How Security Integrators Can Succeed Working With Consultants
Many security systems integrators are baffled when it comes to working with an independent security consultant. Many integrators feel that a security consultant gets in the way of their relationship with the customer, and that the sole purpose of the consultant seems to be to make their life more difficult.
Security consultants are a fact of life on most large projects, and security integrators who wish to pursue the larger projects must eventually work with a consultant, whether they like it or not. Smart integrators learn to work with security consultants, not against them.
Here are a few tips that security systems integrators should consider when working with independent security consulting and design firms:
Reach Out to Consultants in Advance
Often, the first time that a security consultant hears from a security integrator is when a specification that the consultant has written goes out for bid. Smart integrators reach out to the consultants in their area in advance, letting them know what types of projects they do, what product lines that they carry, and what types of special services that they may offer. After making the initial contact, check in with the consultant periodically to let him know what projects you are working on, what new product lines you have taken on, etc.
Don't Bid on Projects That You are Not Qualified For
Consultants prefer to work with security integrators who are well-qualified and who have previous experience with projects of a similar size and type. It is highly unlikely that a security consultant will give you your "first big break".
If the largest project you have completed to date is $35,000, don't expect the consultant to recommend you for a $3,000,000 job. If the consultant has specified that the integrator be an authorized dealer for specific products, don't expect for this requirement to be waived just so you can bid on the project.
Understand the Consultant's Need to Keep Secrets
Security consultants are often brought in at the earliest stages of a project and are often privy to much information that they can not reveal to the integrator. Regardless of how close you are to a consultant, don't expect him to tell you about projects in advance, tell you about the practices of your competitors, furnish you with early bid results, or give you information beyond what is publicly available to other bidders. You wouldn't want the consultant revealing secrets about your company - don't expect him to tell you what he knows about your competitors.
Read and Follow the Consultant's Bid Documents
The bid documents prepared by the consultant may represent hundreds or even thousands of hours of design and planning work. Yet, many security integrators just skim over the documents, say that the design is flawed, and begin to prepare their bid based on what they think is best. This mindset can cost the integrator the job if his proposal is rejected for being noncompliant. Worse yet, the integrator's bid may be accepted, but disputes may arise during the construction phase when the owner finds out that what the integrator is installing doesn't comply with the consultant's bid documents.
Smart security systems integrators will:
Thoroughly read and study the bid documents, including all drawings and specifications.
Understand that your role is to execute the consultant's design, not redesign the entire project based on your own ideas. This can be a tough role to adjust to, particularly if you are used to doing your own design work and have strong opinions about technical matters. If you are not able to make this adjustment, stay away from consultant designed projects.
Assume that there is a good reason behind everything shown in the bid documents. Raise questions during the bid phase when you see something that looks like an error, but don't challenge things that will work but are different than the way that you would normally do them.
Assume that you will be required to comply with every part of the bid documents and price your bid accordingly. Don't assume you will be able to omit items or make changes later unless you have received a written addendum approving these changes prior to bid date.
If you have a better, cheaper, or more creative way of doing things, ask if you can submit two bids: one that is fully compliant with the consultant's bid documents, and another based on your own ideas. But, in order for this strategy to succeed, your alternative proposal must offer significant cost and other advantages to the owner, not just accommodate you.
Start Projects Out on the Right Foot
Most bid documents prepared by consultants require that product information data and shop drawings be submitted for approval prior to the start of the project. The bid documents usually have specific requirements for how these submittals should be prepared. Smart security integrators follow these requirements to the letter, demonstrating to the consultant that they take the bid documents seriously. This is a great way to start the project off on the right foot.
Make Sure that Everyone on Your Team Knows the Rules
In many cases, a salesperson or estimator at the systems integration company will use the consultant's bid documents to prepare the bid, but once the project starts, these documents are put on the shelf, and never make it to the job site. Often, the project manager and field technicians are not even aware that this is a consultant designed project and have never even seen the original bid documents.
Smart security integrators let everyone on their team know that this is a consultant designed project, and that there are specific contract requirements that must be complied with. This may mean that technicians will have to do things differently on this project, but things work better when everyone knows the rules in advance.
Communicate Often and Document Everything
Smart systems integrators communicate with the security consultant regularly, not just when there are problems or questions. A quick call or email giving the consultant an update on project status is greatly appreciated and should be done on at least a weekly basis throughout the project.
Any questions involving clarifications or changes to the bid documents should be submitted to the consultant in writing. Don't wait until the last minute to submit a question; allow ample time for the consultant to review the situation and prepare a response.
Keep Your Commitments
Prepare a detailed project schedule in advance, and follow this schedule to the letter. If there is a major problem, or you expect to miss a scheduled completion date, let the consultant know well in advance. Show up on time for meetings and return calls and emails from the consultant promptly.
Prepare for the Final Acceptance Test
The end of the project is often the most stressful time for the security integrator. This is when the consultant will examine the project to make sure that all requirements of the bid documents have been met. Normally, an "acceptance test" will be conducted by the integrator and witnessed by the consultant. During this process, the consultant will identify any deficiencies and prepare a written punch-list of items that the integrator must correct prior to acceptance of the project.
Here are some things that the integrator can do to assure that the acceptance testing process goes smoothly:
Prior to scheduling the test, have someone from your firm (preferably someone who was not actively involved in the project) thoroughly read the consultant's bid documents again and then inspect the project to see that all requirements have been met.
Prior to scheduling the test, thoroughly test all security systems to assure that they are complete and working properly. Problems with the security systems should be identified and corrected by your technicians in advance, not discovered for the first time during the acceptance test.
Prior to scheduling the acceptance test, take one final walk-through of the project and visually inspect everything. Pay attention to details: missing screws, devices loose or wall or not level, cable not properly tied-down or not labeled, missing knockouts in electrical boxes, etc. Finding and fixing these items in advance keeps them off of the punch-list and saves everyone time.
During the acceptance test, provide an adequate number of technicians and all tools necessary to conduct the test. Expect for the consultant to ask you to remove equipment covers and disconnect and reconnect wiring connections in order to test tamper switches and wiring supervision features.
During the acceptance test, have the right people on hand so that all of the consultant's questions can be answered. For example, if the consultant asks "How did you install the cabling to this camera?", someone should be present who can answer this question. Saying "I dunno, the guy who ran the cabling ain't here today..." isn't an acceptable answer.
During the acceptance test, don't stop to fix problems encountered along the way. Once a problem has been identified, it should be put on the punch-list, and everyone should move on to test the next item. Don't expect the consultant to stand around while you try to solve problems or finish uncompleted work.
During the acceptance test, don't allow your technicians to get defensive about problems identified by the consultant. Often, a technician will question the necessity of doing something that was required by the specifications, but not needed in the opinion of the technician. This is not the time for a technical debate - if it's in the specs, it needs to be done in order to satisfy the requirements of the contract. Have your techs do it regardless of their personal opinion about whether it is necessary.
End Projects on the Right Foot
Bid documents prepared by consultants typically require end-user training, and close-out documentation such as shop drawings. The bid documents usually have specific requirements for how these items should be handled, and again, the smart integrator takes these requirements seriously and fully complies. Close-out documentation should be submitted promptly at the end of the project. Don't blemish an otherwise perfect project by failing to perform close-out tasks in a timely manner.
Meet with the Consultant After The Project is Complete
After the project has been completed and the dust has settled, arrange a meeting with the consultant to discuss how the project went. Ask the consultant to honestly tell you how your company performed, and to tell you ways in which your project execution skills could be improved. In turn, tell the consultant how you think he performed, and offer suggestions for ways in which the consultant could improve his bid documents or construction administration processes.
If you have additional questions on how security integrators can succeed in working with consultants, please contact us.
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Published May, 2016