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More Risk Management: Additional Factors Of What Churches Should Be Looking For With Systems Integrators

Meeting and exceeding a client's expectations should be the primary goal for every new system project.

In part 1 of this series (also with Dan Nelson), we detailed the technical risks that churches should be aware of when considering AV integrators for hire. But that’s only one aspect – this time we look at risks of a more non-technical nature that are important to understand as well.

Managing Expectations

Meeting and exceeding a client’s expectations should be the primary goal for every new system project. To do so, the integrator must first fully understand those expectations.

In most cases, the overriding expectations are communicated through a list of “functional or operational” goals. The customer wants the system to be able to do this or that. There’s usually nothing “technical” about these goals and expectations.

The contractor’s lead systems designer should turn this list of goals into a scope-of-work (SOW) document, using the customer’s vocabulary whenever possible. The integrator’s design team should be very good at describing ideas, solutions, and systems in plain, non-technical terms.

Figure 1: Two EASE T60 data tables, which can help in working through what/if scenarios such as acoustic treatment for a room. The table at top was comprised prior to proposed acoustic treatment. Notice the low-mid bump between 200 Hz and 1 kHz. The table below shows predicted results with proposed acoustic treatments – notice that the low-mid bump in the top table has been minimized.

Once the integrator has a good understanding of the functional goals and expectations, the company can prepare scope documents, configuration (Figure 1) and cost spreadsheets, charts, models and/or renderings to communicate and confirm the client’s understanding of the system design, functionality, operations, and a rough order of magnitude (ROM) cost.

Limiting the use of technical jargon will increase the customer’s understanding of the project, while rendered 3D drawings help provide a better feel for what a room will look like and how it will function. Mock-ups, equipment demos, and tours of similar systems and/or facilities further help in demonstrating how the final product will perform for them in their applications and environment.

Cost Flexibility

AV project costs can be somewhat flexible. During the first scope development meeting, the owner should expect the designer to ask (presuming they haven’t already) what their budget is for the installed systems. This can be a delicate question, but one that must be asked and answered in some form. If the customer isn’t willing or able to share that information, the designer should offer good-better-best budgetary allowance options based on their experience designing similar systems.

Good designers can design complete systems, at various price points, which provide most if not all the client’s expected functionality. This is possible because various manufacturers sell the same basic functionality at a wide range of price points, so keep in mind – in the pro AV market, you usually get what you pay for. Churches will almost always pay more for added/advanced features and overall component quality, reliability, efficient customer service, and brand-name recognition.

The labor rates, shipping costs, and taxes will vary somewhat based on many local and regional factors, but the differences in equipment cost can range dramatically. For example, a good wireless microphone system might cost $500-$1,000 per channel, while the best wireless systems can run many times more.

Obviously, the more complex the system(s), the more time it takes to design, document, install and commission the project. While labor rates may be different from one company to the next, labor is usually the single most expensive line item for an integrator (due to overhead items like taxes, medical insurance, 401k, etc.). If you need to save significant money, keep the systems as simple and well defined as possible.

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Of course, there are limits to how hard you can squeeze a budget. But if the integrator is operating in a fiduciary manner, an initial good-better-best budgetary ROM might vary +/- 30 to 40 percent, or more, from the mean of the “better” options.

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