Widgets Magazine

In Support of Design Bid – Leonard Suskin

Leonard Suskin-*recaps his excellent debate on Episode 5 of AVCrosstalk and restates his case here.-*
I had a spirited discussion-*recently-*on the AVCrosstalk show to discuss the relative merits of design/build vs design/bid/build. While it was a spirited discussion in which both sides made some strong points, I can’t help but walk away feeling that the argument was made not against consultants as a whole, but against bad consultants. That’s an easier argument to make, but not a terribly worthwhile one.
From the Bid/Build side, two ideas merit repeating. First, it’s easy for a design/build firm to get into a “tail wags the dog” scenario in which the firm’s technical strengths and financial stakes drive design decisions. They’ll propose gear they are comfortable installing, and on which they can make a profit. If the best solution is something that a given contractor doesn’t support and they’re a design-build team for a given project then the project will suffer. Choosing a contractor after-*the solution is determined gives a better chance at the best possible outcome. You’ve hired the person with a hammer before determining that your problem is a nail.
Second, there is, at the very least, a perceived conflict of interest in having the team specifying equipment being the same ones selling it. I’m not accusing anyone of overselling, but it’s very hard for their to not be a subconscious bias if nothing else. From the client’s organizational standpoint, imagine trying to explain to your internal stakeholders that you need to spend potentially millions of dollars on AV gear – and you know this because the person selling it to you said so. That’s a difficult argument to make.
Finally, and most profoundly, the industry is changing rapidly in ways we’ve not seen before. I’ve said before that the AV system as we know it is, in many ways, dying if it’s not already dead. The integrator’s old business model of selling boxes is greatly threatened by the move from hardware to software, by increased consumerization of professional AV gear and by an increasing expectation that end-users should be able to maintain and upgrade a system on their own. Each of these changes is a direct blow against the design/build model.
On the twitter discussion, Michael Shinn summed it up in an interesting manner:
Mike's Tweet
Yes. Consultants sell ideas. That is our focus, that is our place in the industry. That is-*the industry. In his opening statement, Brock summed it up in a manner which was smart, concise, intuitive… and wrong. Stating the real question to be, “Is the client going to hire me, or are they going to hire you?” In this new world, especially in the corporate and higher education verticals, that is no longer the question. The new question to ask should be,-*”Is the client going to hire any of us, or will they have their IT staff provision some PCs with their favorite software-based collaboration tool, go to a big box retailer for some USB microphones and sub-$1000 PTZ cameras and call it a day?” In any but the most rarefied specialty spaces that-*is the new competition.
That is where the consultant still has a role. As Shinn said, consultants-*sell ideas, and those ideas could require one hundred dollars worth of boxes, a thousand dollars, ten thousand dollars, or a million dollars. Increasingly, we design ecosystems rather than standalone systems. Brock claimed the ability to amortize design costs in the equipment margin as a strength for design build, yet later admitted that on flat-panel displays he makes very little margin. Where will he recover his design costs when users stop wanting to buy boxes? On the consultant side, we’re already prepared for this. We sell ideas.
Ideas are all that the industry has left.
Image- copyright Joepage, used under Creative Commons Licence-*

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