Choosing the best AV integrator
There are many factors to consider when choosing a commercial audio visual (AV) integrator. As a customer, it is sometimes very difficult to compare quotes and proposals. When you meet with the AV integrator, you will tell them your vision, and the integrator will engineer and quote what they think is the best solution. If you receive several quotes, it is often a complete apples to oranges comparison, and you need to watch out for many issues which are outlined below:
- Project goals – has the integrator described in detail the overall capabilities of the system. This would be a written description of what you originally discussed that the system would allow you to do. For example, if it was a web enabled conference room, you would expect a description such as this: “This system is a deluxe AV system for a conference room that includes web video conferencing, a 90” TV, a complete audio reinforcement in the ceiling , 1 cable cubby for the table, beam forming front mic, a wireless interface for wire-free presenting via USB dongle, PTZ camera and mini PC.You can present content from the cable cubby in the table, or wirelessly. You can use any standard web video conference system like Web Ex, Zoom, Skype, etc to have full HD video and audio conferences. During the conference you can share content from the PC, laptop, or network drives.“
- Communications – does the integrator respond to you on a timely basis? For example, if you ask for a quote before the sale and it takes them weeks to provide it, how timely do you think they will be after the sale? Does the integrator return your emails and calls on a timely basis? Is the integrator open to suggestions and changes to the plan and/or the quote? Does the integrator work with you to provide the system within your budget, if that is disclosed to them?
- Commercial Equipment – is the integrator quoting you a system that uses commercial AV equipment, versus residential, used, or home use equipment? First, why does it matter? It matters that you are getting commercial equipment for the large investment you are making. The commercial AV equipment manufacturers provide great support and warranties (3 to 7 years). Equipment for home use typically offers shorter warranties and limited technical support. Many of the commercial AV manufacturers will provide advanced exchange warranties. That means that if your equipment goes down, they will ship a new replacement before you send back the bad item – so you do not have any or limited downtime. If you buy a residential TV at Best Buy (or Amazon, etc), it has a 1 year warranty when used in the home. If you use it in a commercial environment, that normally will void the warranty. Commercial TVs often have 3 year warranties with onsite service. Commercial AV equipment companies are companies such as Extron, Crestron, AMX, Crown, QSC, Biamp, Kramer, and others.
- Authorized Dealer – Is the integrator an Authorized Dealer for the products you are purchasing. The advantage of this are many and important: the integrator has a direct line to the factory, the integrator has relationships with the company and its representatives, the integrator will be able to offer the best pricing and rebates, the integrator will be able to obtain the best service and warranty for you, your product warranties will be honored, and many other advantages. Ask your integrator about his Authorized Dealer status.
- Professional Installation – does the integrator have their own on-staff installation teams? Many integrators cut costs by hiring temporary contractors every time they get a job. This can often be very detrimental to your installation. A team of on-staff installers have the training, and the teamwork to get the job done properly and on time. If there is a problem or issue later on, you will be dealing with the same team that did the initial installation so they will be able to address it quickly. If the integrator hired contractors, they will be disinclined to hire back those one-time contractors, and your issues may not get fixed.
- Technical Expertise – does the integrator have the technical expertise to install your system correctly and on time? Check to see if they have the certifications necessary which is one indicator of whether they consider training and certification important. Will they be current in their technical expertise? Will they be network savvy, and have the ability to interface with your IT group to properly connect the equipment to the rest of your infrastructure. With most commercial AV equipment migrating to IP based equipment, being network savvy is very important to successful installations.
- Programming – if your installation requires programming, there are two issues involving programming. 1) Does the integrator have programmers on staff to do the programming? The reason this is important is that if you discover a problem a month or two after the installation and the integrator used a contract programmer, are they ever going to be able to get this programmer to fix the problem on a timely basis, and at no cost to you? 2) Who owns the program? You as the customer has paid for the custom programming. However, most AV integrators state that they own the code. The problem with this are many – what if the integrator goes out of business and you don’t have the code and you need to make changes like a new projector? What if you want a change, and you are now held hostage and overcharged for changes – you can’t go to anyone else because you don’t have the code. What if you have an equipment failure and the code needs to be re-loaded? If you don’t have the code, you may be held hostage for re-loading costs.
- Financial Stability – does the integrator you are contracting with have the financial stability? Is the deposit you’ve paid on your system safe? Does the integrator have the financial ability to order all the equipment for your installation? Or are they on COD with their suppliers, which may cause your installation to be held up based on their ability to pay for equipment piece by piece? Does the integrator have the financial stability to weather a delay or slowdown in your project timeline?
- Insurance – does your integrator carry the proper insurance for liability, transport of your equipment and workmen’s compensation? For example, many integrators that use contract installers do not have workmen’s compensation insurance on the contractors, so if someone was hurt on the job, the claim would be pursued against your company.
- Scope of work – has the integrator written a detailed scope of work into the quote proposal. This should outline exactly what installation items they will be providing in detail. This insures that there are not misunderstandings between you and the integrator as to what they will be doing. You may have discussed it in a preliminary meeting, but if there is no scope, or if the scope does not detail everything, then you may be surprised when that doesn’t happen.
- Drawings – will the integrator provide “as built” drawings to you when the project is done. Why are the drawings important? Again, for many reasons – what if the integrator goes out of business? What if you want to do changes or additions – you’ll need drawings to know what a complex system is doing? What if there are problems – you’ll need drawings to troubleshoot the system? What if you decide to change integrators – you’ll need drawings for the new integrator to be able to change or support the installation.
At Videotex, we can answer each one of these points in the affirmative to provide you with a great AV integration experience. Please ask us anytime to address these points with you on your proposal.