Every AV system project comes with risk. As consultants, we recognize there may be significant unfamiliarity and even considerable anxiety when it comes to selecting and hiring an AV contractor, or systems integrator as they’re often described today.
When private money is in play, it’s a common temptation to skip the professional consultants and choose to work directly with a design/build integrator. But buyer beware: not all systems integrators are created equally.
Paraphrasing what many have said, “I was put in charge of finding an AV contractor and I have little or no idea how to pick one, or what to look for. I’m just hoping that whoever we select knows what they’re doing and won’t rip us off.”
Sound familiar? If so, this article will provide guidelines on how integrators can and should manage and minimize the main, definable risk factors. These risks are often not recognized, understood or openly discussed before signing a contract. They should be.
Even if you plan to hire a professional AV or acoustical consultant, and send your project out for bids, many of the concepts outlined below hold true. Why? Because accepting the low-bid price is rarely the best plan. Again, why? Because even though they may “qualify” on paper, those firms that have the lowest overhead (read: least invested in providing a full spectrum of quality people, products and services) will almost always come in with the lowest bid.
We believe AV integration project risk can be distilled into these three main categories: Technical, non-technical, and intangible. Here we’ll focus on the technical aspect and will discuss the other two in subsequent articles.
Technical risks are those involving the specification, integration, and application of modern AV technology. Today, this is an ever-evolving landscape of compatible and incompatible digital formats and standards. To properly address a customer’s technical needs and risks, we believe the following elements play an important role.
Design & Engineering Team
Does the integrator employ one or more (in house) systems designers and engineers with formal degrees and/or specialized training certifications? Do they use the latest computer-aided design, modeling, and documentation tools such as AutoCAD, Revit, EASE (Figure 1) and Modeler, along with any other proprietary software?
The recommended approach is to fully engineer all projects. This includes 2D and 3D drawings for conduit, backbox and power layouts, rigging details, a certified structural review when applicable, single line diagrams, rack elevations, and plate and panels details.
While using the tools and techniques listed above are common practices for AV consultants, architects, and many of the better general contractors, we realize many end users have never been involved in the intimate details of a construction project and aren’t accustomed to looking at construction specifications and drawings.
The best design/build contractors strive to present their intended integration solutions in ways the general public can easily understand. Customers should be allowed to see their project on paper, or in a computer model as a wireframe, rendering, or virtual walk-though, before it’s built. This allows questions, changes, conflicts, and mistakes to be addressed and resolved early so they cause minimal disruption; resulting in a project that’s more likely to be completed on time and on budget.
During the design development phase of a project, the design team should be able and willing to prepare proof-of-concept drafts to help the client see how some critical decisions are determined. For example, explaining and drawing or modeling sight-line studies (Figure 2), or drawing projection cones to help the customer understand projection conflicts. These “schematic drawings” may or may not need to be included in the formal construction drawings, but they provide valuable information during the project development.