Training camp for the soon-to-be merged Tele-CommunicationsInc.-AT&T Corp. team will consist of a heavy dose of advanced installation,engineering and technical classes.
The blending of their two distinct cultures is promptingboth companies to include the cross-training of engineers, technicians and new hires.
The companies feel that they need to boost the knowledgebase of engineers and technicians -- especially installers -- providing them with a primeron the many nuances of the new procedures and services that are inherent with the mergedcompanies.
The TCI-AT&T team in Fremont, Calif., is leading thecross-training strategy based on firsthand experience with its joint telephony/cable trialin the San Francisco Bay area. The unit is working with consulting group RTK, focusing oninstallation and product-features training, said Doug Daut, director of technical trainingfor TCI's West division.
Daut said TCI-West will hire seven new trainers to handlethe surge in classes that are needed to upgrade installers, call-center personnel andengineers on the various technologies and installation procedures that both companiesbring to the table.
Yet according to TCI, drilling this cross-section ofpersonnel will require more than just additional trainers.
"We have to provide a level of service at thefield-operations level, and the telephony side is completely new to us," said GeorgeSimon, vice president of training and education for TCI. "We must also provideadvanced training for service installations and maintenance. We have the same challengeson the Internet side."
AT&T and TCI are also working together at call centersin Arizona and Missouri to better understand the local loop and the 18 product servicesthat are available to customers.
"We're learning from AT&T about switchednetworks and how they work, and about how the central office works," Daut said."We're just taking the first steps in training for these areas."
TCI/AT&T will use @Home Network's"single-installer" model for training and installation, Simon said. This methoduses one install for both cable and telephony products and services, adding an element ofexpertise not usually found among telephony or cable employees.
"We need employees of high quality with computer andtelephony skills. Our primary focus is to have trained resources at that level, all ofthem TCI employees," Simon said.
The TCI-AT&T training strategy is three-pronged:
First, it will train in-house employees to supportits 1999 market launches.
Second, employees will be trained on home hardwaresuch as power supply, phone hookups, phone units and the difference between fiber backboneconnected to the local loop and coaxial/twisted pair. Training on integrated phone/cableservice will also be included.
The third step, Simon said, is in-field experience.
The advanced training sessions will be taught mainly in theclassroom, using a multimedia approach that allows explanations, demonstrations and aperformance component, Simon added.
AT&T, Simon noted, is actively involved in the Fremonttrial and training strategy -- particularly in back-office procedures such as billing forphone, Internet and cable services.
"These are the types of handoffs that AT&T hasprovided us. We've been training their people and they've been training ours onthese procedures, and that will continue," he said.
However, expanding an employee's knowledge base -- andthat employee's understanding of the often quirky and confusing technologies used byconverged companies such as AT&T and TCI -- can be a daunting challenge.
"We have to understand what we can provide withmerging skill sets," Simon said. "We have to run a business while we'reconducting new skills training."
In the meantime, AT&T is conducting "Telephony1A" classes in TCI's Bay-area market, which consists of 1.5 million subscribers.
Daut sees yet another training challenge once the convergedcompany moves beyond the installation phase. "Now that we're filling up thereturn path, we have to focus on advanced technology for return-path mitigation," hesaid.
That focus has led to the development of TCI's Fremontlab, which allows training sessions to be held in a hands-on, real-world environment.
AT&T trainers and employees will soon join thattraining.
"The lab curriculum is expanding across the country.Thus far, the AT&T people have been involved in the real-life lab -- our cablesystem," Daut added.