Widgets Magazine

A good system is greater than the sum of its parts

I was asked to prepare a blog post and promptly drew a blank about a topic. I thought about what is it that I can do to help the AV world and keep it safe. I thought about my typical topics and decided it was time to discuss something new for the New Year.
We are AV professionals that provide professional AV solutions. These include audio, video, lighting, and control systems but those are merely just the hardware that make up the final product. There are additional considerations that have to be accounted for, such as the expertise of the integrator and the cost of ownership. These intangible items are often harder to quantify but as just as much a part of the process.
The equipment expense is a fixed expense for most integrators. While the cost can change to the customer based on the mark up amount, typically the cost to the integrator is a constant. However, there is the challenge of people shopping the Internet. This issue is very common on projects with people that are also musicians, such as a music teacher. The typical example is someone shopping for an amplifier, comparing watts only or, just as difficult, the same model. The question becomes, “If I can find this Flugel brand left handed amplifier for 8 bananas on Missippippi.com why should I pay 9 bananas for your Trumpet brand amplifier.” That question is easier to address than the dreaded, “If I can buy your Trumpet brand amplifier for 8 bananas on Missippippi.com why should I pay 9 bananas from you?”
Talk about being put on the spot by your client. For some of the questions it is possible to explain why a Flugel amplifier is better suited than the Trumpet amplifier. However, the issue of the same amplifier having a different price is much more difficult. All too often there is no good answer so the integrator does not sell the product, sells the product at a lower price, or asks for a discount from their supplier. All of these are reasonable solutions, but we should consider other solutions. This point is where the integrator needs to explain the value that they add to the process.
As an integrator, it is important to explain how your involvement is a benefit to the customer. This portion of the process is important. It is a proposition that many firms miss. Explaining to the customer that as the provider, the integrator stand behinds the products. If there is a problem the integrator is ready to help solve the issue. If there is a need for service, the integrator can arrange it and often provides it. Also the integrator helps by making sure that the pieces combine to form a cohesive system. As the integrator it is important to explain the knowledge and experience that is brought to the design. An example of this can be explaining how specifying all of the same brand of amplifiers means that all of the cooling fans function the same way helping to develop a cohesive thermal design. Of course there are the other things that are often overlooked, taking care of ordering, shipping, installation, and warranty process; these are all things that the integrator adds and needs to highlights.
These discussions get more complex when looking at the loudspeaker selection. Often times when non-audio people look at a loudspeaker they simply look at the coverage and power handling. As many integrators understand there is much more to the evaluation. People of course think about the coloration or sound of the loudspeaker preferring Brand A compared to Brand B. That is only part of the things the integrator needs to consider. Is the speaker rated for rigging or overhead mounting? Is the loudspeaker sensitivity the same or does the amplifier power need to change to reach the same performance? Is the speaker sound complimentary to the sound of the rest of the systems These considerations need to be explained to the customer when they are shopping on price.
The next challenge is that at times the labor cost is not considered. A less expensive piece of equipment is not any easier to install than another piece of equipment. Typically a two channel amplifier has at least five terminations, and can be more; two audio inputs, two audio outputs, one power input. There might also be digital audio transport and control to connect. Also there is the type of connectors; the time to terminate speaker wire to a spade lug versus an NL-8 connector is very different. Different devices take different amounts of time to integrate into the system. Studying and understanding this is something important as it can quickly add up.
When I was an integrator I had to spend time explaining how a less expensive amplifier actually cost more based on the costs of installing it. The extra time to fabricate a rear rack support solution, make TRS (tip-ring-sleeve) connectors for the inputs, and TR (tip-ring) connectors for the outputs outweighed the cost of a more expensive amplifier with the terminal blocks and rear rack support included. The other portion of this equation is that project management time can also be increased as a result of having to review the new products and complications to the ordering and project schedule.
It is possible to continue on this path of demonstrating how perceived savings are not actually realized, such as a less expensive control system taking longer to program or a less sensitive loudspeaker requiring a larger amplifier. The key item, though, is to not look at the items individually but to look at the total system cost and compare that. Getting to that point is a challenge as some clients want to solely look at every single item and cost analyze it. That can be done but it does not show the value that integrators truly add or the importance of creating a system.
An example that I used when I was an integrator last century, one does not go into a car dealership and say, “I can get less expensive wiper blades elsewhere so don’t put them on; I also can get less expensive tires so I won’t buy them from you but I want you to install them and not charge me for the labor.” Sounds absurd when said that way. However, that is the challenge many firms face. Remind people that they are buying a solution, a system, and not individual parts. As an integrator do not shy away from explaining the value you add and how some of the decisions were made.
A well designed system is truly greater than the sum of its gear.

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Bradford Benn

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