Comtel Systems, Sunnyvale, Calif., has been in business since 1982. It employs about 100 people and does virtually all types of low-voltage work. Comtel tends to specialize in physical security (access control, data surveillance, alarms), nurse call and public address. It does the majority of its work for the healthcare, education and commercial markets.
Comtel credits much of its success to training its employees, project partners and customers.
Employee training occurs in two ways: internally and from the manufacturers with which Comtel does business.
Manufacturer training actually starts with the company’s initial selection of manufacturer/vendor partners, which are listed on its website.
“Our brand is to make sure we provide value to our clients over long-term relationships, so we want to make sure our vendors are well-established in the marketplace and that they can bring value to the clients we work with,” said Chris Hyndman, Comtel sales manager. “We want to make sure that their business model harmonizes with ours.”
The company works closely with its manufacturing partners to ensure employees receive the training they need. This includes training tailored for the company’s product specialists, sales reps/specialists, electronic technicians and service/maintenance technicians.
“For example, sales reps receive technical training but also receive specific sales and marketing training from the manufacturers,” Hyndman said.
“Our people receive training when they first come on board with us,” said Andrea Nielsen, vice president. “They also receive continuing training, as the manufacturers’ products continue to develop with new technology.”
Comtel’s belief is that its people are most productive and successful in the field when they have the highest level of training.
“As such, we want to make sure we have the correct team members in place in the field to deploy the programs and projects and that they have the proper training for this,” Hyndman said.
Of course, the company does not arrange to have everyone in training at the same time.
“We want to make sure we have enough people out in the field to do the work,” Hyndman said.
In terms of its internal training, Comtel uses the train-the-trainer strategy.
“We have core focus groups, where our specialists in certain systems share their knowledge and best practices,” Nielsen said.
“One strength is that we have a lot of people with a lot of longevity,” Hyndman said. “We have some people who have been here 20 and 30 years. They have learned a lot not only through formal training but from their own experience in the field.”
To provide training for its project partners, Comtel offers programs on building codes, life safety requirements, OSHPD (California Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development) and more.
“We have learned about these requirements from our own experience,” Nielsen said. “We have also taken some online classes.”
Comtel shares the relevant information with its project partners through lunch-and- learn programs.
Of course, while training employees and partners is critical, customer training—the “third leg of the stool”—is equally important. For all of its customers, Comtel offers on-site training modules that include training for basic users, “super users,” administrators and site engineers. It also makes that training available in video format after the initial training, so that clients can review it as needed. When it is appropriate, Comtel can also connect a customer’s on-site engineer directly to factory-certification programs for additional training.
Comtel offers its customers how-to guides. Nielsen said the company creates these guides, and, in some cases, the guides begin with basic information from the manufacturers and then Comtel tailors it to the client’s needs.
Beyond standard training, Comtel also has dedicated trainers that work specifically with healthcare, education and commercial clients.
“We have a particular focus on healthcare and education, primarily because of the detailed code requirements in those areas,” Hyndman said. “In some cases, besides having our own dedicated trainers provide this specialized training, we may also arrange for factory-certified training for the clients. We see a lot of this in the healthcare environment because the systems are extremely sophisticated and powerful. For clients to receive the full benefit of the systems, they need this specialized training.”
Training in action
Part of Comtel’s process with clients is a needs assessment. For example, if it is installing technology for nurse use in a hospital, Comtel’s engineering staff will meet with the nurses, the nurse management team and others to develop a process and method by which they will use these sophisticated systems.
“We collaborate with them very closely such that, when the project is delivered, they have a customized solution that works well with their workflows and needs in their specific departments,” Hyndman said. “Recently, we did one of these projects and received very positive feedback from the hospital related to the level of due diligence we did during the needs assessment. They were also very pleased with the way we administered all of the ‘go-live’ training.”