Your company is planning on building a new headquarters. After years of being under-equipped at your current location, you know exactly what will be needed from an AV standpoint. More conference rooms, display capabilities in all of them, some videoconferencing, IP-based AV asset management, simple-to-use control systems, and better than normal teleconferencing are just some of the requirements of your users.
What do you do now? Start by asking these five questions of a potential AV provider:
1 Is this AV provider technically capable of implementing the type of systems you require?
2 Where are they headquartered, and how many people do they employ?
3 If the project is a union job, does this integrator have union personnel?
4 Can this integrator provide references and take you to visit other projects they've completed?
5 Do the local consulting firms recommend them?
Of course, there are many more things to think about, but these five questions will help you separate the companies that will say "yes" to any question you pose to them from those who can provide thoughtful, convincing answers. If you select a vendor who commits to everything, but can't actually deliver it, you will find yourself in a costly situation to buy yourself out of.
- Technical capability is usually something any enthusiastic representative of a businesshungry integrator will claim, but be wary; ask for examples. If you give an overly technical project to an under-qualified integrator, you could run into problems. One method of avoiding this to require that integrators are "authorized dealers" for the products they install. They should also employ technicians who have several certifications. Many manufacturers provide substantial training to the integrators and technicians who will be installing their products. In fact, most of these courses are offered at minimal expense to licensed dealers. There are many good programs, but here are some examples of these certifications:
- Crestron Authorized Independent Programmer (CAIP)
- Tandberg Certified Product Expert (TCPE)
- InfoComm's Certified Technology Specialist (CTS)
- Certified Technical Specialist in AV Design (CTS-D)
- AMX Certified Expert (ACE)
- Extron Certified AV Associate
- BICSI's Registered Communications Distribution Designer (RCDD)
- Polycom Certified Service Partner (CSP) and Certified Videoconferencing Engineer (CVE)
It's best to use an AV provider who is located near your project, and has the staff size to support it. I am often approached by companies who are located several states away from one of my projects, and it always surprises me that they think it is feasible to install and support a system from afar. When your system has a problem, you are not going to want to wait for a technician to hop on an airplane to come and fix it. You should always ask how many actual technicians an integrator has, how many technicians they may subcontract, and where they are located.
A company can have the best project managers, the best account execs, or even the best owner, but all those things are meaningless when it comes down to actually installing and supporting your systems.
Labor unions are a reality of life in the world of construction. If you use a non-union integrator and they set foot on a union jobsite, you run the risk of having many of the other skilled trades walk out on the job. Many integrators say "Oh yeah, we will just have the electrician pull our wires to get around that." However, oftentimes that does not work. For example, the electrician wants to make more money by selling labor to pull wires, so they will gladly perform this task for a non-union integrator. But when the drywallers find this out, they won't be happy and they could walk off the job! Always ask an integrator if they have completed any projects similar to yours, and if they have references. Can they actually take you to the job and let you inspect their work? This is a crucial qualifier because it allows you to verify their capabilities. If you go to a completed project, don't just look at the front of the racks, the mics on a conference table, or a touchpanel. Ask to see the wiring behind the rack or under the conference table. Is the wiring dressed, terminated and labeled properly?
Towards the end of your visit, ask to see all of the "as-built" documentation for the project. This should be provided or stored somewhere safe and readily available for every project. Think of as-built documentation as the owner's manual for the system. If it's not provided, repairs or future upgrades can be much more difficult and
Finally, it's important to determine if the AV provider is recommended by local AV consulting firms. At our firm, we often get phone calls asking for references and we always recommend the AV providers who have never failed us.
We are always happy to do this for people who take the time to contact us, but we encourage people to perform
their own due diligence.
The task of selecting an integrator for your project is not simple, and it will require some legwork, but finding a good quality contractor is priceless when it comes to AV projects. There is not a lot of room for error, and you can save yourself a lot of aggravation and expense by starting with the five questions.
Joey D'Angelo is a principal consultant with Charles M. Salter Associates in San Francisco, CA, and specializes in AV/telecommunication systems.
Joey is also a musician in a punk rock band where he plays guitar and performs lead vocals. He can be reached at