A few years ago I was helping a university as they sorted through their options in a $12M media facility. As their consultant, I had worked with them and their architect for several months, helped write their RFP, and now we were reviewing the final three Vendors. The client asked for my opinion. When I gave them my thoughts, they were not based on capability, but on culture.

Why?

Here’s the truth – almost every AV Vendor can plan and build an AV system that works and meets whatever specs you throw at them. But if you want the process to be a positive one, and you want the right kind of support after the system is finished, you need to be aware of the vendor’s culture. Here are some questions you may want to ask…

  • You want to know how their change order process works, and at what level it kicks in. Some vendors build a little wiggle room so every little hiccup does not spawn a changeorder, with its increase in price, and its delays.
  • Ask them how their people are trained. InfoComm has several levels of acredidation, and each one translates into a percentage of technicians formally trained. The higher the level (Diamond is the highest) the larger percentage of technicians that been through the certification process. A high level of certification means the vendor consistently invests in quality people to work on your system.
  • Talk to them about their design philosophy, and make sure you have a clear understanding of who is responsible for what in the design and build process.
  • Have a clear understanding of how much of your project is being “farmed out” to freelancers. Some vendors work primarily with their own people on the job sites, which provides a high level of accountibility and consistency in quality, while others use mostly freelancers, where maintaining a consistent quality is harder.

To have the most successful and smooth running AV project, the understanding of culture needs to go both ways. Vendors need to have an understanding of how you work. This means they have to understand your culture as well as you understand theirs.

  • Make sure they understand what your system is going to be used for, who will be operating it, what their expertise level is, and what quality level you are expecting. A phrase like “best” or “highest” quality does not tell them enough. Be specific.
  • If you have a deadline, let them know what that deadline is, and whether it’s soft or hard, or if parts of your facility can go on line later than the immediate deadline. Be honest. Don’t “pad” the dead line, because once the vendor finds out you have padded it, they won’t trust any of your subsequent deadlines.
  • Let them know all your dynamics. If they understand who you answer to and how decisions are made in your organization this helps them help you. If you have a contengency fund, they need to know that. If you don’t, they need to know that as well. In short, the more information a vendor has about how your organization works, who interacts with whom, and any process related to your system, the better job they can do crafting a proposal, process and design to make the integration experience run as smoothly as possible.

It is good to share your culture, and get an understanding of your vendor’s culture during the bid process. To get the most out of the process and to make the best decision, invest some time learning the vendor’s culture, and sharing the culture of your company early in the process, before the bid goes out.

Truly undestanding culture takes time. And spending some time with vendors you think are viable bidders before the bid goes out might seem like “non-productive” time, but it can make all the difference in your ability to make a smart decision that will not just result in a quality project from a technical point of view, but also a smooth running project that will be save you time, money and frustration from start to end.

By Tom Atkins for Advanced AV