SCTE Expo attracts 10,000 attendees: Hayes re-elected to chairman post

Last month, Keith Hayes was elected to serve a second term as the chairman of the board of directors of the Society of Cable and Telecommunications Engineers.

Hayes, the chief operating officer of Gibson Technical Services, goes into his second term following a year in which the SCTE expanded its standards program and significantly revamped its certification program to more accurately reflect how workforces are deployed and how networks are operated. SCTE has launched an Internet-based version of the program, allowing for more flexible scheduling and less stringent proctor requirements.

"We expect testing opportunities to be much more frequent and much easier on the people who are interested in implementing their skills," Hayes notes.

Though SCTE made progress on several fronts over the last year, Hayes says that the Society still has challenges ahead of it, including developing programs related to DOCSIS 1.1 and Voice-over-Internet Protocol rollouts. "I think [DOCSIS 1.1 and VoIP] are going to be a huge focus for standards and training," Hayes said.

SCTE also re-elected William David of Communications Supply Group as its treasurer; Steve Allen of Kramer.Firm Inc. as western vice chairman; Bob Foote of Arris as eastern vice chairman; and Wes Burton of AT&T Broadband as secretary.

CED caught up with Hayes immediately following this year's Expo to discuss his thoughts on the industry and SCTE's role. An edited transcript follows.

CED: What's your view and impressions of the 2002 Cable-Tec Expo that just concluded?

Hayes: While this was not quite the largest Expo, I believe I saw more happy faces than I have ever seen there. The sessions were well attended, the topics seemed to be very appropriate and people were getting a lot out of them. The traffic on the floor was very good from not only my perspective as the chairman, but as a booth renter.

Everyone I talked to was very impressed with not only the quantity, but the quality of people. For example, on the last day the floor was open, I saw three CTOs out on the floor. So the people who are making decisions are definitely putting the research effort in and seeing what products were out there, what services were new and available and learning everything they could while the opportunity was there.

I don't know that jubilant is the right word, but it was a very positive event, from everything I have heard.

CED: What are your goals for the coming 12 months as chairman of SCTE?

Hayes: I try to operate things as a team effort with lots of input from everybody to make sure we're doing all we can for the Society and the industry as a whole. So my goals are team goals and Society goals. The most exciting thing going is the new certification programs that were launched at (this year's) Cable-Tec Expo. They are a huge improvement in the way the certification programs are designed. For example, a line technician who only works on the outside plant from the node to the tap can get certified in that particular section of the network. We've never had that. It took a while to put it together, but it appears from the feedback that it's hitting the bulls-eye.

CED: So it puts the certification more in line with what people actually do on a day-to-day basis?

Hayes: Yes. For example, to become a certified BCT/E, you had to pass a test in seven different areas, of which you might only be working in one of two. So, we functionalized the pieces of the network in the manner the MSOs were typically segregating their workforces. So if you're a headend technician you can get what is now called a broadband telecommunications center specialist certification. In the past, if all you did was headend work, you would have to pass tests on customer premise equipment and distribution systems and five other categories to obtain certification.

We work closely with MSOs to figure out how to best provide cost-effective training for everybody, instead of inventing the wheel six times. We can combine core competencies and then they each can put their individual focus on things that might be of more interest to them. But it makes no sense economically to have six or eight or 10 different training and certification regimens when 80 or 90 percent of the core content is similar or identical.

Given the greater competition that we have from satellite, telephone companies and overbuilders, any costs we can shave off the operators' bottom lines makes the industry stronger as a whole.

CED: We're hearing that MSOs are spending less on training than they were in the past in order to shave costs and improve their bottom lines.

I hear that training has slipped in priority. Are you hearing that?

Hayes: We hear that and feel it to some extent. The training and certification the Society provides is not MSO specific or equipment specific and doesn't have to be done, necessarily, during working hours. Resources are available online and through printed material that can let people learn and further their career and improve their performance without tying up company resources. We've done things like Seminar Central this year that (makes it) possible to go to two, three or four different training seminars on different topics in one place. We're trying to help operators save money, and at the same time, get their employees the training they need.

CED: Have you established a goal to increase the number of SCTE members by next year?

Hayes: I don't have a goal in mind number-wise. I think the industry doesn't always do a good cost trade-off analysis on the efficacy of SCTE training. Let's take a quick example. It costs $48 a year for national membership. That gets you typically three training publications–the two trade journals and the Society's Interval. If the technician learns one thing that saves one trouble call over that entire year, he's paid for that membership. If that's valid, we should have 30,000 or 40,000 members. The key thing is that people who want and need that membership are able to get it. Having seen the effects of SCTE training and certification personally, it's an incredible bang for the buck.

We hope we will grow at the same clip or slightly better than the industry as a whole is, particularly as the competition gets tougher. It's going to be absolutely essential that the MSOs use every weapon in their arsenal to make sure people are trained and that they can do the right thing right the first time and not lose customers to the competition.

CED: Looking back over the past year, what are you most proud of?

Hayes: The biggest accomplishment was the expansion of the SCTE standards efforts and the huge acceptance of the need for standards by both the vendors and MSOs. I really think this shows the maturity of the cable industry. The phone industry and the TV industry have had standards for years. We're seeing that with the DOCSIS rollout. Cable modems have gone from $500 to less than $100 in roughly two years. So that's one huge example of how standards can better the industry for MSOs' bottom lines and also the customer.

CED: That brings up a controversial subject I've heard about. There's some grumbling about a lack of certification to go with the standards–not so much with DOCSIS, but in the hybrid management sublayer (HMS) work. Is that a role for SCTE?

Hayes: Typically, the body that 's responsible for the domestic or international promulgation of standards is not the body that tests the equipment to ensure they comply with the standards. That's where a CableLabs or an Underwriters Laboratories comes in. We have a number of different constituencies that we serve, but the focus is on improving life and careers for members, not for being a validator of equipment. It's not in our mission. It would be a fairly significant cost to construct a lab that could test the end-to-end capability of the HMS standard.

CED: What message would you like to communicate to the SCTE membership?

Hayes: The (SCTE) boards I have been privileged to work on over the past several years have had an incredible group of people who volunteer significant amounts of time to make things better for the industry. I'm awed and humbled to be part of a group that has recognized the need for training, standards and certification and is willing to give their personal time and finances to make sure the opportunities are available for people moving forward in the industry.

I think the average SCTE member doesn't realize how easily one member can have a profound influence on the focus of the Society just by communicating needs up through the chapters to the Board. There aren't many layers there between the member and the people working on SCTE programs. I would encourage members to give us ideas, comments and criticisms. It's a responsive group that wants to improve everyone's lot in life.

CED: In this new competitive environment, what's the biggest challenge to success for the industry? What should members be keeping an eye on?

Hayes: Without question, the one word that ensures success is "execution." We cannot let competitors take customers away because we can't install them right, can't repair their service, can't fix their bill or answer their telephone call. The key thing to make sure we execute is to make sure people are trained. Some of that training is MSO specific, but a lot of it can be provided by groups like SCTE, CTAM and others that can do it more cost-effectively because they serve the entire industry, rather than just one group or MSO. Execution, execution, execution–that is the key to success.