach a more business-centric class on selling service contracts. He said that he believes manufacturers have a broader experience pool from which to draw, making them good instructors. “We work with a large number of industry contacts, representatives, other manufacturers, consultants, and dealers across the country,” he explained. “This means we’re in a good position to notice trends overtaking the industry—trends that a single dealer is going to have a much harder time tracking. This wider experience base also means we’re often in a position to notice issues that are effecting multiple dealers in ways that they may not notice right away. These are issues that aren’t directly related to individual products or processes, but that have a direct impact on overall dealer success and growth.”

Maniscalco also pointed out that even though manufacturers benefit from a certain “narrowness of expertise” that’s useful to CEDIA University, the onus is still on CEDIA to serve as the gatekeeper and quality control agent to maintain the integrity of its courses. “CEDIA reviews each session’s content for brand mention, checks for accuracy prior to course delivery, requires instructors to sign a code of ethics, and follows up with a post-session internal review process and co-manufacturer attendance to ensure the appropriate interests are always served.”

Gardner maintains that this challenge is understood and embraced by CEDIA, as it continues to embrace straight Manufacturer Product Training while allowing manufacturers to begin teaching other brand-agnostic courses, as well. “All CEDIA-branded courses (both core and electives) are carefully monitored to ensure brand neutrality,” he said. “This is just one of the key guidelines which are emphasized in the review of courseware, as well as the orientation of the presenters for EXPO.”

Access Network’s Feiner is enthusiastic about being asked to present his course on advanced networking to what he sees as a hungry CEDIA EXPO attendee list. “We are honored that CEDIA asked us to develop this advanced networking seminar, as it shows the organization’s continued commitment to deliver relevant and impactful education opportunities for its members,” he said. “The IT/networking track completely sold out last year, so it’s clear that there is a strong interest in networking courses that will help integrators expand their offering and deliver top networking solutions for their clients.”

ihiji’s Maniscalco appears to have his hands full attempting to teach about the essential paradigm shift dealers must make in their thinking about service contracts. He will teach students in his class that service can no longer be a free “reputation builder” for an integration firm, because system scope has grown with the number, types, and requirements of integrated devices having blossomed. With it, the level of complication inherent in the system has increased.

“If one part goes down, the entire thing can go down, meaning a very expensive series of visits to the home that might not be offset by traditional service models,” he explained. “There are emerging product categories, such as home networking, energy management, and home health care that introduce new levels of complexity. Finally, the industry price point of integrated systems is rapidly moderating. More and more customers want to be able to have their homes integrated on a lower budget, resulting in a larger user base and more homes to service.”

These factors combined mean that service contracts are more essential than ever to ensure that these systems are as reliable as possible, and so that when problems do occur, they can be handled effectively and efficiently, within a reasonable amount of time and while satisfying customer expectations.

For changes like these and many more in this challenging time for our industry, CEDIA knows that an all-hands-on deck approach is essential. And it’s important that our trade association remains in the center of it all. It that continues to happen, I won’t have to worry quite as much about the future.