In part 1 of this series, we detailed the technical risks that churches should be aware of when considering AV integrators for hire. But that’s only one aspect, and in part 2, we looked at risks of a more non-technical nature that are important to understand as well. Now, in part 3, let’s close out by outlining the intangible assets we believe set the best integrators apart from others. These are commonly provided at no extra cost, yet they bring useful and/or significant value to your relationship with the firm you’re about to hire.
Project back-up and archiving. Does the integrator have on- and off-site backup servers? All projects should be archived electronically in at least two off-site locations and saved indefinitely.
When requested, the integrator should offer no-cost copies of electronic files for completed projects that are paid in full. Archiving should include as-built plans (Figure 1), O&M manuals, and control and DSP programming files.
Business ratings. The integrator should have and maintain excellent ratings in these three critical business categories: bonding, safety and financial.
Bonding. Regardless of need, ask for the integrator’s bond rates and a letter of bond-ability. These are usually tiered, based on the contract value. Bond rate progressive tiers might look something like this: For the first $500,000 the rate is 1.50 percent. For the next $501,000 to $2.5 million, the rate might be 1 percent. And for the next $2.5 to $5 million, you might see 0.80 percent. The lower these percentages the better, because it means their bonding company sees them as a better risk.
Safety. EMR (Experience Modification Rating) is a safety ranking. A very good rating would be something along the lines of 0.65. 1.0 is average. Lower is better. 0.65 means the contractor is rated 35 percent better than average. This means their employees work in a safe manner and have a lower than average accident rate, which translates into lower insurance costs.
Financial. Ask for the contractor’s Experian Business Credit Ranking Score. A score of 88 out of a possible 100 is good. Higher is better on this scale. Experian’s Recommended Action for a score of 88 would be “Low Risk.”
Industry clout. Does the integrator have a long-standing, elite reputation in the AV industry? If so, many of the industry’s leading manufacturers will seek out their designers and engineers for collaboration and/or new product review and testing.
What does this mean to you, the customer? It means that when the integrator needs extraordinary service to fill a need, solve a problem or create something that doesn’t currently exist in a catalog, the company gets results. Further, when something extraordinary is needed, the president and/or owner of a company are enlisted to make sure the customer’s needs are properly met.
Brainstorming. Given the amazing technical innovations that are a part of our everyday lives, it’s not uncommon for a client to call and ask, “Can we get together and talk about some functionality we want to include in our current or new facility? We just don’t have a good idea what the best, most cost effective, most future-proof solution is for what we want, and we also aren’t sure if we can afford any of it.”
The best integrators (and AV consultants) love these opportunities and are usually willing to have this type of conversation without asking to be paid for their time, knowledge, and experience. Truthfully, this is where many of the best collaborative projects begin. Their attitude should be, “There’s money to be earned later; right now, let’s get creative.”
Prequalification. The top integration firms are consistently “short-listed” and designated as “pre-qualified” by many of the world’s leading consulting firms. It’s OK to ask which consultants a prospective integrator is short-listed with. While not foolproof, the response should speak clearly to the company’s qualifications and experience when judged by some of the toughest critics in the industry.
Certified payroll. Can the integrator provide a certified payroll if requested? Again, this may not be necessary for your project, but the best integrators are able to provide this service if required.
Scheduling flexibility. Ask the integrator how they handle limited-access and/or night work schedules. Are they willing to work through the night to accommodate a facility’s day-time schedule? Is there a cost premium for such work?
High-quality AV integration is an extremely difficult business to succeed in year after year. For the end user, selecting the right firm can also be difficult, so much so that it may just come down to taking a leap of faith based on less-than-ideal options.
Our recommendation is to get at least five bids, and let the bidders know you plan to throw out the highest and lowest offerings. This is an old-school concept, but you’d be surprised how this forces the bidders to focus more carefully on their estimating processes.
If you have the time, energy, and technical knowledge to work directly with a design/build integrator you should find the guidelines set forth above to be invaluable. If you don’t think you can handle all the technical, non-technical and intangible risks, your best course of action may be to hire a professional consultant to help guide you through your project.