In the forthcoming months, you will be treated to a rare breed of trade magazine journalism brought to you by SCN's newest consultant contributor, Joey D'Angelo. He will lead you through the challenges, the minutiae and the triumphs of a real project from start to finish. The intention is to reveal the good, the bad and the ugly aspects of a complex and highly technical endeavor. As D'Angelo puts it, "Sure, it's nice to read about a super spiffy project in an article that glorifies participants with each paragraph, but it might be more educational to take a project, follow it closely, and report everything that happens in an unbiased and truthful way. Whether there is a malfunctioning product, a newly devised solution to a common problem, a stressed installer, an irate client, or a picky consultant, you are going to hear about it right here."
The first project to be examined by D'Angelo involves a high-tech Silicon Valley venture capital firm called Ingenious Partners. (All names of companies and individuals associated with this article have been changed so the real story can be told without fear of litigation.)
Real-estate is highly coveted throughout the technological mecca of Silicon Valley, but the addresses associated with the highest portion of dollars are on Sand Hill Road. This street is home to venture capital firms that helped found companies such as Peoplesoft, Oracle, Apple, eBay, Google and hundreds of other high-tech Silicon Valley companies. Sand Hill Road is where all future high-tech companies go to seek investment after they graduate from working on Mom and Dad's garage.
As a venture capital firm with a prestigious location on Sand Hill Road, Ingenious Partners was a relatively high-profile project for the San Francisco Bay Area. However, in spite of the visibility of this project to all those of a tech-savvy nature, the architect had already developed full construction documents when somebody finally said, "Hey what about the videoconferencing room and the media room?" Typical. As of that moment, it was safe to assume that this project would be one of those super-fast-track love/hate scenarios with which many in the AV industry are all too familiar.
Since the project was fast-tracked, the general contractor, Silicon Construction, decided to rely on a newly founded AV integration firm called Integrated Media Communications (INET Media). Aside from having two different names, INET Media had one thing that Silicon wanted. John Pellhood. Pellhood had recently left one company to work at another company before leaving that company and starting his own company, building a reputation for success along the way. Anyone who is anyone in the AV industry knows that a winning project needs a winning project manager, and that is where Pellhood came into play.
Pellhood's first phone call was to San Francisco's Charles M. Salter Associates to discuss the details of this project with me, your narrator. He said, "Joey, I need you to get in there, work with the client to help them figure out what they want, then work with the architect to integrate and develop an electrical and conduit infrastructure ASAP. Finally, I need you to engineer all the drawings based on the equipment that Ingenious desires."
So there we were on a Saturday morning, sitting in front of Lewis Michael, whose lap happened to be the perfect target for selecting and managing the forthcoming audiovisual systems. Michael was previously a big-wig at EA Sports, and so was fairly familiar with video technology. According to Michael, Ingenious Partners needed a boardroom that could support NTSC/ SECAM/PAL playback, videoconferencing, teleconferencing and PowerPoint presentations. In addition, Ingenious Partners also required a Media Room with a large video display, surround sound and a multitude of auxiliary inputs for a constantly changing array of video game systems. The icing on the cake was some sort of display system in their reception area, and the ability to tie all sources from each room together through a central matrix switcher.
Michael seemed very knowledgeable about all these needs, so it seemed natural to start talking about matrix switchers and bandwidth and component video and RGBHV-you know all the cool things us AV people stay awake at night thinking about. But Pellhood and I resisted the urge to delve too far into that arena, because it's very important to take your time and explain things to a client in a clear and concise manner, without too much "AV techno speak."
The moral of the story this month: A good lesson to take to heart when at kick-off meetings: try to avoid being too technical. No matter how educated a person may be in their particular field you may find yourself being hampered if you employ too much industry terminology. Here are some ideas to keep in mind when starting your next project.
Explain things to your client thoroughly and in an educational manner. Especially when it involves their time and money. This will help them understand what is going on and enable them to make quicker decisions. On a fast-track project, making decisions is very important. If you can't get them from a client, then you can't proceed.
I've also found it good to embrace the fact that whomever you are dealing with at an AV kick-off meeting will usually be either perturbed that they have to deal with the grand afterthought of audiovisual systems, or overly enthusiastic about procuring audiovisual technology. A good project team has to be wary of both traits. You have to comfort the people who already have a full plate, and you have to calm the overly enthusiastic. If you don't comfort people who have become responsible for audiovisual technology, they will tend to stay in the dark ages with regard to AV. If you don't calm the overly enthusiastic, you could find yourself specifying way too much equipment up front, and then having to backtrack due to budget-based realities.
Stay tuned next month, when we take you through the conclusion of the kick-off meeting, the first round of programming and budget shenanigans and the early engineering efforts.