Pro AV Logo Originally published as a Consultant's Connection
column in Pro AV Magazine
  July 2002

AV's Brave New World

There is a middle ground that is becoming more accepted as both consultants and integrators evolve and experience the benefits of a good integrator-consultant relationship. It's a team-based design-build process where a consultant and integrator team up for a particular project and work together from the start.

By Tim Cape, CTS-D

Pro AV consultants, integrators, manufacturers and end users have come a long way. We've grown from the slide projector geeks of the 70s into the cutting-edge AV pro of today, and our industry is still maturing.

We're likely passing through the latter part of our awkward adolescence—with all its attendant turmoil—and heading into a more mature place in the world, particularly with respect to integration into buildings. A sure sign of this maturation process was evident at InfoComm 2002, held June 12-14 in Las Vegas (more on this later).

But despite our progress, there's still confusion for many over what consultants and integrators do every day, as well as what roles we play in creating an AV system. Many consultants and integrators still have trouble explaining our work to friends and family. Even some end-users and AV pros are still in the dark about our livelihood.

While this may be mysteriously romantic (such as being a spy or Kramer on Seinfeld) where no one knows what we really do, it means that there are people who need to understand what we do. On a large AV project this lack of understanding can get everyone involved in trouble when someone in a significant role doesn't really understand our quirky world of AV and how it works.

One really has to be in this industry to understand what a day-in-the-life is like for us, but just understanding roles and options can go a long way to a better AV experience. So, to do my part (and at great risk I might add), I want to at least attempt to outline the roles and options that are available to bring an AV vision to fruition successfully.

The Consultant's World—Design-Bid-Build

First of all, let's define “consultant.” In this case, we're talking about independent consultants who aren't part of an integration company. Independent consultants provide base building infrastructure design (space planning, power, conduit, acoustics, lighting, etc.), system design and installation monitoring. Consultants rely on the integrator for provision, installation and maintenance of the equipment. They're essentially AV architects working much like a building architect in a design, coordination and monitoring role.

Historically, the most common process is consultant-led design-bid-build. An independent consultant hired by an architect or the building owner establishes the required functionality with the users, designs the infrastructure required as a part of a building design team, and designs the electronic systems required by the users. Documents prepared by the consultant go out to bid and an integrator is selected—sometimes by low bid, sometimes by qualifications in post-bid interviews. The consultant then monitors the installation process, usually commissions the systems and perhaps trains the users in conjunction with the integrator. This process is used on a variety of project scenarios, and is common on large, long-term projects lasting several years.

The Integrator's World—Design-Build

There are numerous interpretations of what the term design-build means, but here I'm talking about the option of hiring an AV integrator as the sole source for the design of a system and its installation. The integrator will use its in-house engineering and provide the complete system design and installation under a single contract. As with the consultant-led option, early involvement in the building or room design process is imperative. This process is well-suited for a variety of situations, but is particularly appropriate when there's a short design and installation schedule.

The Brave New World—Design-Build with a Twist

There is a middle ground that is becoming more accepted as both consultants and integrators evolve and experience the benefits of a good integrator-consultant relationship. It's a team-based design-build process where a consultant and integrator team up for a particular project and work together from the start.

I've worked on a number of projects this way and it can be very successful for the consultant, integrator and end-user. The relationship can be initiated in either direction (consultant recommending an integrator or vice-versa). Then either the integrator hires the consultant as part of their team, or the two go into the project together but have separate contracts. This teamwork can bring the strengths and benefits of both the consultant and the integrator to bear on either a short- or long-term project.

Another hybrid method is consultant-led design-build where the consultant gets involved early in the project and designs the building infrastructure on the design team, but instead of bidding the AV system an integrator is selected by qualifications and a contract is negotiated. This process is good for larger projects where the design phase may be lengthy, but the installation phase is either short or multi-phased.

These last options are a sign of the maturing relationships between integrators and consultants. Certainly over the years, the traditional design-bid-build model has been the source of much contention between consultants and integrators, but is becoming less so (as it should). This was evident in the first-ever joint ICAT / SAVVI meeting at Infocomm last month. This mini-summit of the ICIA consultant and integrator councils was a very positive event (to the surprise of some) and was a far cry from the inaugural meeting of ICAT (then the Design Consultant's Council) in 1991 where the integrators present were asked to leave the meeting! I welcome the new atmosphere wholeheartedly.

In any of the scenarios I've outlined, it's important for not just the owners, users and architects, but the consultants and integrators come to understand enough about our work to be able make the distinction between those who are truly qualified and those who may not be. I'm happy to report that we see more and more evidence of this every day. In any case, getting the right team together at the right time (early), with or without a consultant, will go far in making the outcome the complete success that it should be.



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