Partnership and training programs keep contractors on track

Whether a system is made of components from partnering vendors or is a single-vendor end-to-end channel, opportunities for education and training on system installation are many.

From the June, 2013 Issue of Cabling Installation & Maintenance Magazine

Whether a system is made of components from partnering vendors or is a single-vendor end-to-end channel, opportunities for education and training on system installation are many.

by Patrick McLaughlin

In the spring of 2013 two long-standing cable-and-connectivity vendor partnerships dissolved, and two new partnerships emerged. NetClear, the partnership that included Berk-Tek (www.berktek.com) and Legrand Ortronics (www.legrand.us); and NextLAN, the partnership that included Superior Essex (www.superioressex.com) and Leviton Network Solutions (www.levitonnetworksolutions.com), both ended. Shortly after the respective announcements of these dissolutions, the four vendors involved established new partnerships. The newly established partnerships are titled Berk-Tek Leviton Technologies (www.berkteklevitontechnologies.com), which includes its namesake companies, and nCompass (www.ncompass-systems.com), which includes Legrand and Superior Essex.

When the former partnerships announced their dissolutions, each was sure to address the issue of customer warranties. A joint statement from Berk-Tek president Paul Trunk and Legrand Data Communications president Mark Panico ensured, "Our first priority, as it has been for the past 15 years, is to assure you, our valued customer, that we are committed to delivering world-class quality products and services throughout this transition period, even as we wind down our alliance activities," adding the companies "will stand behind all existing NetClear warranties. Additionally, we are both committed to supporting ongoing offers of NetClear warranties on qualifying solutions," made from the time the announcement was made until the partnership officially ended on May 19.

Similarly, a statement from Leviton Network Solutions announcing the end of NextLAN said, "A key element of the collaboration was the qualification of Superior Essex cabling as eligible to receive Leviton's limited lifetime product and performance system warranties. Leviton Network Solutions supports its customers and stands behind its warranties. Thus we offer our assurance to our certified contractors and their customers that we will continue to honor existing product and performance warranties for Leviton/Superior Essex installations in accordance with the terms and conditions that were in place at the time of issuance.

"Leviton Network Solutions has always managed the submittal, approval and issuance of system warranties for our certified contractors and their customers," the statement continued, "and we will continue to provide those services in the future."

A separate statement from Leviton Network Solutions vice president and general manager Ross Goldman offered "assurance to our customers that Leviton will continue to support limited lifetime warranties on new installations where Leviton/Superior Essex is specified for the foreseeable future, per our existing warranty terms and conditions."

Program administration

In both of these cases, it was the partnership's connectivity manufacturer, as opposed to the cable manufacturer, that administered the warranty program. That has remained the case now that the partnership alignments are Berk-Tek/Leviton Network Solutions and Legrand/Superior Essex.

Leviton Network Solutions institutes a certified contractor program that it describes as all-inclusive, and which it says "is tailored to provide relevant training on networking standards and installation practices, and establish strong working relationships with contractors who have made a commitment to use quality products and represent the latest in structured cabling technologies."

The program includes certain eligibility requirements that include certain amounts of training as well as company experience and resources. Applicants for the company's Premier Network Installer program must also demonstrate capabilities to use computer-aided design (CAD) programs and maintain a certain number of BICSI-certified Registered Communications Distribution Designers (RCDDs) on staff depending upon the contractor's total number of technicians under employ.

Likewise, Legrand administers a contractor certification program called ConCert. Lylette Macdonald, director of training and contractor programs for Legrand North America Data Communications, explains, "Since the contractor certification program began in the 1990s, training has been a major component. The goal of the ConCert Contractor training program is to make sure certified contractors have enough experienced managers and installation technicians who understand current industry standards, know how to apply those standards to maximize project design, and will ensure technicians follow installation best practices for copper, optical fiber and Layer Zero infrastructure management--which includes Ortronics, Cablofil, Wiremold and Superior Essex installation practices." Ortronics, Cablofil and Wiremold are Legrand brands; Layer Zero, as Legrand explains, "encompasses the entire physical infrastructure that supports your network--not only racks and cabinets with advanced cable management, but aisle containment, underfloor and overhead systems, pathway solutions and more."

Legrand provides a training program, including a two-day management-certification course and a two-part technician certification course. "The management certification training is provided with a two-day live class that covers current industry standards, emerging technology updates, project design and installation review of best practices using many project examples," MacDonald notes. "Knowledge checks are incorporated throughout the training by the Legrand corporate trainer. This is a 14-hour event and BICSI CECs [continuing education credits] are available for this course. The certification must be renewed every five years."

Certified technician training includes a seven-module online course and a one-day hands-on training session. MacDonald says, "The e-certification online course takes an average of seven hours to complete with knowledge checks at the end of each module. The live certification training class is a 6.5-hour hands-on installation practice course with a test administered at the end of the class."

Once certified, an individual has the opportunity to remain up-to-date on technological developments via several Legrand information channels.

End-to-end systems

These two cases are pointed out here because of the recent changes in their respective system-partnership statuses. However, every major branded structured cabling system--whether it combines components from multiple vendors or is a single-vendor end-to-end system--is accompanied by learning/training opportunities and in most cases some level of contractor certification and/or loyalty program. Generally speaking, a contractor that has achieved the highest level of training and certification from a system vendor or partnership is able to offer the highest level of warranty on that branded system.

As one example, TE Connectivity (www.te.com) offers a Netconnect Design and Installation (ND&I) contractor program as well as a TrueNet Value Added Reseller (VAR) program. While these programs have their specialized training and education requirements for qualification, TE Connectivity also offers an additional level of contractor program specific to its Quareo managed-connectivity hardware.

As the company explains, "Quareo delivers unrivaled visibility and comprehensive reporting of the physical layer for enhanced network availability, access and control." ND&I contractors and TrueNet VARs have the opportunity to become certified to resell TE Quareo Hardware systems. "Online training courses are self-paced," the company says, "making it convenient to learn and be certified to plan, design, implement, commission, manage and maintain Quareo in the customer's network." TE Connectivity encourages its certified ND&I contractors and its VARs to partner with systems integrators also certified by TE "for a truly differentiated customer network solution."

CommScope's (www.commscope.com) contractor program, called PartnerPro, is established for the company's different product sets including the Systimax and Uniprise structured cabling product lines as well as Andrew wireless systems, in-building wireless, broadband cabling and others.

The training program behind this contractor program is the CommScope Infrastructure Academy, which has existed since Systimax was an AT&T brand. James Donovan, CommScope's vice president of digital marketing and education services, heads the academy. He recalls that the academy was founded at a time when even industry standards were hard to come by. Though it was not called the CommScope Infrastructure Academy at that time, the education and training program was instituted because "we needed a training group to educate people on how and why, and what to do to make cabling systems fit a network."

It matured into the type of contractor-training program commonly recognized today. Approximately six years ago, Donovan, notes, CommScope recognized "the danger of it just being seen as a program where people show up, get the box, and get their badge." He said the company came to the realization that, "If we're going to use the word ‘partner,' let's make sure that contractors are going to get something out of it." As they re-examined their approach, considerations included simplifying the program, and growing the program from what it had traditionally been. Donovan relates that one realization made during this process was that, "One-size-fits-all is not really true. Designing a data center is not the same as an office building. We used our engineering expertise to help our partners get into networks and be representatives for their customers." As such, he says, they turned the training that had been formulated as a program requirement, "into something students don't just have to learn, they want to learn."

One of the major steps in what Donovan describes as the "re-energizing" of the academy was the expansion of online course offerings. "We knew that for hands-on tasks like terminating a connector, you need to be in a room with somebody," he says. "But there is a lot more than that--theory, standards," and other information that can be relayed online at the student's convenience. "We need to offer a program that is worldwide, ensuring it is consistent, accurate, and up-to-date," he adds.

Perhaps more than anything else, the program had to represent value for the contractors investing in it. "The academy is really its own business," Donovan comments. "Contractors are stakeholders. Everything we did [in revamping the academy] had to be driven by value.

"We've made this a program that is usable and an educational platform for students," Donovan notes. "We offer courses in 16 languages. Contractors in France and Germany want to be spoken to in their native language. This comes out of the strategy that we're going to help our partners." ::

Patrick McLaughlin is our chief editor.

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