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AV Smarts

3 Good Reasons to Hire an AV Consultant

From system design, installation and support to project management, budgeting and procurement, a technology manager's to-do list is always growing. Here are three ways an independent AV consultant can help.

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Technology managers in higher education are asked to do many things and expected to do all of them well. The list continues to grow, encompassing technology management, project management, system design, installation, support, event support, budgeting, procurement, networking and training. We are expected to have the breadth of knowledge of what some organizations might consider multiple job lines — yet frequently encounter users, staff and faculty who regard us as the people who bring in the overhead projectors (those days are long gone).

My first 18 months in the AV field weren't the best. I was inundated from all sides by capital projects, renovations, facilities project requests, digital sign requests, grant projects and our own needs for technology renewal and support. Many of you are probably in the same position. One moment you are doing project management or reviewing an invoice, and the next moment you are in a classroom in front of a hundred people fixing whatever is broken or perceived to be broken. Considering that here at Ithaca College our AV support department consists of two full-timers and a number of part-time student techs, we're constantly on the run.

The nature of our jobs is relatively cyclical — for me, those cycles occur in roughly 14- to 18-month intervals. That gives you some idea of what is going to happen each year — allowing you to plan and budget accordingly. At peak times — the budgeting period for next fiscal year, the end of the current fiscal year, the start of the semester, installations over summer and holiday breaks — a hired consultant can truly shine. Here are three ways a consultant can be a big help as you deploy new technology, manage the technology, keep projects flowing and keep users happy.

1) Keeping Contracts and Costs in Line

Toward the end of the fiscal year and the budgeting period for the next year, technology managers often experience a near constant barrage of quote requests as departments look to shift their remaining funds into small equipment and unload it into AV installs. There are a number of basic ways a consultant can help you as this period approaches.

First, your consultant can help you create a standard "scope of work" (SoW) template that encapsulates the work you need to have quoted, which can be modified for the requirements of a particular room. The majority of the SoW "boilerplate" remains the same from room to room; the only things that change are the equipment list and the specifics of the design. At that point, the SoW becomes a contract document between the school and the AV integrator, so having a consultant write it and the school's procurement department approve it is important.

The consultant can also create an opinion of probable cost (OPC), which saves you the time of having to get bids from multiple integrators, doing all that work upfront and frequently wasting everyone's time as the project never moves forward. Having an OPC from a third party is also helpful due to the fact that it wasn't created by your internal staff. In some users' eyes, that carries more weight.

Lastly, a consultant can be a second pair of eyes in reviewing the quotes you've received — and will probably catch 99 percent of the potential issues. Many technology managers find there are relatively few others on campus who can be relied upon to go through an AV install quote and actually catch the issues. How many people have the expertise to notice that the quote missed an input card on the matrix switcher or that you're over your POE budget on the switch?

2) Helping with System Checks and QA

For some people on campus, summer is a quiet time. But in AV services, summer means the added workload of installing new tech while the college is still actively filling the dorm rooms and classrooms with students and off-campus groups as alternative sources of revenue. The phone does not stop ringing, and the projects need to be completed. As you commission your systems, hiring a consultant to perform the final checks in the install can help immensely. If you have enough time to plan, you can create a standard system verification checklist with your consultant, and possibly even have a well-trained AV tech student go through the checklist.

A consultant can also assist with quality assurance checks on installations as they occur. Often on campus we have two to three installations occurring at a time — and if you are on the same page with your consultant, he or she can become an extension of your install expectations and enable you to stay on track with multiple large installations at once.

3) Sharing the Workload

Lastly, on the truly large projects, simply being able to share the workload with a consultant is a great help. Instead of relying on an architect to bring in a consultant that you may have never worked with, you can instead utilize someone who you have a relationship with and you know is on the same page. That person will understand and implement your established standards across every project. Splitting the wall elevation drawings, equipment lists, electrical considerations, project management, system commissioning, etc. can frankly help improve your work life and ensure a successful project.

In order to work with a consultant this way, there are two things that you need to do. The first is to document the work that you are doing, either through some sort of project management/ticketing software or by keeping track of your time manually. When it comes time to make the justification for a consultant, you will need the data to show that the extra help is warranted. The second is to find a consultant nearby who you can establish a relationship with. Ask your fellow tech managers if they have any recommendations, or see if you can work a little closer to the architect's consultant during the next big renovation.

As you are able to integrate a consultant into your workflow, you will find that you are more easily able to respond to last-minute requests and your installations will go more smoothly. Being able to identify periods of high workload ahead of time and responding accordingly, potentially months before they occur, will be beneficial for you, your end users and the bottom line.

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