You work for an AV Integrator and get a call from a potential new client. They are building a new state of the art facility and ask you to help them design the AV system. You are psyched. You meet the designated technology point person at the jobsite with the GC to do a job walk. You walk through the space, asking questions about how they will use each area, noting ceiling heights and types, evaluating infrastructure, taking dB readings, and measuring ambient light. You thank the team and head back to home base to arrange all of your data points and come up with a cutting edge system design.
There’s only one problem.
You just walked the wrong jobsite.
Well actually you walked half of the jobsite. You have all the physical data you need to design a system that is technically sound. You have an idea of what the company thinks they want from the technology liaison. However, you have little idea of how this company actually works.
The jobsite you should have walked first is their current facility. Seeing the company in action, and observing a day in the life of the employees and executives there will give you as the integrator the information you need to actually design a system that works for the company’s unique needs.
Here are 5 tips for designing AV Systems that may just take your integration firm to the next level and set you apart from the competition, assuring that the system you design and install, actually improves communications and efficiency for your customer.
1) Remember you are not in the business of selling electronic equipment.
Unfortunately, there is still some legacy mindset out there that perpetuates the idea that integrators are dealers of electronic equipment. You are not. Amazon is in the business of selling electronic equipment. Best Buy is in the business of selling electronic equipment. Integrators are NOT. If you think you are, you will either lose jobs or lose all your profits trying to compete.
2) Sit in on a meeting.
One of the best things you as an integrator can do when designing an AV system for a client is to observe them in action. AV is not about equipment, as I said above, but about communication and workflow. Ask your client if you can sit in on one of their meetings in their current boardroom or conference room. I guarantee an hour in that room during an actual live meeting can tell you more than the architect’s reflected ceiling plan about what needs to go in there.
Watch as the presenter has trouble connecting his laptop to the display or as the fumble for the right adapter. Take notes when another group walks into the room halfway through, not realizing the space was already occupied/reserved. Watch attendees reach for their glasses or space out altogether when the 12 point font on the display becomes nearly invisible at 20 feet away. Listen for feedback and intelligibility in the audio, watch for stalling and freezing in the VTC conference, and pay attention when they start taking iPhone photos of flip charts for distribution after the meeting.
3) Take a tour.
Attending a meeting is the first step, but always take a tour as well. We all know that AV touches many other systems that we may or may not install/be responsible for. It is our job however to help the client understand the opportunities to unite these systems. Taking a tour of the facility can help you not only evaluate how they use their existing AV systems for paging, masking, digital signage, emergency notification, etc., but also to give you an idea of where other systems are expected to connect in, or could be used to create a better experience.
Walking through the warehouse to see the manager make 3 trips back and forth to see who is at the back door easily lends itself to suggesting a camera at that door and a display at his desk. Look for security keypads, access control systems, and existing camera systems. Ask to see how they utilize them and talk to the facilities manager about his impressions of ease of use and maintenance. There is a lot you can get from a tour. Ask for one every time.
4) Ask questions about their current system and experiences.
A lot of them. Then listen. This may seem basic, but I don’t know how many times I’ve seen systems designed around what the customer has bought in the past, without asking if they even like it. Just because there is Polycom, Crestron, etc. in a current facility, doesn’t mean it should automatically make its way into the new scope of work. As you see existing AV equipment in the existing facility ask how they like it. Ask them to elaborate on what could work better.
5) Don’t lead their answers.
Many make the mistake of seeing one of their preferred brands and making a comment like “Oh, I see you have a Polycom system. That is great equipment and we’re a dealer for that as well.” What do you think the chances are of that client then telling you that they haven’t exactly been elated with the set up? Unless the experience has been terrible, they will probably not mention their annoyances and you will deliver the same experience as their last vendor. If you were the last vendor, still ASK the question. Let them know that technology changes, that every building and design is unique, and it’s OK for them to express how they would like things to work better/differently in their new facility. Check your ego with your coat when you walk in.
Most of us who have been on the integration side of the business can remember at least one occasion where we have installed a beautifully designed system with high quality equipment, finishing the job on-time, on budget, and handing over all of our final deliverables, only to find that the system is NOT what the customer expected. They may even go so far as to say “This System Sucks”.
We then have to explain that we delivered exactly what was on the scope of work and the sales order, and try to convince the customer that they got what they paid for. At some point we get a final check and somehow see that as evidence of a job well done. Then we are surprised when we are either thrown back into a bid process for the next job with no real leg up on the competition or, even worse, left out of the process altogether.
How do we avoid this situation in the future?
Walk the right jobsite.