Classes for Non-Techies

CEDIA Recognizes the Importance of Customer Relations and Project Management
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The residential electronic systems industry is filled with absolutes. Technology is funny that way. Cramming a DVI cable into an HDMI connector wont do much for a components performance. But the more subjective elements of contracting businesses require just as much attention as the technical aspects. That is to say that the most successful contracting businesses place a high value on sales, marketing, customer service, and project management.

CEDIA University recognizes the importance of non-technical (or lighter-technical) business functions and offers core curriculum courses through the Electronic Systems Customer Relations (ESCR) and Electronic Systems Project Management (ESPM) colleges.

Both colleges will offer more core curriculum courses than ever before at
CEDIA EXPO 2007 in Denver this September, and new and veteran industry professionals alike can expect increased classroom interaction and peer learning throughout each class.

Defining Customer Relations
As CEDIAs education platform progressed from informal trainings to university-style curricula and specialized boot camps and seminars, the need for clearly defined course descriptions became critical.

We have carefully identified the goals for each customer relations core curriculum course and incorporated this information into detailed descriptions, said Buzz Delano, co-dean of the customer relations college and owner of Delano Associates in San Celemente, CA. CEDIA University is an investment and business owners and students alike need to be sure that the classes they are paying for are in line with their business objectives.

As important as it is to know exactly what each course covers, professionals signing up for classes need to conduct a personal inventory to determine which courses will lead to a maximum benefit. By reading through the course descriptions, students will be able to evaluate their current skills and plan an EXPO education schedule that leads them toward advanced career development.

Navigating Course Prerequisites
The Electronic Systems Customer Relations college is structured so that courses fall into three categories of difficulty: basic, intermediate or advanced. The courses are numbered from 100 to 400 following standard university nomenclature.

Generally speaking, basic-level classes teach what customer relations is and what it means in relation to the electronic systems industry. Intermediate level courses show the implementation of the basic material and how it affects other areas of business. Finally, advanced-level courses teach how customer relations applies to different types of customers from diverse market segments.

Although there are more courses that suggest prerequisite classes than ever before, it is extremely subjective in the customer relations college, said co-dean Ty Meyer, of Audio Video Design in Mission Viejo, California. Which is why it is so important that all students should realistically evaluate themselves before registering for EXPO courses.

It is logical to start at the beginning and work up to the advanced level courses in customer relations, but CEDIA is not interested in forcing its members to sit through classes that are well beneath their ability levels. Besides taking a close look at the course descriptions, members have the option of calling CEDIAs concierge service for assistance with developing an education plan with maximum value.

The prerequisites exist not to hold students back, but to offer a guide that allows for the best possible classroom experience, Meyer said. If a small group activity has four people of different ability levels, the discussion value is going to be considerably less than a group of four people who are all at the advanced level. If a student isnt ready for an advanced course he cheats himself and his fellow students out of the experience they are paying for.

Reshaping Project Management
Similar to the structure of customer relations, the Electronic Systems Project Management college follows a 100-400 level course progression and students are encouraged to follow the educational pathway it maps out from beginning to end.

All ESPM core curriculum classes are based on the teachings of Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) from the Project Management Institute, but the learning doesnt stop with general best practices. Many courses have been reorganized to include even more activities for hands-on application of PMBOK ideals.

Once the basics of project management are covered and some light technical knowledge is gained, students need classroom interaction to activate the learning. The 400 level core curriculum classes offered at this years EXPO, for example, incorporate significant problem solving exercises into the course material. The result is a rare collection of project management experts benefiting from one anothers real-life experiences through guided conversations with the instructor and fully supported by academic resources.

Reaching the Next Level
No one in the residential electronic systems industry would argue that customer relations and project management are not important, but some companies project a lesser value on these two disciplines if they dont seek continuing education or allow inequalities in employee training to exist.

As the industry expands through broader mainstream acceptance and consumer demand, electronic systems contractorsmost of whom are small businesses to begin withwill likely need to evaluate their customer relations and project management functions to ensure that they can service and maintain a higher volume of clients, without reducing the quality of the services that drew new clients to them in the first place.

Dean Callis is the dean of CEDIA Universitys Electronic Systems Project Management college and general manager of Paragon Technology Group, an electronic systems contracting business based in Aspen, Colorado, with branch offices in Vail and Steamboat Springs.

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