Consultants Versus Design/Build Integrators: The Down Side
Human mind of gears
Blog: Whether you choose a design consultant or a design/build integrator, there are always things to watch out for.
By Lisa Nadile

Consultants and design/build integrators have always butted heads. Some say it is the nature of the relationship to be adversarial. Both are trying to get the upper hand and control the project. Both have strong opinions about the other.

When Neil Willis of Cynergi first started his system integration business in 2002, he realized he needed to become a design/build integrator. Why add designing to his company? One reason was because in South Carolina there were no consultants.

They began trickling into the area in 2004, but again Neil saw problems. “Anyone can say they are an [A/V] consultant. You didn’t have any Professional Engineers [who receive a license from the National Society of Professional Engineers], which a lot of owners or even architects were frowning on because communications still doesn’t have them. The only one recognized were what is called a Registered Communications Distribution Designer (RCDD) [from Building Industry Consulting Service International or BICSI].”

Especially in rural areas, the dangers of an inexperience design consultant were larger because there just aren’t the options a more urban area has, he says.

While the certification issue is also true for system integrators, at least they have to show tangible, real-world product, he says.

Today, says design/build integrator Jay McArdle of Zeller Digital Innovations, at least people in the A/V industry now have the Infocomm licenses of Certified Technology Specialist (CTS), CTS-D (D is for Design) and CTS-I (I is for Installation) to help potential clients evaluate their qualifications in addition to their referrals.

According to InfoComm, its certifications are accredited through the “International Organization of Standardization (ISO) and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) ISO/IEC 17024 certification of personnel as administered in the United States by ANSI.”

Talking to a consultant’s references is a clear necessity. Today’s consultant must handle the design, the bidding process and working with the integrator closely. It is a job that must be handled by an experienced company.

Hiring a consultant adds significant time to the project and sometimes by the time the integrator gets the design, many of the elements are outdated, says Willis. A client must be aware of cost ramifications because of this.

On the flip side, it’s also buyer beware when it comes to design/build integrators says consultant Randy Tritz of Shen, Milsom and Wilke.

When a client uses a consultant, the added cost is incurred, but the project gains an advocate. The client is protected by the bidding process, which helps them find the best integrator for the job, he says.

According to Tritz, design/build integrators can take advantage of their clients by not installing cutting edge equipment and instead emptying their warehouse of equipment that are looking to unload. Project delays, excessive change orders and cost overrides are worries a client may have when just working with a design/build integrator that working with a consultant may prevent, Tritz says.

Overall, you can feel pressure from any choice. It’s a matter of deciding the scope of the project and the time involved, but also the trust factor that must come with whatever choice you make with regard to your A/V installation.

But trust only goes so far. It’s been said time and time again. Get everything in writing. Clearly state every single expectation and make them a condition of the contract. Never let a company, consultant or integrator dictate to you what your needs are. You have the choice to move forward or to stop, reevaluate and turn to a different company to meet your goals.

Which service do you employ? What issues matter most to you?

About the author

Lisa Nadile - Managing Editor
Lisa Nadile is Managing Editor for TechDecisions. She has been a technology journalist for over twenty years and has never lost her love of technology and the way it changes (and improves) our lives. She has written for many magazines and websites on the development of computers and the Internet, and is enjoying her new mission in the audiovisual sector.

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