When a new AV project is announced, there is a remarkable amount of time, care, and effort invested during its infancy. Identifying needs, evaluating equipment, documenting requirements, and designing solutions are some of the critical steps during the initial planning phase. Significant attention is also paid to budgets, coordination of trades, negotiation of contracts, establishment of schedules, and management of preliminary details.
While the precision, concern, and attention to detail are heightened as the project is being born, this concentration inevitably tends to wain as the project progresses through its natural ebbs and flows. Perhaps this is a function of the letdown in excitement and intensity after a contract is awarded, the natural shift from the sales to implementation phases of the process, the pressure of scheduling and competing demands, and/or the distraction of the next upcoming opportunity. Whatever the cause, great discipline is required to maintain the level of concentration and attention to detail demonstrated during the early stages throughout entire the project.
Although it is a common challenge and human nature to struggle with maintaining the enthusiasm and vigor at the end of a project as when it began (especially when it comes to the administrative aspects that present a burden for many), its importance is significantly critical to a client. For clients, the life a system is just beginning after the installation and commissioning is complete. All systems need to be maintained, serviced, and upgraded over time in order to retain their health and value. Incomplete efforts or inaccurate documentation can easily derail this need and offset all of the initial care and planning. And in the end, despite great intentions and a promising start, a lackluster system closeout can result in discontentment for the client either in the form of disappointment or frustration, or more tangible challenges such as extended downtime, increased costs, or the inability to solve problems.
What can technology managers do to help themselves avoid danger when projects are in their final stages?
It’s not only important to define ownership of control system programming and audio DSP configuration files, it is critical to confirm that the files received are accurate and comprehensive, that they match the files currently loaded into the system, and that they can be used to make modifications. Too often there is confusion over the specifics of these files due to lack of explanation and/or accompanying documentation. It is important to have a basic understanding of the files provided in order to avoid unforeseen problems. Having incomplete, inaccurate, or outdated files can be a silent killer. A surefire way of vetting source code is by consulting with a programmer to verify that the files provided match what is in use and are complete and viable for future system updates.
Once the source code is verified, it is important to safely store the files in a way that they can be easily referenced. A recommended practice is to keep several past revisions and label files with version numbers and/or dates that correspond to a documented history. For enterprise deployments or large campuses, the use of a source code management tool is a great way to ensure that changes are not made without properly adjusting versions. It is too easy to think that one version of source code is the latest while a newer version exists that was not properly managed.
In cases where systems need to be rolled back or multiple program versions are in play for one reason or another, a revision history provides the clarity needed to decode the differences between files. It should also go without saying that all files should be documented, stored, and backed up to avoid loss or corruption of data.
While it may be often overlooked, having complete, accurate, and detailed system drawings matching the specifics of the installation (commonly known as “as-built” drawings) is as critical as having the latest source code. Without accurate as-built drawings, the ability to troubleshoot, modify, or upgrade a system becomes complicated and less precise. Addressing system needs without as-built signal flow drawings is akin to traveling to an unknown location without a map. It becomes a guessing game with low probability of achieving a successful outcome.
Along with as-built drawings and programming files, a record of critical details like IP addresses, device IDs, equipment settings, usernames and passwords for software or hardware, and user manuals are an important key to unlocking the mysteries of system maintenance and can provide valuable information to facilitate upgrades. These details should be well documented and treated with the same level of care and consideration as the other electronic assets.
Lastly, a rather common mistake that plagues many in the AV industry is not responsibly storing updated information after a system is serviced or modified. While it is a known practice to archive files as part of a project closeout process, those files are only current until the first time the system is modified. A recommended practice of documenting changes and updating file versions of control programming, audio DSP configuration, as-built drawings, and general information should be adopted any time changes are made. Failure to do so can be as bad as not archiving files upon system closeout and the dangers of using outdated files can be as great as not having files at all.
In the end, if the same level of energy, enthusiasm, and attention to detail exhibited during a project’s inception was exhibited during the final stages, technology managers would find themselves in a much better place to have their systems serviced, maintained, and upgraded, and service providers would have an easier time achieving desired outcomes.
Whether it is a gourmet meal without a good presentation or a luxury purchase without top-level customer service, the finer points are what leave a lasting impression with a client. Failure to finish strong and maintain a level of focus and commitment to excellence will many times overshadow all the initial care and planning. It is important that technology managers protect themselves and approach the end of a project process with as much discipline and commitment as in the beginning.
Steve Greenblatt, CTS, is president and founder of Control Concepts, a provider of specialized software and services for the audiovisual industry.