Whenever the topic of AV-IT convergence comes up, the initial focus is always about the technology. An often-overlooked aspect of convergence is people, or rather the lack of people at all levels skilled in networking technologies. This was a common theme repeatedly heard at InfoComm and in conversations with field reps and AV integrators over the past year.
Name: Nick Phillips
Title: Vice President of Sales
Overtime: Prior to joining Pakedge, Phillips held leadership positions in the aerospace, medical, and electronics industries. Other accomplishments include holding several patents in spinal implants, cardiovascular implants, and wireless technology. Phillips received his B.S. in Engineering from the University of Arizona, his M.S. in Engineering from the University of California, San Diego, and his M.B.A. from the University of Southern California.
Some integrators addressed this shortage in a variety of ways, including doing everything themselves (selling, installing, and servicing), constant request for referrals, active recruitment of experienced techs, and outsourcing the network related tasks to IT integrators. Others avoid sending their techs to "communal" training environments where they could potentially get recruited.
While these tactics may work in the short term, they are unsustainable and limiting in the long run. For example, the outsourcing of tasks to IT integrators minimizes the value of the AV integrator, and adds another "man in the middle." This increases costs, coordination points, project complexity, and risk. More important, the AV integrator is removing himself from the conversation with his IT counterparts and risks becoming marginalized in the AV/IT partnership. Beyond the missed opportunities and the potential customer support issues, a more significant consequence is the inability to spot trends and be ahead of them, to drive conversations and partnerships with IT departments, to be involved in the IT decisions that impact AV, or to be there when IT budgets are discussed in order to fully represent the AV team.
At Pakedge Device and Software, addressing this need and facilitating the development of trained technicians is a top of mind priority. A large pool technicians trained and certified in networking technologies is essential not only for our growth, but the growth of everyone in the AV industry. It enables the adoption and implementation of new products, and the acceleration of AV-IT convergence. While there are educational initiatives within the AV industry associations, these are focused on the general needs of those already in the industry. In order to facilitate the specific needs of our own integrator and dealer base, Pakedge has embarked on a multi-year, multi-prong initiative. Elements of this initiative include:
1. Remove product installation complexity. This is accomplished through a variety of "high tech" and "low tech" means, including color coding network ports corresponding to select virtual local area networks (VLAN), pre-configuring multiple network systems at our factory, designing very simple Graphic User Interfaces (GUI), and automation of the installation process through software. Our goal is to decouple specialized knowledge from the installation process and focus technician expertise on value added activities such as system integration and performance optimization.
2. Pakedge Certified. We are implementing a learning management system that will assess, address, monitor, and standardize the knowledge levels of every one of our dealer/integrators. In addition, we have built this into our integrator onboarding, productivity, and retention programs.
3. Scalable hands-on training. We have “virtualized” the training network and eliminated the need for dedicated and expensive on-site training equipment. This enables us to scale efficiently to provide "hands-on" lab training anywhere, anytime.
4. Partnerships with local community colleges. We are working with local community colleges to train a new generation of networking technicians that will enter the AV industry. As an example, we recently donated $200,000 of networking equipment to the Information and Communication Technologies program at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa, CA to enhance their training labs. Equally important, we are building referral pipeline programs, which will direct and match newly certified students with our integrators.
There is no shortage of new network-based technologies introduced into the marketplace. However, the adoption, deployment, integration, and support of these technologies will be limited by the number of skilled network technicians at hand, and a concerted effort by manufacturers is needed to address the current talent gap.
Nick Phillips joined Pakedge during the company's beginning stages and helped engineer many of its early products. Currently serving as Vice President of Sales, Phillips has been the driving force behind Pakedge's exponential revenue growth through his accomplishments with the company's direct-to-dealer sales, manufacturer's representatives, and distribution networks, both domestically and internationally.