Training Course Schools Solution Providers On Home Integration

The market--spanning areas such as home networking, security, entertainment and facilities control--offers an attractive growth opportunity for SMB solution providers, who can apply their broad integration and networking skills and product knowledge. But differing standards, technologies and customer expectations complicate the transition. The lack of high-quality, vender-neutral training courses also has made entry into the market difficult.

Yet Home Controls, a San Diego-based distributor of low-voltage products for the home, aims to help solution providers overcome those obstacles with its Residential Integrator School (RIS), a five-day training course covering the practical technology and business issues that characterize the home integration market.

"We teach them how to ask the right questions," said Brian Callan, national sales manager at Home Control's Connect Home division. "Homeowners often don't know what they want. You need to know the right questions to ask them [in order] to design the right solutions for their problems. You need to get into their life--what happens on a daily basis, what's the lifestyle of every member of the home."

IT solution providers who have taken the Residential Integrator School training said they like its depth and breadth of topics.

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"It's quite a jump to go from a data-centric world to the home automation world," said Corbin Hambrick, president of Houston-based integrator Home Synthesis. He entered the home market from the IT world last year after taking the course.

"My background is in computer infrastructure, programming and technical support, and I've had some networking experience," Hambrick said. "I'm now using that in my integrations, having a PC running different parts of the home. I got exposure to that in the course. It helped immensely and showed me how my background is very relevant in the home automation industry."

The Residential Integrator School familiarizes solution providers with all the facets of the home integration business, said Scott Roe, president of Valley Technology Group, an IT and home integrator based in Salinas, Calif.

"The course is a good first step," said Roe, who took the course in May. "It teaches a lot and covers everything from security systems and distributed audio to structured cabling, remote-control software and programming, as well as from the design to the actual installations. It's a great overview."

Solution providers who participated said they also appreciate that it covers a wide range of products, not just those distributed by Home Controls. Besides technology, the training also addresses everyday business processes, since the home and IT integration markets vary greatly.

"The course touched on everything from employee relations and the initial interview [with the homeowners] to getting the contract signed, the whole service side and interacting with subcontractors," Roe said.

Other subjects covered in the course include bidding, research, negotiating, planning with the family and general project-management techniques. Participants also said the chance to network and share ideas with others in the field was invaluable.

The next Residential Integrator School is scheduled for Sept. 22 to 26 in San Diego. The course costs $900 for one student and $800 for additional students. It will be offered again Nov. 3 to 7 as well as several times next year, although no dates had been set as of press time.

In addition to the Residential Integrator School, Home Controls also sponsors Connect Home, a national dealer network and certification program for seasoned home integrators.