“The right tool for the job”, we are all familiar with that statement. Just look at all the devices available to cut, crimp, carry, fish, drill and mount! Our industry is exploding with new products that simplify project design and facilitate efficient installation. What is fueling this popularity is the need to reduce labor costs, increase profits, and improve customer satisfaction. So would it not be desirable to address all of these issues, for every project, even before you meet the client? I thought that might get your attention. Let’s take a look at how to do it.
Every project design has numerous variables to consider. These variables can be broken into two categories, client preferences and equipment requirements. While client preferences dictate the form and function of the desired system, equipment requirements deal with the cold realities of operational compatibility. While decisions made in one area impact the other, it is important to organize your approach to projects based upon the scope of work that your company provides.
For example: The customer might have originally specified a single source, four zone music system using only volume controls in the four zones and then decided to upgrade to a system with more functionality and control options. The original music distribution system could have been installed easily using the ELAN AV/L2 products, but to now meet the request of the client, the ELAN Z-Series utilizing the VIA Touchpanels will be required to provide for not only volume control, but source selection and many other functions not supported by the original equipment.
Here we see that by deciding to add more advanced system control to one room, the client has forced a more dramatic change to the system design than just upgrading a keypad. If the salesperson and client are not aware of the impact when a change is made, then a problem is most likely going to follow. Although this is a fairly simple example, variations of this scenario can occur in all types of system design and can yield most unpredictable results – usually not desirable.
The solution to this situation requires planning and discipline. Planning involves the creation of pre-designed systems complete with accessories that would reflect the type and scope of work that your company performs. Preparing pre-engineered “building blocks” to be used in the design phase of any project allows the designer and client to avoid the confusion of substituting individual components and dealing with the likely compatibility issues. Having the ability to include options and upgrades easily during the client meetings without having to re-engineer the design every time is just plain smart business.
Discipline will often require that the culture of a company be adjusted and redefined in order to teach the sales/design team that there are well designed and documented systems to meet the vast majority of installations your company will perform. With proper training and support from management the sales/design personnel can now sell the benefits of each system, not the technical jargon behind the design. Having pre-engineered designs also enables a standardized process for installing and managing the project.
So far, so good? Now things start to get a little hazy. Where do you get product information in a format that would make it easy to develop and maintain these project pre-designs? How do you store your work so that it is easily accessed and applied by the designers, sales personnel and installers?
Well, the short answer is a standardized software program that accesses a standardized product database. Oh that’s right, we work in an industry which has not fully embraced the issue of standards yet. But that doesn’t keep us from setting our own within our companies and seeking sources of data that we know to be complete and accurate. A company should be able to select software that best suits its way of doing business not visa versa. No matter which application you choose, accurate industry data is the foundation for all profitable projects. Since many dealers will not be able to dedicate the resources to acquire and format all the required data for all of the products that they sell on a timely basis, there is an imperative need for a universal product database that is not software platform specific. Home Systems Connection is currently developing an easy to use web based interface that allows dealers to have just this type of access to CI industry data. Their data can be used within CustomConnectware, D-Tools and Horizon software easily and at a cost per sku often less than entering the data with your current resources. For more information, visit their website, www.HomeSystemsConnection.com. One thing is sure however: dealers must let their product suppliers know the importance of having the ability to easily access their product information from design/proposal software, no matter which platform a dealer has chosen.
Until the time that there is an accepted product information standard, it is still possible to organize your design, sales and installation processes into standardized business systems that are predictable, repeatable and profitable. The development of these “building blocks” without universal data will require some extra work, increased design time, and possibly some short cuts be taken, but will allow your business to be run more smoothly and profitably.
This article was written by Peter Cosenza of Home Systems Connection a product information service and Keith Davis of a/v/a tech a consulting and service provider dedicated to the Custom Installation and Integration business.