Service Opportunities for Integrators

Tiner's TakeLast month in my column, The Dog Days of Summer, I wrote about a project we did in one of our classrooms. The title of the column spoke a bit about what June and early July is for us in the education world — a bit snoozy. Our budgets don’t start until July 1st, so we can not even order all of our summer equipment until that date. Which means that our work starts in earnest around July 15th.

Despite the fact that we know this reality, we always manage to plan as though we can use all of June and July to do our installs and build up our rooms. So, come July 15th, we are in a straight panic! We have twelve weeks of work to do in about six weeks.

I have always thought that this is a great opportunity for integrators and vendors to jump in and help. For many reasons, it would be a win-win situation. As an integrator, you need to spend time and money training your technicians and installers. One great way to do that would be to allow them to work under people who have been in the field for years and have great experience. We recently made an offer to one of our vendors for this exact type of partnership. We want to manage our own installs, for a variety of reasons. However, we don’t always have the manpower to support multiple installs in a short period of time. Summers are very busy for us, as well as school breaks in December, January, February and April. We asked the vendor, who happens to be a company still getting their feet wet in AV, if they would outsource us their labor. Unfortunately, they were not interested.

I certainly understand the desire to train staff in a specific manner, specifically making sure they get taught the right way to do things. However, in-the-field experience is the most valuable experience of all. At Bates College, both of our AV support people are CTS-certified and our AV engineer is CTS-I certified, with 30-plus years in the business. They are professionals who do high level of work. In our case, the start-up AV company would have had some fabulous technicians to learn from. The best part of this experience would have been the company getting paid by us, for us to train their technicians.

Several years ago, InfoComm christened the Independent Technical Service Providers council. This council is made up of people who do not represent any manufacturer. They simply provide services. These services range from structured cabling, to programming, system design, audio design and installation. The companies in this council are able to come in and provide you the exact service you need. So, for example, if you are doing an upgrade to a sound system in a large classroom, and audio is not your strength, you could contact one of these companies and they would provide you with the design. Due to the fact that they are not selling you the product, they can do the design to your specifications. If audio happens to be your thing, but programming is not, then you could find another company who specializes in audio programming to come in and program your system. Many integration companies are leery to do this type of work. They are concerned about being responsible for a system that “is not theirs.” Again, while I understand the hesitancy of change, I believe it is worth considering.

It is surprising how often we have a need to call on these independent service providers. Like any other business, we have turnover in our staff, which needs to be filled on a temporary basis until a permanent replacement is found. We also have staff who get sick, go on vacation, etc. during times when we need to get work done.  So if you have people on staff in your firm that could fill in at those times, they would get used.

The business model of a successful AV company continues to change. We all know that margins on equipment disappeared years ago, and now many institutions are doing their own installs. Being a flexible business that allows you to adapt to these changes and offer your customers the services they need is what will keep you in business. Sometimes, this flexibility is very uncomfortable, but is what keeps up a strong business relationship. The need for a strong relationship is one thing that has not changed in the business model of a successful company. What do you think? Should more companies offer services like the Independent Technical Services group?