AV Project Process: No Shades of Gray Allowed by Christopher Maione

As most of us know, there are two paths to getting an AV project completed (three if you count “do it yourself”). Design/Build and Design/Bid/Build. The most common process is probably Design/Build as this process is very well suited for most (smaller) AV projects. However, as the projects become larger – and more complicated, we see the Design/Bid/Build process the more appropriate path to take. Please note that these are two very different processes and each provides an acceptable working model depending on the particular project.

There are several factors which can help an end-user, architect or owner’s representative determine which process is best suited for their AV project. This decision can be based on a variety of factors including:
· Size of the project
· Complexity of the project
· Estimated value of the AV systems
· Duration of the project
· Project team structure (Owner’s Representative / Architect / Engineers / Consultants etc.)

In the Design/Build process a client works directly with the AV Systems Integrator. The Design/Bid/Build process is typically led by an AV Consultant and bid to several AV Systems Integrators.

First, let’s take a look at the simpler AV project and the path of the Design/Build. In this process an end-user, architect, or general contractor works directly with an AV Systems Integrator. The AV needs are defined by the client, the scope of work is developed and a detailed proposal is submitted from the AV Systems Integrator to the client. Typically the proposal is reviewed, some revisions made, perhaps some direct negotiations and the project is awarded. Fairly straightforward and simple. This is certainly a good model for fast tracking a project.

Next, we look at the longer term, more complex project – where there is an established project team of design professionals. Here is where an AV Consultant is typically brought on board to design and engineer the AV systems. The consultant defines the client’s needs, develops detailed AV facility and system drawings and prepares a detailed specification and “bid package” which is sent out for competitive bids to several AV System Integrators

For a very long time these two models were the sole means for implementing AV projects.

Shades of Gray Appear
For better or worse (and I can argue both sides) there are now some variations on these two models. In the Design/Build model we are now seeing end user clients, architects and general contractors developing their own (AV generic) scope of work documents and soliciting proposals from several AV System Integrators – in sort of a mixed up hybrid Bid/Design/Build scenario.

The advantage to this is the potential value realized by the competitive bid, however the disadvantage is that each AV Systems Integrator will provide varying solutions with different quality and caliber of equipment (think Volkswagen, Audi, Mercedes), so that an “apples to apples” comparison cannot truly be made.

Another project process - and this one just appalls me as I deem it marginally unethical – is when an AV Systems Integrator is used by a client to define the AV needs, design the AV systems, develop a detailed equipment list and then is asked to send a “bid package” out for competitive pricing. First, it is not the role of an AV Systems Integrator to develop a bid package – that’s the role of a consultant – and when the AV System Integrator is bidding on their own bid package – heck, that just ain’t right!

I do not support this model as it is “wrong” on so many fronts, I couldn’t possibly list them all here.

I have heard so many horror stories about how clients began a project in the Design/Build model and then, when they realized that the project value was over $100,000, their management required competitive bids – and hence the AV System Integrator was essentially asked to bid on their own work. This is absurd. First, there isn’t even the slightest chance that this would be considered a “fair” bid as the prior detailed knowledge of the project would either work in strong favor for or against the incumbent AV Systems Integrator.

I’ve also heard of projects where an AV Systems Integrator is doing the design for a Design/Bid/Build project but will not be allowed to bid on the project – yea, right. Most of the time they end up on their own bid list (which I also consider unethical) and even if they don’t actually bid on the project – I assure you that there is not a fair and “equal” bid process underway.

You know, I’ve been in the AV industry for 25+ years on both the Consultant Design and AV Systems Integration side – and I know how the games are played. So here is my advice on choosing whether to take the Design/Build or the Design/Bid/Build path:

Figure out what type of AV project you are undertaking and PICK ONE of these conventional project process models. , understanding things like the size, complexity, value, timeline, and structure of your AV team will help you to know what your project needs are and help you to choose the right path. Don’t try to create a hybrid by mixing these two processes together because the end result smells like sulfur and water.

Christopher Maione, CTS-D, is an InfoComm Instructor and president of Maione Associates.