Who’s installing your multi-media wiring & Infrastructure?
By John Moore
Commercial telephone vendors are selling telephone systems with CPU’s, software and programmable terminals or nodes called telephones. The telephone, not necessarily the dial-tone providers, and computer sales people are looking more and more alike. Computer and telephone sales people are selling high tech Pentium based systems, software, configuration, training, maintenance and leasing. Many telephone companies and almost all computer sales companies are moving away from the installation business.
Nowadays most system vendors prefer to subcontract the actual install. Why? Using contract or sub-contract labor, which also may include electrical contractors (conduit & dedicated clean power circuits and bonding capability) is becoming more attractive because of the of the huge investment in new and ever-changing skills necessary to be profitable and competitive. A very select few companies have the finances, resources, exceptional personnel and skill sets to do it all. It takes a lot more than a guy with a ladder, crimpers and test set. The reality is, the engineering design, wire management, conduit layouts and installation is now, more than ever the users responsibility!
The “huge” installation labor “investment” components:
? Insurance, bonding
? Employees benefits
? Union affiliations
? Trade associations
? Constant education and training
? Expensive estimating and project management , CAD and systems management software
? Expensive personnel that can communicate:
Marketing & sales people, print collateral, marketing & sales tools, web sites, etc.
Project managers and or engineers, that can design, quote, document, track, operate software.
Technicians that can install, test & certify: voice, data, video, networks, cable TV and alarm systems.
Note: Slow times do not stop the payroll!
? Expensive fiber optic and cat #3, 4, 5, 6 tools & test equipment
? Inventory: Infrastructure hardware; patchpanels, wall plates, patchcords, etc.
? Thousands of dollars in industry specific digital test & certification instrumentation
? Training, training and more training.
The Hidden Costs of Voice, Data & Video Installation
According to accepted industry statistics, the installed cost of a networked business computer-work station including software, Internet access, configuration, installation and training is about $5000. The estimated installed cost of a 25 work station networked computer and telephone system, including computers, telephones, voice mail, Internet access, software, configuration, installation and training at $350-400,000.
Contractor Specification & Selection
Voice, data, and video are rapidly becoming one. Who are the contractors? Many are now referred to as “Datacom installers.” Datacom contracting has become a stand-alone, specialized high-tech craft. It is not just another service you decide to offer, or something you do after you quit, get laid off or fired from the local phone company. Insist on, experienced, State licensed, bonded/insured contractors.
Contractor Selection Guidelines
1. Develop a written plan. Use building drawings whenever possible. You may need the help of a professional Electrical Engineer, P.E. and or an RCDD (*BICSI, Registered Communications Distribution Designer) or (Really Cool Data Dude).
2. Designers or specifiers should: Prepare documented system designs, call out the infrastructure form, fit and function. Specific products or particular name brands may limit flexibility. Using one brand system wide may come with restrictive guarantees and eliminate competitive equipment bidding/costs. The product must fit the application, not the reverse. Designers should always specify qualifications for contractors with the detail used for the networks.
3. Use experienced, licensed, (Preference: *BICSI certified or affiliated) contractors. Don’t be an experiment for a training facility!
4. Verify references, similar installations, bonding, how long in business and training (BICSI Certified installers?)
5. Professional Services, engineering, voice, data, video, electrical wiring, electronics can be done by the same contractor. Always use as few contractor and or vendors as possible.
6. Contractor to provide: project management, scheduling (“PERT” or “GANT” chart) and coordination with other connected jobbers or service suppliers i.e. General Contractor, HVAC, furniture, dial-tone provider, telephone, computer and network suppliers
7. Always evaluate and be clear on the logic used in combining voice, data, video signals in the physical communications wiring systems (Category 3, 5 & fiber optics). Don’t forget Bandwidth!
8. Request quotation(s) and documentation that are understandable to a non-technical person.
9. Make sure the installer(s) costs include equipment movement, other inter-dependent trades i.e. conduit, drilling, patching, etc., if necessary (Usually subcontracted to an electrician or others.).
10. House keeping policies? Constant, hourly, daily?
11. Contractors should provide written security and safety policies?
12. Experience shows that the contractor(s) should supply the hardware and equipment to be installed.
13. Who and where will electronics, hardware, tools, cable, etc. be inventoried? Responsibility, space. liability?
14. Certification, test and “As-built” drawings, documentation of the system(s) must be part of the end product.
15. Ask about the contractor’s policy regarding system & product problems and guarantees after the installation is complete. Are you restricted to a particular vendor/equipment supplier for everything, forever 5/10/15 years? Product guarantees make the qualification, training, vendor relationships, installation specifications and how long the contractor has been in business all very relevant.
16. Policies and prices for: Service, repairs, ads, moves & change orders? Response time? Number of qualified personnel? After hours, holiday service?
17. The final payment should be contingent on a final walk through and approval or system(s) activation.
18. Purchase options: Open ended technology refreshment leasing is a very real alternative to buying a system that could be obsolete in 3-5 years. Leases can include telephone systems, computer systems, labor, infrastructure hardware, software, training, etc.
Architectural building or electrical site plans rarely if ever show: Dedicated communications closets (400sq. ft. per floor, with grounding and environmental controls) wire runs, center floor conduit runs, hubs, routers, patch panels building to building wire specifications (Fiber) or electronics.
The morals of this story are:
1. Engineering, telephone, computer systems, video receivers, software, hubs and routers will come and go only your installed plant infrastructure remains long-term and constant. Don’t scrimp or cut corners on the installation details and hardware selected.
2. Plan ahead for the ease and economy of future moves and changes
3. Bandwidth, Bandwidth, Bandwidth!
4. Use as few contractors as possible.
5. Have Insurance that the contractor(s) selected have the wherewithal, skills, personnel financial stability and commitment to finish the job on schedule and on budget.
6. Have the Assurance that you have made the right selection and have complete confidence in the contractors of choice.
John Moore of Silverado Consulting is a high-tech marketing consultant currently working with reputed electrical contractor SASCO in their market education efforts.