Integrators Are Stepping Up Their Role in User Training

Integrators Are Stepping Up Their Role in User Training


The ubiquity of personal smart devices has forced even the most fervent philistines to be tech savvy. Arguably, it’s made the systems integrator’s job easier when it comes to user training— if you have an iPhone, you already know your way around touchscreens. But what those working in tech’s trenches often fail to recognize is that while the systems they are integrating have grown increasingly easy to operate, they’re still intimidating to many customers. When you’re not a tech nerd yourself, “user friendly” is a relative term.

This creates some nuances in the customer training process post-project, noted Chuck Wilson, executive director of NSCA, and it starts with the original contract. “These contracts can be so ambiguous,” he said. “The management of expectations can be horrendously mismatched. When a client that has just purchased a $200,000 system reads the clause ‘we will provide the necessary training,’ they may expect that means that the integrator is prepared to train all three shifts of their personnel over the course of several days. The integrator might have meant that they would provide one three-hour training session, period.”

There is also a political layer to training that systems integrators sometimes find themselves struggling with, especially when those with purchasing authority are not the same people who will be using the technology. In his blog post “A Surprising Behind-the- Scenes Look at the End User Experience”, Wilson described a scenario in which a new system resulted in a power shift within a department: basically, it threatened the job security of several staffers. “These system operators, they didn’t want this to work,” he relayed. “They thought the money could be better used paying them an extra dollar or two an hour.” One way to address issues like this is to encourage purchasers to involve representatives from each user base within the organization at the outset of the project and throughout, so that they may voice their needs and concerns. Unfortunately, however, systems integrators don’t always have the power to enforce this practice.

To ensure that customers actually know how to operate these systems, AV firms must put some thought into who is conducting training sessions. For Wilson, the ideal trainer is an educator first and foremost. “You’ve got to have a passion for educating people,” he said. “Teachers have patience and a certain something that many of us don’t. They have the ability to rephrase things and to get people more involved, giving them a hands-on experience, repeating things, and practicing things.” In other words, you can’t just tell someone, “press this button, and then this one, and then this one,” and consider the job done.

The team at Audio Visual Resources in Mineola, NY, spends a lot of time developing and executing training. While the firm does small systems design and installation projects, the core of its business is focused on quality assurance and systems testing and verification, as well as training, both for systems integrators and end users. AVR trainers apply criteria-based training that walks users through a new system theoretically and then practically, requiring them to perform the functions that they will be performing in the daily course of their work. James Maltese, an InfoComm Academy faculty member and president of AVR, strives to make these sessions entertaining in an effort to engage users in the technology. “Personality is a big, big deal. They have to have fun in class or it’s not going to go anywhere,” he said. This helps participants feel at ease, which is important because you want them to open up. “Invariably, people are going to have questions, and you need to be able to make sure that they feel comfortable asking questions. If you don’t have the answer, let them know that you’re going to find an answer for them shortly, and then you have to convey that answer in a meaningful way.”

At Technical Innovation (TI), based in Norcross, GA, the field engineer is usually the same individual who conducts customer training, explained Bob Tunis, vice president of technical operations for the firm’s Presentation Technology Services group. “Usually the individual performing the training activity is the same person that has commissioned the site,” he said. “They’re the people who are the subject matter experts for the DSP, and so they are the best subject matter experts when it comes to how everything functions in the room.” TI’s training is built around the client’s use cases, and in addition to in-person training, the firm provides quick reference guides or help pages that are built into touch panel interfaces.

Given the effort and resources that systems contractors put into winning and executing projects, Maltese believes that it behooves them to place an emphasis on customer training, since it’s these sessions that introduce users to the new system. “They say that people size each other up based on a handshake. The training is that handshake,” he said. “If you spend a little bit of time showing them the system with pride, I think the users would be happier and it would elevate the AV industry to a different level, and maybe get us a little bit more respect in the construction trades.”

Carolyn Heinze is a freelance writer/editor.

Building Rapport Through Training

At Technical Innovation (TI), it’s the field engineer that conducts customer training, but the field service technician is also involved—especially if the client has signed up for a service agreement. “The field service technician that is assigned to the account is going to be the long-term ambassador for TI, and if the field engineer is there performing the training, it’s really good for the field service technician to be there and up to speed on all of the details of the solution that we provided,” explained Bob Tunis, vice president of technical operations for TI’s Presentation Technology Services group. “It just makes for a better experience: there are fewer questions from the client over the next 30 to 60 days, and they’ve met their field service technician face-to-face. They start building that rapport immediately.”

Carolyn Heinze has covered everything from AV/IT and business to cowboys and cowgirls ... and the horses they love. She was the Paris contributing editor for the pan-European site Running in Heels, providing news and views on fashion, culture, and the arts for her column, “France in Your Pants.” She has also contributed critiques of foreign cinema and French politics for the politico-literary site, The New Vulgate.