AV Consultants Roundtable: Adding value wins business
Paul Milligan, October 1, 2012
The third of this year’s AV Roundtable events saw a group of consultants get together to discuss their role within the AV industry, how to win business, and how they can add value to the whole installation process. Paul Milligan reports.
Patrick Stewart-Blacker, SB Solutions
John Sykes, Arup
Jerry Mason, Hewshott
Jason Brameld, Mark Johnson Consultants
Andre Ingram, Tardis
Mark Murphy, Vanguardia Consulting
Ian Revens, IMC Productions
Jo Mandorlo, CBI
Nick Williams, Riedel (sponsor)
Wayne Perkins, Steljes (sponsor)
Holly Inglis, Panasonic, (sponsor)
Darren Pitt, Saville AV (sponsor)
Wayne Mason, Imago (sponsor)
How has business fared over the last 12 months? Is the nature of your work changing?
There is still business out there to be won, but it is being fought for harder than ever before. Ian Revens, a consultant from IMS, found many large organisations still wanted work done, but weren’t prepared to pay a reasonable rate for it: “They are using the recession to justify budget reductions. We’ve had to battle against lowest cost rather than (justify with) best quality.”
Indeed, all our Roundtable participants agreed that currently it was tough doing business in the UK. Increasingly they were being asked to do more work, for less money, and were afraid that when trading conditions improved, clients would be tempted to insist work could still done at the ‘recession’ rate.
Jason Brameld, from Mark Johnson Consultants was one of those to acknowledge it was a very competitive environment: “The large corporate relocation projects – the bread and butter of AV consultancy (which lead to nice long-term appointments) – are definitely the hardest-won.” Brameld has also seen an overall decline in business from corporate relocation projects.
Surprisingly there did still seem to be a surfeit of work in the education sector, despite big cuts in government funding. And a consequence of the UK market being so tough is that all our AV Roundtable consultants are seeking more international work than ever before. One participant had picked up work in the Far East and Russia in the last 12 months, with another reporting contracts in Europe had quadrupled.
What do you understand by unified communications? Do clients understand what it means? And are AV consultants the right people to deliver it?
The term UC is the hottest buzzword in the AV industry. But as noted in a previous Roundtable, if you ask 10 people what it means, you’ll get 10 different answers. John Sykes from Arup summed it up neatly as: “Everything that is at our disposal in terms of communication – telephony, computing, networking, video conferencing, and Microsoft Lync.”
Sykes also felt consultants were the right people to deliver it and they should all be promoting it as the technology has a positive environmental message to deliver. But in promoting it, Brameld said consultants should also be aware that no-one will buy it just for the technology; it must be about adding value – such as changing and improving the workflow.
Brameld has worked on UC projects that have failed because of a lack of drive from upper management, a different generation which didn’t value what the technology could achieve.
SB Solutions’ Patrick Stewart-Blacker widened the debate to include all AV technology. He has witnessed a shift change in the way the AV industry has pushed technology to users: “What we should be doing as an industry is creating a need. Interactive whiteboards are being pushed into corporate institutions and it’s hard to get people to use them. But creating a flexible learning environment helps you pull technology into the wider business.”
Several participants agreed that it was students in universities who are now setting the technological pace by bringing their own devices into colleges and demanding flexible learning (and virtual) environments. These institutions are now turning out students well versed in UC, forcing the hand of corporates to react if they want to attract the top student talent.
Perhaps inevitably at this point the iPad entered the discussion. From universities to boardrooms, users are bringing the device into their work-study and expecting organisations to integrate it, something which has caught AV and IT teams on the hop. “Clients on every job I’ve worked on recently have asked if they can use an iPad. It has become a focus,” commented Andre Ingram from Tardis.
Revens agreed, but felt requests that came from management for iPads was not done through knowledge of the tablet, but by a desire not to miss out on the latest thing. In the last few years, technology has gone from being frightening to exciting with the group embracing the tech changing profiles – from 18-24 to 10-50 years old according to Revens. Consequently, this has introduced iPad to the education and retail environment, transforming a specialised market into one with mass appeal. He was wary of the device for use in the pro AV environment however, citing security concerns about the tablet: “As consultants we should say this is not the right product to have.”
What is the current state of the relationship between AV integrators and consultants?
In our AV integrator Roundtable event held earlier this year (AV April) delegates lamented that consultants monopolised the client relationship, and would often produce fully integrated designs, leaving the integrator with nothing to do other than rubber-stamp the plans.
So how did our consultants react to such comments? Former integrator, Hewshott’s Jerry Mason, now a consultant, was in an ideal position to speak about the relationship: “The projects integrators work on with consultants tend to be more frustrating and more stressful and possibly less profitable then those where you can go directly to the client.” However he felt integrators didn’t fully understand the consultant’s role, nor did they appreciate the exact nature of the relationship between the consultant and the client.
Consultants can also be involved for at least 12-18 months before an integrator arrives onsite, and Mason argued that none of this early work is seen by the integrator. “From my experience, most consultants give integrators an input into the design of the systems, but it’s not very often taken up, mainly due to time constraints, so it’s easier just to follow the intended design, rather than think about a re-design.”
AV integrators often felt frustrated by a lack of client access. How could they be expected to do the best job for a client if they couldn’t speak to them? “Rather than the integrators feeling we are preventing them getting to the clients, they should regard us as protecting them from the client,” said Brameld. “Clients can wander off in all directions and introduce lots of other distractions. We can protect integrators from this so they can just sit down and get on with it.”
All those around the table felt that having one point of contact – the consultant – throughout the entire job helped to provide focus for the client.
One other gripe from integrators was that consultants were sometimes accused of taking margin away from them. Jason Brameld felt this was unwarranted: “Quite often it’s the main contractor or quantity surveyor doing this. It makes no difference to us if the main contractor makes five per cent or 35 per cent margin. It doesn’t affect us at all.”
All agreed it was the consultant’s job to make sure the job was done well. It should be stated that all our consultants spoke positively about working with integrators in the past, so maybe there is a solution out there for both parties.
Where can consultants add value?
“They’re an insurance policy,” said Jo Mandorlo from CBI. “We are employed to engage with the client and the rest of the project team. If that design doesn’t work, we are liable. We are also the glue between the client and the contractor.”
Brameld maintained the consultant had a dual role: To provide technical advice and deliver project delivery expertise. Others suggested they should get the budget right and source new technology (a point of contention with integrators). Because of time and budget constraints, some consultants also felt integrators were more likely to use the same equipment over and over again because they knew it worked, rather than taking on new products.
Many consultants felt that – given the length of some projects – championing innovation was a role they could, and should be taking on.