Risk Management: What Churches Should Be Looking For With Systems Integrators (Part 1)
As end users, consultants and integrators, we’re all challenged by the ever-changing landscape of technology. How does anyone keep up with the myriad of old and new products, formats, signal types, standards and vocabulary?
Integrators should have decades of collective audio, video, control system, and networking experience. The best integrators have a mix of young and veteran designers, engineers, project managers and installers.
When a dedicated, experienced staff is continuously exposed to, and engaged with the most advanced professional technologies and training, and enthusiastically backed by the manufacturers of such technology, the knowledge base grows exponentially. The result: there is little that’s beyond their capabilities to understand and properly integrate. Part-time, semi-pro, and home theater contractors generally won’t have sufficient, on-going exposure to pro-level hardware and software.
Specialized Training & Certifications
With today’s complex systems, product-specific training and certifications are also critically important for successful integration. Designers, project engineers, project managers, and lead technicians should hold certifications from multiple trade organizations and manufacturers. Look for corporate and individual staff certifications such as APEx, CTS, CTS-I, CTS-D, EAVA, DCME, CCP, and RCDD.
As noted earlier, keeping up with modern, professional AV technology is an ongoing challenge. It’s important that your contractor has daily product exposure, with ongoing brand and format awareness. This product awareness allows them to identify and recommend alternate products, when necessary, due to equipment incompatibilities and/or discontinued or delayed product delivery schedules.
Acoustician On The Team
For many projects, acoustic analysis and treatment may not be needed, wanted, or fit into the budget. However, when acoustical planning is required, the best integrators will have at least one acoustician who can properly evaluate, calculate, specify and oversee installation of the appropriate treatment(s).
Understanding and properly applying acoustic treatments is critical if maximizing speech clarity and overall sound quality are primary goals. EASE, Modeler, Smaart, and SysTune are some of the computer-aided design and measurement tools that qualified contractors employ.
Acoustic modeling software such as EASE and Modeler play a key roll in the correct selection and placement of loudspeakers for a room. These tools allow for the evaluation of different loudspeakers and some reasonably sophisticated, predictive acoustical testing. This early design work is done to help evaluate the audio quality and coverage (Figure 3) in a sanctuary, classroom, auditorium, theater, arena, or stadium before it’s constructed.
Most AV integrators do not employ an acoustical engineer. It’s not mandatory they do, but almost all projects that have, or plan to have, an integrated sound system installed should have someone who’s keeping an eye on the architectural acoustics. If your contractor doesn’t have someone on staff, seriously consider hiring a professional acoustician.
Authorized Service Center
The best integrators will have an on-call service manager or department, one or more bench-level repair techs, and a 3-tiered approach when equipment service is required. While integrators may be authorized and have the ability to perform factory service on most of the equipment they sell, they may not believe it is the best use of their time and other resources to maintain a fully-stocked service department for the hundreds of products they probably need to support.
This is how the three-tiered approach may be presented:
1. Troubleshoot the problem and fix it in the field when the problem is manageable at that level.
2. Bring the unit into their local shop for evaluation and servicing when the repair involves generic parts and/or when parts are easily and quickly acquired.
3. If necessary, send the malfunctioning unit back to the manufacturer for warranty or non-warranty service.
This approach may have a few variations, such as advance replacement or loaner equipment when necessary, but in general it’s the most time- and cost-effective for all parties concerned.
First-Use Technical Staff
Once you’ve been handed the keys to a new system, the first few events are critical to the perceived value of the investment. Unless you have seasoned professionals on staff to “run the show,” it’s highly recommended that the integrator budget for and schedule the project manager, and possibly one of the lead technicians, to either operate or provide oversight for the first one or two public uses of the new system(s).
A well-integrated system can only perform as well as the skills and talent of the people who are operating the controls. Also, the contractor should include follow-up training a few months after the systems have been in service when the customer has a fresh perspective on what questions to ask.
In part 2, we’ll focus on the non-technical factors of system integration project risk.
Editor’s Note: This article was co-authored by Dan Nelson (CTS-D, RCDD), a senior systems designer with The Sextant Group, a national technology and acoustical consulting firm, and a member of AVIXA, ASA, SynAudCon, AES and BICSI.