AV Systems Integration
Risk Management Solutions
Every commercial AV System project comes with risk. At Sound Image, we recognize that there may be significant unfamiliarity, and even some anxiety when it comes to selecting and hiring and AV Contractor, or Systems Integrator as we are often described today.
Paraphrasing what many have said, “I was put in charge of finding an AV contractor and I have little or no idea how to pick one, or what to look for. I’m just hoping that whomever I select… they know what they are doing and they won’t rip us off.”
Sound familiar? If so, the following information should give you an idea of how we handle some of the big and obvious risk factors that come into play, but are often not understood or openly discussed at the beginning of a new AV project.
We believe that project risk can be distilled into one of three goups: Technical, Non-technical, and Intangible.
As the name suggests, technical risks are those that involve the application of modern AV technology. This is an ever-evolving landscape of analog and digital formats and standards. To properly address our customer’s technical needs and risks, we believe the following elements play a significant roll.
Engineering Team: Sound Image uses the latest computer-aided design, modeling and documentation tools such as AutoCAD, Revit, EASE, and Modeler, along with proprietary projection calculation software.
Our approach is to fully engineer all medium and large projects. This includes 2D and 3D drawings for conduit and power layouts, rigging, and line diagrams, along with structural review and certifications when required. Small projects get some or all this treatment too, when appropriate.
At the same time we are using the tools and techniques listed above, we realize many end users have never been involved in a construction project, and are not accustomed to looking at construction documents. We strive to present solutions in ways the average person can understand.
One example is that, in many cases, customers can see their project on paper or in a computer model, as a rendering or virtual walk-though, before it’s built. This allows questions, changes, conflicts, and mistakes to be addressed and resolved early so they cause minimal disruption. The end result is that our work is consistently completed on time and on budget.
Veteran Staff: SI’s Contracting Division has more than 250 years of combined audio, video and control system experience, spread across two regional offices.
As end users, and systems integrators, we all are constantly challenged by the ever-changing landscape of AV technology. How does anyone keep up with the myriad formats & signal types? For us, the most tangible answer comes in the form of an experienced staff. SI employs integration veterans at all levels.
When an experienced staff is continuously exposed to, and engaged with the most advanced professional technologies, and enthusiastically backed by the makers of this technology, the knowledge base continues to grow exponentially. The result; there is little that is beyond our capabilities.
Acoustical Consultants on staff: SI employs two, in-house acoustical engineers. This can be beneficial in many ways. For a large percentage of projects, architectural acoustics may not fit into the budget nor aesthetics of the spaces. However, when acoustical planning is required, we are able to provide designs and specifications for most projects.
Understanding the physics of acoustics is critical to maximizing speech clarity and overall sound quality. EASE, Aura, Modeler, and SIA Smaart & Acoustic Tools are all part of the collection of computer-aided design and measurement tools that we employ.
Architectural Acoustics play a key roll in the correct selection and placement of loudspeakers in a room. The modeling tools we use allow us to evaluate the quality of the sound in a classroom, auditorium, theater, stadium or arena before it is built. Most AV integrators do not employ even one acoustical engineer.
Specialized Training and Certifications: SI is an InfoComm Certified AV Solutions Provider. This means we meet the requirements of the InfoComm AV Solutions Provider program; demonstrating a commitment to professional education and certification of its employees as Certified Technology Specialists (CTS).
With today’s complex systems, manufacturer training and certifications are also critical for successful integration. Most of our engineers and project manage hold certifications from multiple organizations and manufacturers.
Authorized service center for most equipment: Over the years, SI has found that a three-tiered approach is most efficient when equipment service is required. While we have the ability and are authorized to perform factory service on most of the equipment we sell, we do not believe it is the best use of our time and other resources to maintain a fully-stocked service department for the 1,000+ products we support. Our three-tier approach looks like this:
- Troubleshoot the problem and fix it in the field when the problem is manageable at that level.
- Bring the unit into our local shop for evaluation and repair when the repair involves generic parts and/or when parts are easily and quickly aquired.
- If necessary, send the unit into the manufacturer for warranty and non-warranty service.
This three-tierd approach has a few variations, such as advance replacement or loaner equipment when necessary, but in general it has proven to be the most time- and cost-effective for all parties concerned.
Building a successful AV integration team involves more than just technological know-how. This next section outlines SI’s approach to the most common non-technical challenges that we encounter.
Managing client expectations: To meet or exceed a client’s expectations is our primary goal on every project. To do so we must first fully understand those expectations. In most cases, the overriding expectations are communicated through a list of “functional” goals. The customer want’s their new AV system to be able to do this or that. At times, the list can be long and detailed; other times it’s fairly basic and straight forward. In total, this list of goals will turn into a “scope of work” document. There is often nothing technical about these expectations; we are using the customers vocabulary. When necessary or appropriate, we are masters at describing ideas, solutions and systems in plain, non-technical terms.
Once we have a good understanding of the functional goals and expectations, we can prepare scope documents, spreadsheets, charts, models and/or renderings to communicate and confirm the client’s understanding of the system design, functionality and operations. At this point in a project, we are prepared to show and document how our ideas and solutions will meet their needs and expectations.
Limiting the use of technical jargon generally increases the clients understanding of the project. Rendered 3D drawings help clients get a better feel for what a room will look like and how it will function. Mock-ups, demos, or tours of similar systems or facilities help client’s understand how the final product might perform for them in their applications and environments.
Scheduling and coordination with other trades: When working on new-construction projects, AV System integration is considered a “late” trade. It is common, on medium and large projects, for the AV installation schedule to be highly compressed because other “early” trades are running behind schedule; while the Owner still demands a specific completion or “first use” date.
SI’s Contracting Division has worked under these conditions for decades and knows how to manage and mitigate the obvious challenges that arise. The most effective way to manage this all-to-common problem is to carefully monitor the progress of the jobsite, and schedule equipment orders and manpower to be ready just ahead of the date that the jobsite is actually ready for us to do our work.
Also, when SI is engaged as a design/build contractor, we are engaged in the project at a much earlier time or phase. Because of this, we can better control scheduling issues and be even more proactive in monitoring and coordinating with the other trades that impact our work and/or schedule.
A classic example of bad planning and coordination looks like this: Often, in the traditional bid/build project sequence, the AV Contractor is not engaged until after the underground and rough-in conduit and raceway work is well past the point of no return. When mistakes are found, the time and cost of a workaround solution is often prohibitive. Bottom line is that either time and money are wasted, or the end product is generally compromised.
Technology advances and/or product discontinuances: Keeping up with modern, professional AV technology is an on-going challenge. One important requirement is for the Contractor to have an excellent degree of product exposure and awareness. This product awareness allows us to identify and recommend alternate products, when necessary, due to equipment incompatibilities and/or discontinued or delayed product delivery schedules.
Supply chain disruptions: There were numerous supply chain disruptions in 2011, caused by problems ranging form raw material shortages, to flooding on the east coast, to the tsunami and reactor problems in Japan.
In all cases, SI quickly confirmed the impact of these issues with our vendors and was able to have all impacted projects operational on time, or with minimal delays (7-10 days), while meeting all substantial completion deadlines.
Inventory Control: SI employs a best-in-class “Rapid Fire” inventory control program. By teaming with one of the nations largest technology distributors, we are able to stock commonly used items without maintaining a costly inventory. We only pay for these materials when we check them out of our “controlled” stock, which is maintained in our local shops.
Over the last few years, the Rapid Fire program has saved us both time and money when unpredictable field conditions cause last minute changes to a project’s order list. Further, this program allows us to lock in pricing on certain items, such as cable and equipment racks and accessories, for longer periods of time than is typical in the industry.
Industry leaders are able to go well beyond the technical and non-technical components noted above. Next we will outline some of our intangible assets, which we believe are well above average, and/or unique to our industry. These are commonly provided at no extra cost to our customers, yet they bring useful and/or significant value to your relationship with Sound Image.
Project back-up and archiving: SI has multi-state, on- and off-site backup servers. All projects are archived electronically and saved indefinitely.
When requested, SI offers no-cost copies of electronic files for completed projects. Archiving includes as-built plans, O&M manuals, control, and DSP programming files.
SI maintains excellent ratings in these three critical, non-technical business categories: Bonding, safety and financial.
- Bonding: Our bond rate for first $500k is 1.440%. $501k – $2.5M is 0.957%. $2,5M – $5M is 0.759%. Few AV contractors can match these low rates.
- Safety: EMR (Experience Modification Rating) is a safety ranking. Ours is 0.63. 1.0 is average. Lower is better. 0.63 means that we are rated 37% better than average. This means that our employees work in a safe manner, and have a lower than average accident rate, which translates into lower insurance costs.
- Financial: As of 06-15-12, SI’s Experian Business Credit Ranking Score is 87 out of 100. Higher is better on this scale. Experian’s Recommended Action: “Low Risk”
In-house fabrication shops: For custom work SI has a full-time wood shop and a legal paint booth. We also have a full-time machine shop, with a 3-axis CNC mill.For our custom plate and panel fabrication, we own a lazer engraving machine. 3D prototyping is also available if required. SI also has the ability to design and build custom electronic circuits when necessary.
Industry clout: SI has a long-standing, elite reputation in the AV industry. As a result, many of the industry’s leading manufacturers seek out our designers and engineers for collaboration and/or testing of their new products.
What does this mean to the end user? It means that when we need extraordinary service to fill a need, solve a problem or create something that doesn’t currently exist in a catalog, we get results. Further, when something extraordinary is needed, we can usually call on the president or owner of the company, who then makes sure our client’s needs are properly met.
Brainstorming: Given the current economic climate, juxtaposed with the amazing technical innovations that are a part of our everyday lives, it is not uncommon for one of our clients to ask, “Can we get together and talk about some functionality we want to include in our new facility? We just don’t have a good idea what the best, most cost effective, most future-proof way there is to approach what we want, and we also aren’t sure if we can afford any of it.”
We love these opportunities, and usually we are willing to have this conversation without asking to be paid for our time, knowledge and experience. Truthfully, this is where many of the best collaborative projects begin. There’s money to be earned later; right now let’s get creative.
Prequalification: The fact that Sound Image is consistantly short-listed, and designated as “pre-qualified” by many of the world’s leading AV consulting firms, should speak clearly to our qualifications and experience when judged by some of the toughest critics in the industry.
It is not uncomon for SI to be praised for our professional workmanship, creativity, reliability and overall positive attitude by owners, general contractors, consultants, architects, and end users. Here are some specific reasons why we continue to excel in these areas, year after year:
- A willingness to provide flexible scheduling to allow integration with client and construction cycle needs – at times working through the night to accommodate a facility’s daytime schedule.
- Exceptional communication flow between all parties.
- On-call system service department and bench-level repair.
- First-use technical staff provided for assistance.
- Certifed Payroll cooperation for all state and government projects