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Episode 7: Integrating with an AV Integrator

When a company decides they are ready to take action in either establishing or upgrading technology, or even improving the existing infrastructure of an audiovisual system, it can make for a much smoother process if they understand the steps an AV integrator goes through, the questions they ask, and why they do what they do. To assist companies that are planning to partner with an AV integrator, we have taken some of the most common scenarios and questions that come up on an almost daily basis and are sharing them now with you. This behind the scenes view of the process from the integrator’s point of view can be invaluable in helping clients understand more about what to expect in their own audiovisual journey with a provider.

The Top 2 Things to Know Before You Contact an AV Integrator

It may seem like reaching out to a professional AV integrator is just the tip of iceberg, and in many ways it is, but it does require two key pieces of information before you make contact with them:
  1. Shared vision – The term essentially means that the vision you communicate to the integrator should be shared among your company’s key leadership. If the IT lead calls and communicates a vision that is different from a chief operating officer’s which is also different from an executive’s, chances are that the final technology proposal will not be up to snuff for at least one or more individuals. Develop your company’s shared technology vision before you initiate contact with an AV integrator.
  2. Budget – Know your budget for the project. This does not mean that the entire budget will need to be used, but it does give integrators a starting point for knowing if certain technology is automatically off the table due to budget concerns.
With these two pieces of information established, it is time to contact a reputable AV integrator about getting your space connected.

What to Expect in Your Consultation with an AV Integrator

Typically, when a client wants to get their office boardroom, conference room, or classroom connected, they contact an AV integrator via phone or email. This is a way for the client to introduce themselves and learn more about the individual they will be working with. That introductory phone call should only be a gateway to an in-person meeting to discuss the vision for the project. While a phone call, pictures of the space, or even a Zoom call can provide basic information, it is not conducive to collecting specific details of a space such as wall measurements and a three hundred sixty-degree view of the room. A phone or email conversation should not be a substitute for physically being in the space to get a feel for the dimensions and makeup of a room. Face to face communication is always preferable when possible because it allows the project leader and the integrator to collaborate together. It allows the give and take between both parties in terms of a client identifying what they think might be needed and an integrator knowing if it is doable on the client’s budget. Once an in-person meeting is set up between the integrator and client, the real work can begin and generally follows these steps:
  • Conducting a needs analysis – This includes establishing what technology the client wants to incorporate and for what purposes, as this usually dictates which products will be needed specifically to help them achieve their goals.
  • Noting the room’s physical makeup and dimensions – An AV integrator will likely bring laser tape measurers and other tools to help them measure the dimensions of the walls of the room, which will help with product placement. Even the height of the ceiling is key as it will dictate what kind of product can be mounted and how it will need to be done. Integrators will also write down the physical characteristics of the space such as if there is sheetrock, concrete, cinderblock, etc.
  • Engaging in a question-and-answer session – There can be hundreds of different ways to get a boardroom or conference room connected, so in an effort to be respectful of all parties’ time, expect the integrator to ask a myriad of questions. These questions are not asked to pile on possible solutions and strategically increase the cost of a project, but rather these questions will help them determine the functionality of a room as it relates to the client’s intended goals.
  • Identifying possible red flags – By taking a tour of the space in person, it can allow the integrator to identify red flags for design engineers. This could be the type of ceiling or flooring a room has and how that will impact running cable. It may be that the spot a client wants a display screen may not work because it would be too close to a fire alarm to be ADA compliant.
  • Determining building access – Some audiovisual system installs can require a great deal of equipment and products that will need to be transported inside the building. For this reason, it is critical to determine if the installation crew will be able to park right at the building or will have to transport materials from several blocks away. Another consideration is if the space is not located on the first floor of a building and will require the use of an elevator.
  • Waste management – It is important to note if the facility has the capability to dispose of project-related waste such as packing materials, Styrofoam, and cardboard boxes. If not, it may require the provider to repack all the waste and haul it away to dispose of it properly.
Each of these considerations plays a significant role in determining the design, management, and labor involved in a project.

How An Integrator Puts Together the Project Proposal

With the client’s shared vision and an in-person evaluation of the space itself, the next step is for the integrator to put together a project proposal. Sometimes an integrator will sit down with their notes and draft them into a more cohesive format to create a better visual before turning them over to the design engineer. The primary elements a design engineer needs to evaluate before creating a technology solution for a client includes:
  • Integrator’s notes
  • Pictures of the site
  • Measurements of the space
  • Client’s vision
  • Review of potential red flags in the space that could impact its design
Having these elements at their fingertips can help them more clearly understand what the parameters of the design project are. This step can take some time since the design is being created from scratch and customized for the client.

Understanding the Project Proposal

The last step of a project proposal is presenting it to the client. It is highly recommended that the client and integrator go over the proposal together to go over any questions or concerns before the client makes a final decision about moving forward with the project. After a proposal is it is common for clients to have one of the following responses:
  • Question what some of the line items on the budget mean
  • Love the design engineer’s outlay but decide they cannot afford to do that much all at once
  • Choose to delay the project altogether
  • Go ahead with the project as drawn up in the proposal
A client is entitled to all of these reactions, but there are some precautions that are worth mentioning. Sticker shock is real—but so are the amazing results of the technology it can afford a client. When sticker shock becomes a problem for the client the instinct can be to either phase in technology, do value engineering, or go with another provider, but there are a few problems with each:
  1. Phasing in technology – Although a great deal of thought and planning goes into the original budget, it is possible for a client to decide it is just not plausible to do all at once. However, phasing in technology means the client sees the value in the design and would rather leave out one function that they can delay for future purchase and have the rest of the technology go live now. Of these three, this is generally the smartest option because it does not sacrifice quality in the long run.
  2. Doing value engineering – Some people will see the design engineer’s plans and decide they simply cannot do that much and will ask the integrator to go back to the drawing board to come up with a solution that is less pricey but will still accomplish most but not all of the functionality the client needs. This can be delicate territory as there may come a point where value engineering takes away from the integrity of the project, in which case an integrator may walk away because they could not in good faith recommend a system like that to a client.
  3. Going with another provider – Many AV integrators find that clients who chose to walk away from the project to go with another provider eventually return because the lower cost project design they went with did not have the functionality or quality they needed. Unfortunately, the client then has twice the expenses as they paid for a project they are not happy with and now have to pay a different integrator to fix it.
Again, it is essential that the client meet with the integrator to review the proposal in detail so that there is no confusion. It may even take a follow up visit or two before the client feels comfortable about interpreting what they are reading. A reputable integrator should be happy to work with the client until they have a clear understanding of the document.

A Final Word About Budgeting

It may not come as a surprise that one of the biggest hurdles in putting together a project proposal is defining the budget. Although clients generally shy away from this forward question, most integrators do not like asking it either. The misconception is that a hard budget number is needed so the integrator can sell a client enough product so that the entire amount is used. The truth for most integrators trying to determine the best products for the functionality of a space is that the budget can give them a jumping off point. If a $60,000 display panel would be perfect for functionality but a $30,000 budget cannot accommodate that, the integrator knows they have to rule out even seemingly perfect solutions that are more expensive due to budget restrictions. Sales representatives at audiovisual companies have access to thousands of quality products which range widely in price. This enables them to choose the best panels, speakers, amps or other equipment that meet functionality, quality, and budget restrictions for a client. As a business seeking to enhance internal and external communication, it is vital they know what technology they want and why they want it, and then be willing to partner with a reputable AV integrator to achieve success.