Let’s face it – the breadth of the design field is enormous. Architects and interior designers can’t know everything, and they shouldn’t be expected to. Enter The Consultant. That’s what they are there for… to supplement our knowledge and do the magic that they do so well. Embrace them as family and invite them to the project team table. A particularly important expert to befriend” An audio-visual consultant. We particularly like AVW-TELAV, so we sat down with a couple of their guys to find out how they can make A&D professionals look good.
First off, let us tell you a little bit about AVW-TELAV. We’ll give you their requisite mission statement and then we’ll translate:
The mission of AVW-TELAV is to provide clients with the most extensive array of audio visual and presentation technology services throughout North America by providing a high quality, seamless service delivery network with local access to professional personnel and the best presentation technology solutions available.
Though they have a whole separate division that handles trade shows, conventions, large corporate meetings and huge event staging, we’re going to address their skills as audio-visual systems integrators on a more intimate day-to-day level. What does that mean exactly” AVW-TELAV’s System Integration Department is a full range supplier of technically sophisticated audio-visual systems for boardrooms, conference centers, presentation rooms and training facilities for corporations, government agencies, churches and educational institutions. In other words, they take care of all the details related to all the toys that your big-wig clients love to play with: plasma displays and projectors, teleconferencing and video-conferencing systems… cool gadgets galore.
Still confused” That’s quite understandable. Let’s get specific.
In many ways, the tasks performed by an a-v systems integrator providing design-build systems are quite similar to those of an architect or interior designer, except for the fact that they are highly specialized in the a-v realm, of course. The integrator will:
- Assess the needs of the client
- Consider the client’s budget
- Collaborate with the project team
- Design the overall a-v system as per the client’s needs
- Specify, purchase and install the a-v system
- Train and provide service to the end-user
- Trouble-shoot and upgrade the system for the end-user
Now we’re going to get down and dirty with the details.
Assess the needs of the client
This first step is THE most important, and it can also be the most maddening. So many times the client (whether a specific person or an entire committee) doesn’t even know what they need. How is that possible” A company may not know what direction they are going: what kind of expansion the future will bring or how a pending development might affect their business. Other times they simply cannot come to a consensus because of egos, political positioning, communication problems or lack of information. The basics of what the a-v consultant needs to know:
- What are they ultimate trying to accomplish with the system”
- What capabilities do they need to get the job done”
- How many people will be using any one part of the system at once”
- How many spaces will be involved”
- How many communication techniques must be used at once for full effectiveness”
The answers to all of these questions have a direct impact on every single step that follows. If not agreed upon at the beginning, expect trouble ahead. Sadly, it’s almost inevitable but not insurmountable.
Consider the client’s budget
The client’s eyes are always bigger than their stomach, but why wouldn’t they be” We all want the latest and greatest gadgets for our home, so you shouldn’t expect a company to be any different, especially when individuals are spending money that isn’t their own. Reality sets in when the a-v consultant presents the proposal. What the client originally envisioned as costing thousands of dollars actually costs tens of thousands… sometimes even hundreds of thousands. Cost cutting hurts, but compromise is a necessity unless your client is unbelievably prosperous. (We love clients like that, but they are hard to find.) Be prepared – this phase may take a while. Don’t be surprised if the client requests multiple proposals… again and again and…
Collaborate with the project team
The “team” can include any or all of the following: end-user, interior designer, architect, facilities manager, developer, real estate broker, general contractor, electrical sub-contractor, engineering consultants, I.T. consultants, and cabling sub-contractor. (In a huge project, there may be even more players involved. Just hope that plenty of caffeine and sugary snacks are provided at the project meetings to get everyone through.) The goal, of course, is to have the a-v system mesh as seamlessly as possible with the overall design of the space. If it doesn’t, then the client will be unhappy with the system’s functionality and aesthetics, and the designers won’t even want to claim involvement. Therefore, this phase should be ongoing and overlap all other phases.
Design the overall a-v system as per the client’s needs
The priorities on system capabilities and available budgets are established, so let the system design can begin! Hold your horses a minute. Not only does the system integrator have to take function and money into account, but he also has to consider the limitations and overall design of the space. That’s where the collaboration with project team members really comes in. It’s a huge puzzle to be solved, and the systems integrator communicates his solution with both schematic drawings (for non-technical types) and then detailed design drawings (for installers). Don’t be embarrassed to ask for translation services if you don’t get it – you’re not alone.
Specify, purchase and install the a-v system
Like interior designers and architects, a-v consultants decide what products / components are best suited for the project and they specify them. If a consultant is just consulting, they don’t actually purchase and install the components – they just tell the end-user or an installer what to buy and how the system should function (just like most A&D professionals do with the spaces they design). However, a design-build systems integrator provides the comprehensive service of purchasing and installation. Depending on how the integrator writes the contract, part of the price of the components usually includes product warranty and service for a set period of time. (AVW-TELAV’s service period is a year.) The benefit of this type of situation is that the client has only one vendor to call to handle any questions or problems.
Train and provide service to the end-user
Having a state of the art, Star Wars like audio-visual system won’t do anyone any good if no one understands how to use it. Therefore, the system integrator must provide not only hands on training for every bell, whistle and blinky light, but he must also provide understandable manuals for the 99% of time he’s not going to be standing right there holding the client’s hand. Of course problems inevitably happen, instructions get misunderstood and products fail… usually at the most inopportune times. That’s why an installation should always come with a service contract. Just imagine a room full of Directors – who more than likely cannot even set their own VCRs or home security alarms – trying to videoconference with China for the first time. (Bring on the aspirin and the ear plugs.) The service contract usually spells out the number of visits and/or the number of man-hours available to the client in a set amount of time after the system is installed, tested and initially explained. If the client wants more hand holding, then he has to pay for it. Fair enough.
Trouble-shoot and upgrade the system for the end-user
So the system is installed, the company starts using it on a daily basis, and guess what” Problems arise. It could be because… the client’s needs have changed over the course of the project… an sub-contractor didn’t get the directive from the general contractor to install an item elsewhere… a designer didn’t anticipate the poor acoustics of a particular finish specification… the new CEO wants to assert his authority by changing the use of the space… Be ready for anything to happen – you just never know.
Of course, the steps and tasks listed above occur during ideal conditions. It’s quite common – and most unfortunate – that the a-v consultant often doesn’t get brought on board until much later into the project. The best bet is get a consultant involved as early as possible. The consultant is a resource of valuable information and should be recognized as such. When audio-visual considerations are treated like an afterthought, everyone suffers: schedules are delayed, revision made and nerves frayed. Just pray that the invoices are paid.
In future installments of TECHNO POP – design pitfalls to avoid, advice from the experts and stories from the battlefield.
Many thanks to the great guys at AVW-TELAV who contributed to this feature:
Mark S. Odneal , CTS – Systems Design
David Park , Director of Sales – Systems Design and Integration