In the AV industry, there two are clear methods and processes for approaching AV projects. There are key players, important roles to fill, and core responsibilities to carry out to ensure a project’s ultimate success.
Now, I don’t know if it’s the economy or changing times, but it seems lately that a lot of people are forgetting this and blurring the lines of their primary roles and responsibilities by jumping into other people’s businesses. To help all of us remember who we are, I would like to revisit the lay of the land to explain who does what, who should be doing what, and what each firm’s role and responsibilities are.
To start, let’s consider the two basic method structures of typical AV projects: Consultant-Led or Systems Integrator-Led.
The factors which help determine which method is appropriate include:
- AV system scope, magnitude and budget
- New construction or existing facility
- Project schedule
Each process has clearly different approaches which apply to completely different AV project types. InfoComm International further defines this in a “Method Selection Chart” which was published in the book called “Audiovisual Best Practices”.
Now let’s review each in more detail:
AV consultants are the firms which provide independent audiovisual design services. Their end product is a set of (hopefully) clearly defined drawings and specifications. Their role is very clear and (for the most part) respected throughout the industry.
In the consultant led bid, the AV bid package is sent out (usually thru the construction manager) to qualified AV system integrators that the consultants’ feel can best handle the work.
Once the bids are reviewed, the project is awarded and the design process begins. Throughout the design process, the AV consultant typically "reports to" the project architect, as does all the other design team firms including:
- M / E / P Consultants
- Code Consultant
- Telecom Consultant
- Lighting Consultant
- AV Consultant
- Security Consultant
- Furniture Consultant
- Food Services Consultant
Again, each of these design teams has specific roles and responsibilities to carry out. When all parties are focused on their own areas of expertise, the project runs smoothly as each trade acts out their part and executes their work.
Now for the Systems Integrator Led (Design-Build)
For Systems Integrator Led teams in the design build process the AV contractor plays the role of the Systems Integrator and also provides services which will define and assist with the integration of the AV equipment within the facility. The project team structure is a bit different and the AV Systems Integrator is typically working with:
- In-house AV Engineer
- Facilities Manager
- IT Manager
- Clients (in-house) Electrical / Cabling Contractor
The AV systems integrator will typically develop a proposal for the sale of the AV equipment and will include other aspects of the systems integration including engineering, fabrication, installation, testing and commissioning of the AV systems.
So there you have it. The two project methods that are the most common and represent the majority of AV work in today’s market.
Now here is where the roles and lines to get blurred.
Any AV Systems Integrator or Design / Build firm reporting to be the "consultant" and then bids on their own design is NOT an AV consultant. I view this process as unethical and if nothing else, just plain wrong.
By all industry definitions the AV consultant must be impartial, independent and not represent or sell any AV equipment. Doing so compromises a consultant’s impartial perspective. This is where AV Systems Integrators need to pick what side of the bread they want buttered.
Most AV Consultants would view an AV Systems Integrator which competes with them by offering “consulting services” as competition and not likely to be on their bid list. Conversely, AV System Integrators which respect the consultant’s role are likely to be kept busy and rewarded with the opportunity for ongoing bid work.
As long as everybody plays nice in the AV sandbox, Consultants and Systems Integrators coexist for both their benefits, and to the benefit of the end-user client.
Both processes have their proper place depending on the type of AV project. It’s important to define the project scope, magnitude, budget, and schedule and determine which process “fits”. Selecting the correct method at the beginning of a project will bring the proper teams and processes required for a successful project – and not doing so can result in an AV mess.
Christopher Maione is president of Christopher Maione Associates. Reach him at email@example.com.