Jeff Galatro, Jr. to Drive Operational Development, Enhance Customer Experience for the West Coast
From the very first AV Cart, with dangling cables and wobbly wheels, Audio Visual aids have always been an integral part of the education process and a fixture in schools and universities. But we’ve come a long way from wheeling the shared overhead projector down the corridors from classroom to classroom.
As with virtually every business vertical, advances in technology have substantially impacted the way we teach and the way we learn, at every level from K-12 to advanced degrees. While the introduction of computers, laptops, and tablets have played a significant role, the Pro AV Industry remains at the forefront of integrating the latest and greatest technologies into the education sector. From touchscreen, interactive displays to campus-wide fiber optic networks the depth and complexity of Pro AV installations at schools and universities can rival those of any vertical.
The Age of Digital Nomads
Today’s students have been weaned on digital devices. When it comes to their school experience, they expect the same level of connection, communication, and interactivity that they enjoy in their homes and at play. More importantly, the integration of technology in schools has a significant positive impact on the learning experience. According to AVIXA’s Market Opportunity Analysis Report (MOAR) on Higher Education released earlier this year, nearly 40 percent of students stated that professional audiovisual technologies increase their engagement in the classroom.
Just as Pro AV installations have had a positive impact on education, the education market has had a positive impact on the Pro AV industry. According to the same AVIXA MOAR, 83 percent of AV integration firms work in education, and that work is responsible for nearly a quarter (23 percent) of their annual revenues.
AV and the Three R’s
Highlighting some of the best school and university AV installations, Commercial Integrator dedicates two of its CI Integration Awards to the education market, with an award for the K-12 Category and the Higher Education category (this year’s winners were both Herman partners). With professionally installed integrated technology, the concept of a connected classroom is here to stay. Students of all ages can reap the benefits of the access and engagement the right audiovisual aids can encourage. The three “R’s” – Reading, wRiting, and aRithmetic – can benefit from two more letters: AV!
What do you think are the most impactful Pro AV technologies in schools? Please take our mini-survey below, and we’ll publish the results here next month.
If you’re a Pro AV Integrator serving the Education market, Herman has the products you need, from over 60 manufacturers, as well as highly skilled subcontracted labor to supplement your workforce as needed.
Kramer’s Tavor 6-O, 2-way powered speakers, are designed for on-wall indoor use with crisp, clear sound at any volume!
Today’s home automation system looks and performs much differently than what existed a mere ten years ago. Driven by the proliferation of on-demand content, the pervasiveness of the iPad/tablet and a conditioned mindset that we can have mobile access to nearly everything, homeowners are seeking out these same kinds of technology when they entertain inside (or on the outside) their homes.
It’s no surprise that homeowners are going all in on the complete audio/visual integration experience within their homes considering the positive economic environment we are in, and the market data supports this shift in expectation. The external environment displays a long-awaited, post-recession upward trend in the residential market that shows homeowners are not only demanding home automation systems, but they have the dollars to make it happen.
Key indicators that homeowners are ready for home automation systems:
- New construction surge. New home construction is at its highest levels since 2007, with 2017 producing numbers in the range of 7.5 percent higher than 2016.
- Remodeling on the upward curve. Home remodeling expenditures are also keeping pace with a 6.7 percent growth trajectory equivalent to $317 billion, according to Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies.
- Millennials getting in the ownership game. The tech-savvy demographic that previously avoided asset ownership of all types is now showing signs of changing attitudes for home ownership.
- Demand for home automation systems is widespread. Houzz, the popular online platform for home remodeling and design, recently reported survey data that one in three homeowners plan to install home automation in the next year.
The challenges homeowners face as they seek home automation systems:
- Understanding the big picture. While the homeowner might understand that they want integration, they may not be schooled up on everything current technology (such as Crestron, AMX and URC) can offer them. By working with experienced, knowledgeable technicians, the homeowner can communicate and achieve their end goals without deep knowledge of how these systems work.
- Connecting with top technicians. Finding good help is the perennial challenge for any project. Homeowners will want to partner with companies that that understand the latest technologies and take a customer-centric approach to every installation.
- Managing the process. For the homeowner who may or may not know much about home automation, managing the installation process may be challenging. Working with a partner that they can trust to get the job done correctly, quickly and with the highest quality systems and hardware is essential.
- Keeping up with improvements. Technology leapfrogs at a pace that seems faster than lightning. Upgrading decisions can be worked through with reliable and trustworthy installation professionals to ensure the homeowner doesn’t spend unnecessarily but always has the latest and greatest AV automation system in place.
- Homeowners are driving the demand toward home automation systems. They want their entertainment systems to function in the same easy-to-access way as their smartphones, and when they hire a residential integrator, they want to know that service won’t be a problem when it is required.
That’s where Herman Integration Services comes in. With our skilled team, we can help augment the residential market and deliver a service that allows residential integrators the ability to provide a higher level of professionalism and that leaves customers more satisfied.
Check out three reasons why Herman Integration Services can make a difference in the home automation systems market:
- Compatibility: The skillset between commercial and residential integration has many compatible synergies, including an amazing team of highly trained integration experts with skills that benefit both residential and commercial applications.
- Professionalism: Professionalism is often the competitive edge that defines a company. With experienced technicians and a reputation for professionalism that is just as strong, we’re sure these qualities will transcend markets.
- Customer Satisfaction: Fast turnaround time is everything, and residential customers are more time-sensitive. With our ability to scale resources, we broaden our ability to satisfy even the most demanding customers.
Perhaps one of the most difficult things about being a subcontractor in the AV Industry is the way we are most commonly engaged. Let me paint a picture.
A salesman comes back to the installation department and says “Customer just got a budget for 3 more rooms, but they need to have them installed by next week; can we get them installed?” After the installation manager looks at the calendar to see their installers are all busy he says, “Maybe, if we can get a sub to do the labor,” and then asks, “do we have all of the gear or can we get it?”
Here are the problems I see already. The integrator is going to take a quick turn project, hopefully be able to get all of the gear and will likely not do a proper scope/walkthrough, and then they will call us and ask for us to complete the job in a smooth timely manner.
So much of this is wrong, however, we do understand as a subcontractor that we can stand out from competitors by being responsive, capable, and efficient in turning projects like these. We believe we can help make this process better if the integrators will work with us subcontractors side-by-side. With this in mind, here is what integrators need to ask and answer about their subcontractors in order to realize a new level of success in working together.
What are the subcontractors capable of? Perhaps the first thing you need to do before working with any subcontractor is have a discussion in order to better understand and agree upon what their installers are capable of. Specifically make sure you understand what their leads are able to do versus their helpers. Furthermore, if the sub is going to be responsible for commissioning the job and interacting with the client make sure the sub knows the specific equipment they will be working with.
Know your role! Another important step is to clearly define responsibilities prior to the work starting. The most successful jobs we do are the ones that are clearly laid out stating what the subcontractor is responsible for and what the integrator is responsible for. This cuts down on any finger pointing and naturally improves the communication.
Our most successful relationships entail integrators that think of their subcontractor as a partner or an extension of their company and not just in the installation department. This includes working hard to make them feel as if they are part of the team and giving them confidence that they won’t take the blame for anything that goes wrong. In return, you can bet they will work tirelessly to represent your company positively in the field.
Get the Facts about the Subcontractor. I often hear horror stories about subcontractors that really didn’t have the qualifications to work in this field and that is a shame. But if you make that type of hire, it may be as much your fault as it is theirs. Do your homework on not just the subcontractor but also the company. Be sure to know if they employ their own staff that is trained and certified or are they going out and just finding people to put on site. What skills do they have and tools do they own?
Technically speaking, do you have tech support? Does the company you are contracting have their own technical support staff to support their guys in the field or is that going to be your problem. What does that team provide? Do you have the staff to support the potential technical requests? In short, many times the subcontractor sends a very capable field person, but they still need to be backed up. Who is responsible to give them that support. Some subs have that in house while others will need your resources. Are you prepared for that?
For integration companies, the ability to take on quick turn projects is a terrific way to grab profitable incremental revenue, however, knowing how hard it is to successfully complete projects on a standard timeline, is a great indicator of all that can go wrong when a project is asked to be completed on a short turn.
The beauty of a solid relationship with an AV subcontractor is that we can provide you resources quickly to not only help with short term projects, but also to provide resources for all of your projects and in many cases even technical resources like a programmer or engineer. To foster this solid relationship, it comes down to strong communication, division of responsibility, and knowing the real capabilities of the subcontractors you hire.
With a little planning and a great partnership, more work can be done and more customers will be won over by your ability to quickly meet their needs. Learn More.
Being a successful business owner means not only knowing when to take a calculated risk, but also recognizing how to reduce other risks. Of course, there are many factors that go into running a successful AV business, but reducing risk is something you have more control over than you may realize. There are many areas that a company can open itself up to risk that can be costly. Consider these 3 ways to reduce risk:
- Review Scopes of Work.Every successful project generally has a well written scope of work that is designed to describe the work that is to be performed, but to also minimize the occurrence of scope creep. Too many projects I’ve seen over my career, left the requirements open for debate and caused increased costs usually at the expense of the integrator.
Some end-users rely on broad requirements to get more out of the integrator and that erodes margins in a big way. Yes, sometimes you have to give a little to make a customer happy, but there’s a point that costs can get out of control if you don’t clearly define the work to be done.
This scope of work review, which is usually written by sales, should be reviewed by operations so everyone is on the same page. Sales and operations look at things very differently (I know obvious). However, when both groups get on the same page, a lot of great things can happen. I realize there isn’t always time to review every scope of work so having a boiler plate that covers a lot of the “gotchas” is advisable, minimizing the risk.
- Manage Cash Flow.Someone in your organization must be good at cash flow management. I’ve seen many companies over the years get themselves in trouble because they do not manage cash flow correctly. A good line of credit is always nice to have, but you don’t want to rely on that to get you out of trouble.
Evaluating the scope and size of projects can be a good start. You don’t want to accept projects that will tie up all your cash for a long period of time. In some cases, end-users can push payment terms beyond 90 days. A project that lasts 6 months may tie up your cash for 9 months if you’re lucky enough to actually get paid on time. Negotiate progress billing terms with a retainer of 10% to be paid after project completion. Progress billing with a retainer protects both you and your client.
- Hire well, Hire Fast, Fire Faster.Whether it’s on the sales or operations side of the business, finding talent in the AV industry is one of the toughest challenges we face. There are few, if any, schools that prepare people for working in our industry. The trend I’ve noticed is fewer and fewer companies want to spend money on training new people in the industry, because the cost of training is high and the fear of people quitting and going elsewhere with their new skills is a risk.
Unfortunately, I don’t have an answer for this because it is an age-old problem. What I do recommend is if you are hiring thoroughly learn about the hire you’re making and if you feel this person is the right fit move quickly. Talent isn’t just sitting around waiting these days.
If they’ve been looking for a job a long time, ask, yourself why? Do a review of the new employee after 90 days. Are they doing a good job? Ask people who are interacting with them, “Are they doing a good job?” Find out if they like what they’re. doing. You need to determine if they are worth a long-term investment and if not you should probably seek ways to separate from them.
Follow these 3 processes to reduce risk and see how they impact your business. These small steps can make a huge improvement to your bottom line.
There are a lot of strange sayings that have been around for hundreds of years and the one involving the intertwining of Porcine Animal Husbandry with Handbag Design is one of the strangest: “You can’t make a silk purse from a sow’s ear.” Of course, leave it to the brainiacs at MIT to prove this idiom false (https://libraries.mit.edu/archives/exhibits/purse/). I ran across this phrase recently and immediately saw the acronym: Scope of Work Statement & Equipment, Accessories, and Resources. Obviously, I have a very disturbed and demented mind, but I was also aided by the nightmares of a recent system I was asked to integrate. It dragged on and on and every visit diminished the profit margin.
On the install, I had the frustrating experience of receiving the extremely helpful instruction of “make this stuff work.” I did have a one-line drawing; but when reviewing it with the project manager, he kept dismissing huge sections of it saying that “there was a change.” To make matters worse, I didn’t have all of the supplies I needed, nor was all the equipment on site (some of it hadn’t even been ordered). It took multiple visits by myself and others before the project was completed and several of those visits yielded even more “undocumented requirements” for the project. This project could have easily been more efficient and economical if there had been a clear, concise, and approved Scope of Work document created at the beginning of the job.
SCOPE OF WORK
When a salesperson sits down with a prospective client, their conversation, after sports, weather, and current events, eventually concludes with what the client wants and what the salesperson can provide. When the two are in agreement, the salesperson can fulfill the client’s needs, they shake hands, light cigars, and go out for drinks. Hopefully, the essence of their agreement has been captured on a beverage napkin or the back of an envelope, because that summation of the sale is the basic foundation from which the Scope of Work Statement is birthed.
A Scope of Work is more than a list of equipment and materials. It is a short 3-5 sentence paragraph that describes the work to be done and the expected result. It describes what equipment will be provided (It isn’t necessarily manufacturer, make, and model specific, but it can be if warranted.), where it will be installed, and how it will be connected. It should address the three elements of an integrated system: Audio, Video, and Control. Imagine the following two scenarios:
Scenarion 1: You arrive at the jobsite and are escorted to a conference room that will be your work space for the day. You have a collection of boxes sitting on the conference table and a box containing a large display against the wall. A hand-written note tells you, “install the TV at the front of the room at normal height. Connect the Cable Cubby to the TV.” A few minutes later the escort returns with an AppleTV unit and asks about the ceiling speakers she was promised.
Scenario 2: You arrive at the jobsite and are escorted to a conference room that will be your work space for the day. You have a collection of boxes sitting on the conference table and a box containing a large display against the wall. With the equipment on the table is the following document:
“We will install a DM-TX-401-C under the conference table and pull a CAT6 and power cable through a floor box to a stub-out above the ceiling and down a conduit behind the display location to a DM-RMC-Scaler-C that will be mounted to the wall. The 70″ display will be mounted so that the center of the display is 72″ AFF. A hole cut by others in the conference table will be where we place a Cable Cubby. The cubby will have VGA/A, DisplayPort, and HDMI inputs plates installed in it along with power. 18″ jumpers will connect the plates to the DM-TX under the table and 10′ cables will connect to the plates on top of the table. A single 3′ HDMI will connect the DM-RMC to the display on HDMI 1. This will be the only input. The display’s speakers will provide the audio and the display’s provided handheld remote will be used for power on/off and volume.”
A few minutes later the escort returns with an AppleTV unit and asks about the ceiling speakers she was promised.
In scenario 1, with no real direction or guidance, you have no idea about what to do with the AppleTV and whether or not to go looking for speakers and an amplifier. In scenario 2, you have a clear definition of the work expected of you, and it doesn’t include speakers or an AppleTV. If these pieces equipment are to be added, it will be on a Change Order at additional cost, and after the primary Scope of Work is complete.
If you are asking installers to follow detailed instructions, there is a good chance that they will be able to complete the assignment in the time allotted, even without a one-line drawing. Additionally, when the Scope of work is completed, so is this phase of the installation. Staying on schedule means staying on budget.
This brings us to the Equipment list. You have described what you want installed, and how it should interconnect in a general form, but have you actually procured the equipment and is it at the job site ready to be installed? You wouldn’t send a baseball player up to the plate without a bat, why send an installer to a jobsite without all of the equipment? This means that there must be sufficient time allowed after the sale is made for the processing of all the paperwork and ordering of all the materials, then of course shipping and receiving. Depending on the size of your organization, this could take several weeks – longer if the suppliers have inventory issues, or if there are holidays or inclement weather conditions that delay transport of the gear.
If you have a taken the time to draw out a one-line diagram showing all of the devices and their interconnections, you should have a grasp of the Bill of Materials. Verify that the model numbers that you ordered are the model numbers you received. If they are different because of model year changes or discontinuation, verify that the features and connectors on the received model are the same as on the model specified. Manufacturers are notorious for making “improvements” by elimination features or the removing of serial ports, analog audio and video ports, and changing connector types with model changes. A call from the installer in the field is not the time to find out that the device won’t perform as expected or additional parts are required, due to a product change that eliminated a desired feature or connection point.
The other troublesome area that will affect a project’s bottom line is not having the right cables, connectors, adapters, and other accessories to complete the task. Be certain that the installers dispatched have the correct installation aids to complete the job on the first visit.
- Do they have sufficient DB9 connectors of the correct gender?
- Do they have RJ45 connectors that are correct for the type of category cable being used?
- Will the installers need special audio connectors for the job?
- If the customer’s PCs have DisplayPort video outputs, do you have DisplayPort cables accounted for in your system design?
- Are the pre-made cables of sufficient length?
Taking time to assemble all of these little, but important details will help to eliminate hemorrhaging the profit margin.
Finally, making sure that provision has been made for the correct and sufficient resources is essential to a timely and efficient integration project. Manpower is the main resource component, but vehicles to deliver the equipment to the job site, specialty equipment like lifts and ladders, and other devices unique to the installation requirements need consideration as well. Again, having staff on site unable to work because of missing resources only hurts the job’s bottom line.
So in summary, by giving attention to a Scope of Work Statement, Equipment, Accessories, and Resources, you really can create a “silk purse” with a SOW’S EAR.
So, Friday, January 27th, was the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 1 tragedy that claimed the lives of astronauts Virgil ‘Gus’ Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee. I’ve always been fascinated by the ‘Space Race’ era, but reading the Ars Technica article, I found parallels between the culture of NASA at the time and the AV business… Specifically, what they call ‘Go Fever’. It brought into sharp focus how important project management is and having a process in place that you follow to the letter without fail (or, at least, building in a level of ‘acceptable risk’) may take a little longer, but in the end the outcome turns out for the better. In the lesson of Apollo 1, NASA and its contractors learned that cutting too many corners for the sake of beating the Russians could have disastrous consequences. In fact, if the incident hadn’t happened when it did, the outcome may have been much worse and caused us to lose the race to the moon altogether.
In the AV industry, it’s easy and tempting at all stages of the process to skip ahead in the project plan. We all know what happens when you cut corners in the field disastrous consequences can happen: Think of a speaker cluster falling on a group of people, and the possibility to exact a higher toll in human life than the Apollo 1 fire exists.
Of course, no one usually dies in AV, but short cuts can certainly cause loads of bad things to happen, like ruining our professional reputation. Even in the initial phases of a project, shortcuts can muddle the process, when the person taking that first call or completing the initial site survey decides ‘they’ve seen a million systems just like this one’. A small error in the scope or equipment selection can snowball and have huge effects down the line.
‘Go fever’ is described by Wikipedia as:
“[It] is an informal term used to refer to the overall attitude of being in a rush or hurry to get a project or task done while overlooking potential problems or mistakes. ‘Go fever’ results from both individual and collective aspects of human behavior. It is due to the tendency as individuals to be overly committed to a previously chosen course of action based on time and resources already expended (sunk costs) despite reduced or insufficient future benefits, or even considerable risks.”
When I think of how quickly North American Aviation engineered and built that capsule to meet the tight timetable, and how so many other people involved with the program, including the astronauts themselves, let ‘Go Fever’ impact their judgement; I am reminded of how easy it is to say, ‘the project deadline is X date, so we need to just slap this system together’. Another frequent example of ‘Go Fever’ occurs when sales are needed for the month and jobs are just cranked out into the pipeline, as fast as possible. The details (like the scope, or engineering details) do NOT sort themselves out later.
‘Go Fever’ as a term is also referred to with regards to the subsequent Challenger disaster of January 28th, 1986, and the Columbia tragedy of February 1st, 2003; all three tragedies related to a common mode of thinking, and all around the same time of year…
Share with us examples of Go Fever in your organization. How have you solved for Go Fever in your Organization?