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Hands-On Education

As in any technical trade, continuing education is critical to maintaining a workforce of trusted advisors for end-user clients.

As in any technical trade, continuing education is critical to maintaining a workforce of trusted advisors for end-user clients. This is especially true in the custom integration channel, where technologies are constantly changing and business education is often an afterthought.

Whether that training comes in the form of specific product training from manufacturers or broader best practices education on technical or business management topics from CEDIA, reps and distributors, and buying groups, the key for integrators is maximizing those opportunities to better compete in our changing industry.

There is no shortage of training opportunities from CEDIA: some new, some revised, some tried and true. Reinforcing the importance of the topic, the trade association has expanded its annual trade show training options to a fifth day, starting this September in Dallas. CEDIA had been offering one pre-show training day through last year, but having two extra days beforehand enables industry members to really focus on education and get more classes in while they’re away from the office, according to Luke Amos, senior director of education at CEDIA.

Sell More Audio Masterclass Series, an HTSA initiative championed by HTSA executive direct Jon Robbins, took place at the Embassy Suites in Kennesaw, GA, and included a session at the nearby Nationwide’s PrimeMedia studio facility.

“They’re able to really sit down with no distractions before the show floor opens, then be able to enjoy the show floor and other activities around CEDIA, later,” Amos said. “I understand that it’s difficult to manage your time when you have so many different things happening during the show, and it makes it difficult from a learner’s standpoint when you have so many different things to do and a schedule to keep track of.”

Many of the classes on Tuesday are full-length or half-day classes. “We’re just happy that we have the demand and are able to offer to flexibility in peoples’ schedules while they’re there,” he added. “Plus, the Training Pass price didn’t go up, even though we’ve increased the available classes by 20 percent.”

Amos noted that CEDIA is now offering more business classes than technical courses. “So many folks get into this industry as a passion, then eventually they find themselves having to figure out how to run their business at a higher level. Even though it may not seem like business classes are as fun as technical ones, they’re there to help enable people to grow and stay in business, so they can continue having fun in the technical areas.”

Beyond the show, CEDIA also has re-launched its Advanced Networking and Systems Integration Boot Camp as a three-day event (shortened from its original five days). First held at CEDIA’s Indianapolis headquarters last month, the course focuses less on entry-level explanations and more on practical training.

“What we found out was that people were more interested in refining their networking skills with more hands-on networking and networking troubleshooting,” Amos said. “Taught by Ihiji’s Mike Maniscalco, it really focuses on our highest level networking material, with different lab activities throughout. There are lab stations, which place all of the networking gear right in front of each attendee. There’s a lot of virtual training out there, but there’s really nothing like a hands-on experience to cement your knowledge and retain the information.”

Looking beyond their traditional offerings, CEDIA premiered is Business Xchange event last May and held a very successful follow up to it this past spring in San Diego. The two-and-a-half day business workshop, with a keen focus on sharing best practices that has served as an incubator for another initiative called CEDIA Groups.

Maniscalco is veteran member of CEDIA’s networking task force, having taught a lot of higher level networking classes already. “He teaches very regularly for CEDIA at the show, and based on his background and what he does, he’s a wonderful volunteer for this type of material. We’re really excited to have him available to teach this class. Not only does he have a solid understanding and works with these types of issues of everyday, but he’s just a phenomenal instructor with the right technical skills and experience and ability to teach.”

On the virtual side, CEDIA has launched its free HDMI webinar series, focusing on HDCP 2.2, taught by David Meyer, the long-time HDMI and UHD subject matter expert and founder of Kordz. One class has already been archived, with more to follow, and Meyer is updating CEDIA’s HDMI whitepaper compilation and adding an additional section on the challenge that HDCP 2.2 poses to integrators.

Looking beyond their traditional offerings, CEDIA premiered is Business Xchange event last May and held a very successful follow up to it this past spring in San Diego. The two-and-a-half-day business workshop, with a keen focus on sharing best practices, has served as an incubator for another initiative called CEDIA Groups. That yearround, peer-to-peer networking and experiencesharing program started out with eight groups to foster discussions about marketing and integration business, in general. Each group has five to seven members who are “curated” by CEDIA staff and grouped by time zone, avoiding direct competitors. That way, each member can freely share best practices to learn and grow from one another.

Amos began his CEDIA tenure in the association’s online education department, so he’s still a big proponent of supporting the association’s CEU (continuing education unit) program required to remain CEDIA Certified. He said that he does not find it “sustainable” to have most of the association’s training offerings only available through one event (the CEDIA show) a year.

“I’m looking at how we can provide opportunities year-round for education, beyond online courses,” he explained. “We need to be available for those who are new to the business or just not able to afford to go to the show. We need to find new ways to reach out to them and get them prepared for this industry in affordable and accessible ways. Self-paced online courses are one way, but we participate in other regional events that are not hosted by CEDIA, where we offer training, as well. The SoCal Technology and Business Summits are one example, and we try to partner with distributors and manufacturers, too. I’m looking for that great formula where we can help offer training in more regions on a regular basis, with low overhead. Finding those partnerships is on my plate right now.”

Now in its eighth year, the Southern California Technology and Business Summit recently brought in more than 550 people, including over 425 dealers, along with exhibitors, reps, and industry associates to events in Los Angeles and Orange County, CA. The Summits are a series of events brought to the AV industry through a collaborative effort of multiple independent manufacturer rep firms across their respective regions.

CEDIA Business Xchange provided classroom business education, as well as peer-to-peer idea sharing.

And those other groups that Amos referenced have become great educational alternatives throughout the year, too. The buying groups, such as Pro Source, HTSA, and Azione Unlimited, provide business seminars and technical training at their twice-a-year events. In early May, HTSA wrapped up its first-ever Masterclass Series member education program to great acclaim from attendees–both members and vendors. The first in this series, called the “Sell More Audio Masterclass,” drew upon in-depth research commissioned by the organization, yielding an all-new, customized sales process optimized for HTSA members.

In an intensive day-and-a-half program, HTSA members participated in a series of group and breakout presentations, each of which discussed in detail one element or perspective of a multi-layered sales process newly developed to help members drive sales of high-performance audiovideo systems. The core elements of the program resulted from months of intensive research into a varied landscape of differing approaches to stepup selling of high-performance AV systems. This research, conducted by The Deborah Smith Group, was commissioned by HTSA, and after careful study of the relative merits and rate of success of each approach, a new, high-impact process was created and presented to the members.

HTSA’s Sell More Audio Masterclass Series took place at the Embassy Suites in Kennesaw, GA, and included a session at the nearby Nationwide’s PrimeMedia studio facility. HTSA is partnered with the Nationwide Marketing Group, and members learned of a new video advertising initiative that will benefit their marketing efforts in the near future. This new initiative is the result of collaboration between HTSA, Nationwide’s PrimeMedia studio, and HTSA marketing partner Netsertive.

Just one major example on the distributor side, PowerHouse Alliance distributor members completed more than 25 trainings and events in the month of May alone. Southern distributor, ECD (Electronic Custom Distributors), then held eight trainings throughout June, starting with Clare Automation Certification, a Chauvet vendor day, and combination of URC Total Control and Luxul trainings. Also hosting URC and Clare Control trainings in June were members 21st Century Distributing and Mountain West Distributors.

Continuing to dedicate resources to the security channel, Volutone hosted five trainings on DSC/ from June 6 to 10 throughout California and in Las Vegas. They also took part in the SoCal Security Showcase in Van Nuys, CA and Irvine, CA.

MRI hosted Lutron Shading Solutions on June 13 in Worcester, MA, and Davis Distribution Systems hosted RTI training on June 14 in Indianapolis, IN. Northwest member EDI (Electrical Distirbuting Inc.) hosted Luxul Advanced training, as well as Just Add Power and Panamax sessions on June 21 in Seattle, WA and June 22 in Portland, OR.

Last but not least, Consumer Electronics Distributors (CED) welcomed dealers to join them at one of three locations on June 2 (Elk Grove Village, IL), June 9 (Northbrook, IL) and June 23 (New Berlin, WI) for a tasty cookout as well as special pricing and giveaways of Jamo products.

And although manufacturers continue to offer training to direct dealers via webinars, headquarters-based classes, and trade show offerings, they’re also getting creative with new initiatives.

Control4, for example, launched a new technical training resource for its dealers that supplements its programs. Its Smart Skills videos, which are typically less than three minutes long, demonstrate how to master specific installation configurations, program unique scenes, and perform singular tasks using the Control4 platform.

The manufacturer said that the number of lifestyle experiences that dealers can create with Control4 extends “far beyond what can be absorbed in basic certification courses.” Smart Skills gives Control4 technicians and integrators a path for learning how to do much more with the company’s platform. With just the initial library of topics, integrators can learn how to automate a gas fireplace, integrate a ZigBee door lock, enable alerts to a homeowner’s mobile device, or do more advanced programming with custom variables.

“Control4 Training is always looking for better ways to help Control4 certified technicians succeed in their careers. Our dealers depend on us for this,” said Rus Rasmussen, director of training. “Smart Skills are our latest innovation toward that goal. With this new format, we can provide ongoing additions and updates to supplement the standard certification curriculum.”

Another new initiative in the industry is iPoint University, a new online learning platform for the company’s flagship iPoint Control business automation tool. With iPoint University, iPoint Control users–including administrators, sales representatives, project managers, technicians, billing managers, purchasing managers, and warehouse managers–receive specialized, comprehensive training designed to increase their expertise within the platform and strengthen their job performance.

“We are focused on enabling everyone within the company to receive training that specifically addresses their unique job functions inside the [iPoint] platform,” said Brooks Swift, founder and CEO of iPoint. “Looking ahead, iPoint University will offer formal business management training that will teach best practices for business operations. Along with our business manual, these courses will ensure consistent, seamless operations at every level.”

And no training article would be complete without mention of the home automation training facility, called HAUS, built outside of Denver by industry veterans David Daniels, Mike Thul, and John Carlen. Profiled in the May issue of Residential Systems, the idea behind HAUS was based on the rise of the smart home and smart automation, and the move toward IoT in the middle market.

Before building its campus, the HAUS team devoted a year to conducting market studies and engaging focus groups with both dealers and consumers in that middle market, to understand their needs, the dealers’ pain points, and the buying attributes of the broad market customer.

The 25,000-square-foot campus features a building with a hands-on technical lab, two interactive training rooms, dedicated vendor/partner pods (with Savant and Sonos as the first two vendor partners), a fully equipped and staffed video studio, and two local beers on tap in addition to a complete kitchen. Some 52 Sony digital displays are mounted throughout the campus, including one in a small, “House in the HAUS” showcase–a space that reflects the typical entertainment room in an end user’s home. In addition, the HAUS technology lab is described as a “sandbox of sorts” in which to work with curated vendor products.

“Our goal is for dealers to have a great experience with us,” Daniels said. “We have no target membership number in mind; the marketplace is so big. We know that dealers will look at us and say, ‘Finally I have an organization with the best in class in tools and resources, an organization that will support me.’ We’re already getting more members than we ever expected.”

Jeremy J. Glowacki is editorial director of Residential Systems.