Why Use a Consultant?

consulting

My first direct engagement with the AV consulting world was in 2015. I was working in the AV/broadcast technology integration business when one of my financial services clients decided to hire an AV consulting company for its very large NYC project ($1 billion total project budget with a $100 million AV budget). I had never worked directly with any AV consulting company before as all my projects were direct design/build to the end users, typically under $500,000. The consulting company became the conduit between all the different vendors on the project (architect, GC, system integrator, electrician, security, etc.) and all the separate client departments (executive support team, facilities team, real estate, AV, IT, etc.).

There are many different types of consultants, such as Telecom, IT, environmental, audiovisual, business services, etc. and different reasons to hire one (or more). Many focus on different vertical markets, such as broadcast, financial services, higher education, hospitality, medical, sports and others. I spoke to several consultants from various regions and slightly different focuses to better understand their businesses.

Jesse Edgel from 4B Technology (Utah)

The main value of 4B Technology is its exposure to multiple applications and specialization in various vertical markets, such as higher ed, corporate and retail. Integration is a huge part of the company’s process. It has four CTS-D designers on staff. They lower stress by having experiences that clients or integrators do not have.

Henry Mestre and Yunyi Liu from AKRF (NYC)

AKRF takes an operational point of view — design thinking, focusing on end-user experience, approaching projects via science, equipment agnostic and leveraging projects to success. One of its main focuses is acoustics. AKRF’s consultants will lead the whole system design with a complete understanding of what exactly is needed. The team looks at the audio system, BOM and how the acoustics are going to be handled in the room.

In digital signage/wayfinding or a software management system, AKRF consultants layer different info and will be fully aware of the results (which include a lot more details than just a display or projector on a wall). They focus on three layers — operation, physical and functional — using system engineering concepts. For example, the operational layer — they know how to update and operate the system.

They provide processes for the effort and details of the design thinking approach, create the BOM and diagrams for construction as well as bid leveling to vendors for the best price/experience. They utilize audio with a real-time analyzer (RTA), which is more detailed than others. They close out the project and make sure the documentation is available, such as the as-built drawings and pass it along to the managed services vendor. They ensure the project follows the SOW and stays on budget and within the agreed-upon timeline. They also convert the requirements into engineering specifications. Once you get engineering into usable specifications, then the system integrator receives that information. They get maximum usage of the project, by using a layer of creative thinking, having expertise, PMO, engineering and lifecycle, construction, SOW and following best practices throughout the project.

Alexander Good from CTDG Inc. (MD)

Alexander has been a functioning member of the consultant design team for a number of years. The design team bounces ideas off one another to choose the best solution, not a cookie-cutter one. The team treats each project as a unique space and tries to understand the end users’ goals 5-10 years in the future. They repurpose spaces that need flexible infrastructure, and their focus has been in the following industries: government, higher ed and healthcare (with a lot of repeat work). Their value includes assisting in the procurement efforts, such as contract management. They help other vendors understand their clients’ vision(s).

Matthias Brendler from TAD Associates (NYC)

Tad Associates’ focus is specific to content, storytelling and thoughtfulness to help sell projects, utilizing real-time evolving content, leveraging potential of investment and planning out initiative versus pure media projects. Matthias mentioned the overall digital experience design (DXD) and defining endpoints — they depend on the origin of the project, real estate or IT.

He said people have a fixed notion of screens versus endpoints and technology used; TAD follows a specific process while checking assumptions, like LCD or LED and specifying correct technology. It helps clients re-think what the right spend is and the purpose of the project. It also provides the “glue” that connects all these moving parts together while making sure the whole project functions properly. The company believes that procedural content is more valuable than video. TAD creates economical video experiences and knows how to keep content fresh by using real-time data, brand or product value of the client.

Scott Walker from Waveguide (GA)

Waveguide’s value includes multiple services under one roof, such as structured cable, acoustics, workplace analytics, programming, smart buildings, user journey, smart workday, etc. Expertise in these takes many years to develop — integration companies are not an expert on all of these things. For example, medical equipment and AV/IT of medical facilities are completely different from data simulation for an oil and gas client. Working in niche markets is tough for a more broadly focused design/build integrator to have the right expertise. Typically, there is a 2-3-year design phase until the integrators get to a BOM, unless they charge for consultant fees. Waveguide has had a large design business for the last 18 years, with 150 employees at 50 clients’ sites, running many meetings for clients.

Under an MSA, they get all the bid jobs in Europe, and understand what local consultants will charge, in conjunction with their partners. Scott mentioned that consultancy is more global, whereas a system integrator is focused more on regional or local. He also said major cities use consultants more often than rural areas, although complex projects are everywhere. In other areas, architects only had the choice to use integrators.

My Key Takeaways

Some consultants provide additional services, such as programming, but most provide project design/engineering/management and rely on technology integrators to procure the hardware/software, provide the labor (union / non-union) and level-two support services (remote and/or on-site). To wrap up, I’ll mention that there was a lot of similar value that each consultant mentioned. These are some of most valuable takeaways from all my conversations:

  1. Knowing each state or country’s regulations, such as ADA Compliance.
  2. Utilizing a 3D marketing tool, like Revit from Autodesk, which provides a very high level of accuracy across all design disciplines (clients may have to spend more money upfront but will save a lot of money in project coordination prior to project starting).
  3. Typically, the consultant’s value includes being a third-party entity, not influenced by any GC or manufacturer.
  4. They act as a fiduciary of clients and help to apply said clients’ money in correct ways.
  5. AV integration companies typically do not support owner-procured equipment.
  6. There is usually a discussion with the end user to determine what equipment they can accept, based on lead times, any risks to the project and can suggest alternatives from different integrators.
  7. Consultants stay involved in the process to ensure the integrator fulfills the design they were chosen to complete.
  8. A recent trend from GC/developers is to order everything they can ASAP — sometimes holding equipment for two years.
  9. Design consultants are better for larger corporations and longer-term projects by using multiple disciplines.
  10. Competitive bidding goes through a pure consultant; integrators that produce a competitive bid should be excluded from bidding their own work
  11. There are multiple vendors and contractors within the AV and IT space — including mechanical, electrical, and architectural, etc. within a distributed development cycle as they focus on their own specialty; consultants can ensure they are all on the same page.
  12. Consultants work on the evolution of systems, not only designing a specific space but can make it scalable for future growth.
  13. Projects need to be well planned in the early stages as the pace of technology is always evolving quickly; since many consultants are not attached to specific technology or vendors, this allows them to future-proof their design.
  14. Consultants can address the purpose and how-to of the project, advise on how to move forward and what is trending with vendors, manufacturers or integrators, what can or can’t be done and what is available, and perhaps privy to info that others are not from stakeholders (active clients who pay for the system) or not active stakeholders but have a direct impact (end users).
  15. Consultants provide a level of research and development for different clients, not just a system build.
  16. Cutting edge or unique to their business, consultants can build AV for best practices, using different technologies for best results.
  17. Vendors can create products from consultants.
  18. Consultants can provide their valuable intellectual property and keep on consulting and will survive whereas system integrators are more affected by equipment shortages.

As always, here is a link with definitions to some key terms used in this article.