As the security industry increasingly becomes a high-technology industry, distributors, the industry's middlemen, are taking up the gauntlet in an effort to keep its customers educated enough to properly use the products their vendors are asking them to sell. Since March, major distributors in the security space ADI, Anixter, Tri-Ed and ScanSource Security have all announced new training initiatives, many of them targeting IP and A/V education.
While it's true that distributors have always offered training to dealers, those interviewed for this article were in agreement that training is becoming more vendor neutral and that distributors are feeling more responsibility to keep their dealers up to date not only with the newest technology, but also with the best ways or running their businesses.
"In the past," said ADI's national training manager Michael Masten, "we took a shotgun approach to training and we allowed the manufacturers to do what they wanted to do in their local areas. Now we're being much more surgical in our approach, and we've identified certain key markets, particularly the IP and A/V space, where we want to focus our initiatives and help dealers grow into those business areas."
To that end, ADI has announced a cooperation with CEDIA, the consumer electronics industry association, to lead CEDIA home theater audio boot camps, provide CEDIA Level I Review and Exam courses, along with a continued commitment to the IP training series with Dave Engebretson that was announced last year (search "Engebretson" at www.securitysystemsnews.com).
"[Dealers] are moving [into IP and A/V] because the end users are asking them for more of these types of solutions," said Masten, "and the manufacturers are rolling out the products, so, as the middle man, we're defining the spaces to play in and because of where we sit, at the national systems support center for ADI, we're identifying these trends very early."
"The A/V display business is incredibly competitive," said ADI's director of systems business Doug Hoerle. "The Wal-Mart factor has affected a lot of small businesses. Prices are deteriorating quickly. We can focus our education on the projector and screens market, which gets them out of the retail world ... that's just one example of the things that we want to reinforce to keep them competitive in this space."
Tri-Ed uses vendor partners to conduct a newly announced Master's Training Program, but prioritizes for those vendors whose training programs are certified by state associations for continuing education credits. "We're trying to keep it as generic as possible," said national systems manager and national training coordinator John Hyatt. "If they're state certified, they have to be very generic ... but, of course, everybody's designing a training program around their product line."
Hyatt said Tri-Ed is also focusing on A/V and IP, along with monthly focuses on such things as fire issues (May), access control (August), or telephone and intercom (September). "With all the home automation that's going on, if our dealers want to play in that audio/video arena, they need to get up to speed," said Hyatt. However, at some level, A/V training and IP training coalesce: "Eventually, everything's going to be CAT5," he posited.
The Master's Training Program actually started as a training initiative for employees, and then was expanded to include the dealers. That understanding of the need for distribution sales people to be tech savvy was universal among those interviewed.
"ADI recognizes our level of responsibility," ADI's Masten said, "not only to the external dealers, but we've also taken a lot of initiatives for our own employees, and they're taking these classes with our customers, side by side."
ScanSource, which distributes products in five different industries, launched ScanSource Security in 2005 and has seen this migration to IP in their telecom business. "We talk all the time about how similar the circumstances are to the telecom industry," said Tony Sorrentino, vice president of merchandising for Scan Source Security. There, "you had POTS going over to VoIP. One segment of our customers resisted the change and rode it out through retirement ... The most advanced companies got out ahead of it, and you certainly had a third new group emerge as well, people who understood networking and realized they could play in the voice arena as well."
To help its security dealers get out ahead and/or fend off incoming players, ScanSource has launched a traveling series of two-day networking seminars and created the IP Center, an interactive web resource (www.scansourcesecurity.com/ipcenter). The seminars launched May 2 and 3 in Philadelphia and will visit Santa Clara, Calif., Chicago, Dallas, and Atlanta in the coming months. Day one of the program is a vendor neutral networking 101 class conducted by ADTRAN, a vendor of networking components. "Day two, we bring in the security vendors," said Sorrentino. "Thanks to day one you have a decent understanding of what's in a network and what the key buzzwords are. Now let's talk about how analog differs with IP-based solutions."
Similarly, Anixter, which also has an extensive background in IT product distribution, launched in May a 16-city IP Connected Enterprise seminar series, "designed to educate attendees on the concept of developing a 'utility grade' building infrastructure, designed and installed to enable Ethernet connectivity of all possible building systems to a single IP network." Attendees will go beyond the security space to include IT managers, facility directors, architects and engineers.
This is indicative of the basic purpose behind many of these initiatives. Security is "no longer the cottage industry it once was," said ADI's Masten.
However, said ScanSource's Sorrentino, "security manufacturers want to see IP sales grow as quickly as possible, and there are plenty of resources out there. Really all the dealers have to do is ask ... If IP sales don't take off as quickly as everybody expects, it shouldn't be because of a lack of training and education. Security dealers should really take advantage of it."