By Dale Stein
Telecommunications is a very
dynamic industry that constantly is being enhanced by new technology. It is to the point where innovative products are being launched into the marketplace on a daily basis. These products are forcing companies to employ people with a much different skill set than they sought in the past. Technology is changing rapidly and it is critical for companies to ensure their employees stay on top of the latest trends. Unfortunately, too many telecommunications companies continue to overlook training as a vehicle to current and future success.
Technology not only has changed but the landscape of the entire telecommunications industry has changed as well. Large players like Nortel, Fujitsu and Avaya have modified their marketing strategies and created a channel distribution. These companies no longer sell directly to the end user.
Instead they rely on their relationships with interconnect companies to distribute their products. This renewed focus of delivering goods to market has created a vacuum in the industry and interconnects are scrambling to gain ground, increase sales and grow market share.
However, the interconnect mindset is one of avoidance when it comes to training employees. Their objection: Why should I spend money to train someone when they’re going to leave my company anyway? Instead the question should be the opposite: What happens when an interconnect doesn’t train its employees and they stay? The result is a negative impact on customer relations and company performance. Looking the other way when it comes to training is a sure fire way to run a business into the ground.
Would you let a mechanic that wasn’t properly trained work on your car? Probably not. So why would businesses not want to treat their voice and data system with the same type of care. During the last few years the power has shifted from the vendor to the customer, and companies are demanding that providers employ skilled workers that understand technology, such as VoIP and converged technology and applications.
Technology has to do two things. It must increase profitability and give the organization a competitive advantage.
Unless technology does these two things, its adoption is pointless. The chances of success are reduced significantly when individuals are not thoroughly trained and educated on their own product offerings. Ultimately, end users suffer at the hands of providers that don’t possess a working knowledge of the technology they sell. The most common include:
A handful of progressive interconnects have learned of these consequences the hard way. What they now know is the path to maintaining a sustainable competitive advantage is to provide employees with training so they can effectively educate customers on new technology, provide seamless technical integration, and ensure that companies they work with made the right purchase decision.
So, how have these companies trained their people? Well, they first engaged in the traditional methods, which were to send employees to an off-site location in a classroom setting environment. Of course, this can be quite costly especially when taking into account travel expenses and employee downtime. As the Internet grew more popular in the mid-90s, a new way of training came about, known as e-learning. This gave companies the ability to tap into the power of the Internet and receive training directly into their offices.
Although e-learning was convenient and easy to use, education was ultimately left up to each individual. In this scenario, one would view an online presentation and learn at their own pace. The process was cost-effective; however, there were drawbacks, such as the inability to ask questions in real time, lack of accountability for learning specific material, and relatively low retention.
Today, e-learning has entered a new era known as live instructor-led training (ILT). This process combines real-time online mentoring with improved learner services and up-todate engaging content creating an effective, multidimensional learning environment. Live, instructor-led training solutions enable students to view an instructor and the material being presented on the same screen, which makes for a truly interactive experience similar to a traditional classroom setting.
Interconnects now are beginning to use ILT as a way to obtain industry specific training. For example, the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA) developed the Convergence Technologies Training and Certification Program to reverse the trend of poor product knowledge and assist companies in building the skill sets of their employees so they can compete successfully in the marketplace. The convergence of three technologies - voice, video and data - into a single network is a major development in computer and communications technology. Companies need complete solutions and there is a shortage of personnel qualified to sell and support convergence products.
Manufacturers and their channel partners all need a way to educate their employees and customers about convergence technologies. Industry-common skills and applications of convergence technologies are vital to the success of sales professionals and support technicians. They need to know vendorspecific equipment and applications, as well as how these applications work with other software and equipment available in the marketplace. That is why vendor-neutral training and certification is an essential foundation for vendor-specific training.
Vendors like Toshiba and Mitel have partnered with ILT companies like IPx Connect to deliver CTP, Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) and Converged Technology Training (CTT) to thousands of interconnects across the country. Major manufacturers such as Mitel and Toshiba have embraced CTP and CCNA training for their channel partners. These companies have come to the realization that the only way to successfully penetrate the market is through highly skilled dealers. Organizations with knowledgeable employees will succeed and be around tomorrow while those that fail to invest in their employees will go away. This is the reason Toshiba has made CTP training and certification mandatory in order for interconnects to sell and service their new IP system. Toshiba is so committed to CTP training that it’s allowing their dealers to use co-op funds to pay for it. Soon other major manufacturers will jump on the bandwagon, if they want to successfully compete with companies like Toshiba and Mitel.
Technology Assurance Group (TAG), the national organization of interconnects that I cofounded, also has foreseen the need for convergence training firsthand. Last year, TAG partnered with IPx Connect to provide its members, which represent $250 million in annual telecommunications sales, with Converged Technology Training (CTT), which covers the core knowledge of convergence industry standards and protocols, infrastructure, signaling, basic telephony, VoIP, topology convergence, and the skills required to perform jobs related to these technologies. TAG’s mission is to raise the bar of its members and one way they’re doing it is through extensive training.
It’s becoming more and more apparent that in order to compete in the telecommunications industry companies must be willing to ensure their employees have the necessary skills to sell, install, service and maintain the latest equipment, particularly in the area of convergence technologies.
Well-trained employees equal life-long customers and future sustainability. Customers are demanding new technology and they will choose providers that can sufficiently meet their needs from a product knowledge standpoint. Interconnects that don’t make it a point to invest in their employees will not be around to share in the wealth of convergence technologies. And, those technologies already have arrived.
Dale Stein is co-founder of Technology Assurance Group (TAG), a national organization of independently owned telecommunications providers and serves as its director of strategic planning and business development. He also is a member of PHONE+’s Channel Partners Conference & Expo Advisory Board.