In my time as a project manager for users and integrators, I’ve supported many international projects. National projects inside my country — America — follow the practices and customs I know. When I oversee work done in other countries — even multiple countries at once — I have learned to look for specific gotchas. At this moment, COVID roadblocks make almost all of these even more challenging. Those pandemic shifts are ongoing. It seems like a good time to review some best practices for international projects.
Contracts are the start of the project, and they include the amount that the customer will pay. When finalizing the contract, the statement of work should confirm the currency the customer will use to pay. If it’s not specified, get it sorted out and follow up with a written summary in email to avoid a problem down the road. It’s not good to get surprised late in the game with an unprofitable exchange rate.
Design Must Include Local Standards
Other countries might use different standards. The bill of materials for international projects must include the right electrical cables for the location it will be installed. Remind the designer to review to be sure it’s correct and double-check the parts before placing the order.
America uses inches (imperial measurement). Most places use the metric system. The designer needs to confirm that there are no wrong assumptions on measurements.
Gone are the days of Phase Alternating Line (PAL) versus National Television Standards Committee (NTSC), but ask the designer to check for any local AV standards that are different.
Working With Local Resources to Confirm Site Readiness
The designer had to create the SOW and bill of materials from the description the customer provided. This might include photos. But the site’s readiness for install depends on a complete, dust-free environment. Retrofit installations need electrical and structural reinforcements to accommodate the equipment being installed.
The customer will need to send pictures even before the install techs get to the site to verify site readiness. These same photos will show the building materials involved. Are the walls brick or sheetrock? If the photos are inconclusive, ask more questions.
There are building practices specific to regions. The materials in place in those regions will need to be addressed. The local install techs help identify issues and workarounds, and the best tech will communicate persistently to convey the necessary information.
At this time, identify the right IT or technical person from the customer to be on-site to assist. Is a vital IT resource from the customer available at the time needed? Does someone from facilities need to be present? The schedule should not be finalized until the necessary people have confirmed availability.
The work should be given to skilled installers. It’s nice if a set of in-house workers can do it, but it can be cheaper to use local subcontractors. That often means forging a new relationship and being clear on the deliverables and standards of communication. This relationship also has currency questions that must be addressed. Confirm who is handling the insurance requirements — the local resource or the integrator.
It’s nerve-wracking to trust someone new with a favorite customer, but AV is a world-spanning technology, and you must do what it takes to get the best work done.
When choosing an install team, the initial exchange is critical: If I don’t hear from the business partner quickly with a reply showing teamwork, this is a red flag. Emails should be answered in two days at the latest, and they need to include information to move the process forward. Yes, the BP may need to say that they don’t have a necessary bit of information. But, try to help out with more details so the PM can move it along.
I have left one partner to find another one because of a lack of communication. If we are all paying attention and keep communications flowing, we will get there. Long delays and vague requests are not teamwork.
Photos and Google translate are my favorite tools when working with international teams. I will make an effort to find “thank you” in the workers’ language and tell them so via email or text at the conclusion.
Shipping and Receiving
I have to be clear on the timeline for the installation. I can forecast a timeline inside my own country even when equipment is still en route, but I’ve learned that international projects can’t have the schedule confirmed until the gear is on-site.
Once the equipment is ordered, it has to be shipped. Don’t forget about customs. There may need to be specific paperwork for each country, with different signatures required.
Order equipment from the right resource to ship to the work site. The supplier will have to work with a local shipper. Import restrictions can apply to uninterrupted power supplies (UPS), among other things. Check with the lead time from the supplier and the shipper to get a realistic estimate of when the equipment will be on-site.
The gear will also need to be received. The customer contact at HQ might not know the conditions on-site, like the hours and where the equipment is to be stored. Ensure the local contact on-site that the gear gets brought to site and securely stored.
Make sure to clarify that the equipment will be delivered during working hours at the site. Satellite offices can have different holidays or working hours.
Confirm that the elevators have room to carry the equipment or if it needs to be brought up stairs. Stairs can be accommodated with planning. Either the shipper or the install resources can be prepared to do that work.
Remote Resources and Time Zones
The installation day will likely need remote assistance from the programmer and/or the customer IT person bringing the system into their corporate environment. Make sure that the right people are scheduled and available for that time zone. The resources should understand that commissioning can take a long time and make themselves available to bring the system to fully functional.
It helps to set up a communications bridge, and you can ask to confirm the platform choice for this communication. For example, China uses WeChat. The installers will have their preferences, and anything I can do to help keep communication flowing is worth the effort.
Signing Off and Getting to Done
A representative from the customer should make him or herself available for acceptance after the commissioning. Make every effort to arrange for the right resources to be available at the right time to get the systems up and operational. Last-minute shifts in required gear or personnel can be avoided by asking the right questions and sharing information during the project.
Most aspects of an AV integration project are the same wherever it takes place. When it comes to international projects, I have listed a few points to pay attention to so that the project stays on schedule, on budget and delights the customer. There is no doubt our customers need AV worldwide, and this article can help integrators provide it.