Best Practices for Working with AV Subcontractors from a Technician in the Field

Written 2016-01-29 by Chris Bianchet

Every month I write a blog from the perspective of an owner of an AV company.   This month, however, we thought it would be great to hear from one of our leaders in the field, Scott Straw and his perspective of how working with a AV subcontractors can be.

It’s a Monday morning; I arrive at the parking lot of job site ready to begin a new week and a new project. My team and I meet up and are thrilled to be working together again.  We’re excited to start tackling the tasks we have been assigned.  We’ve got all of our hand tools and our PPE; we’re raring to go. 

What happens next can make the project a cake walk or dismal disaster.  My team is knowledgeable, trained, experienced, and equipped.  We can handle just about any task that is put before us.  What we require to do our best work are some fairly simple things from our AV company client.

1. Thorough Site Information

We need to know:

  • Where in the office building, or on the campus, we need to report
  • Whom to contact on site
  • What security requirements we will need to meet in order to gain access
  • Is the site ready to receive us
      There is an industry accepted definition of “AV ready,” which is clear, concise, and easy to understand. Our work conditions should meet that standard if we are to begin our work. 
  1. Purposeful Pre-planning and Validated Verification

The project paperwork should contain an accurate and documented check list of necessary infrastructure provisions:

  • Conduits for the AV cabling present and of the required size
  • Electrical outlets properly placed
  • Wall backing for display mounts installed correctly
  • Wall boxes, floor boxes, and floor cores installed and of the proper dimensions

A good project manager knows that every ingredient is key and crucial to the on-time completion of an assignment and certain ingredients, like these mentioned above must be addressed at specific points in the project timeline or they’ll be omitted.  There is no easy recourse for correction.

  1. Comprehensive Inventory of Equipment

The system designer should have assembled a complete list of all hardware to be used on the project.  Attention should have also been given to interconnect cables, provision for equipment power requirements and rack space needs, specialized connectors, and adapters.  All of these items should be listed and assembled in easily identifiable packaging.

When we deploy a project, it is done in phases so it’s not critical to have every last piece of gear on site the first day, but it should all be accounted for and staged in an orderly fashion for integration.

  1. Definitive Documentation

Doubling back to documentation for a moment, if a project engineer has done his job well, a good set of one-line drawings should emerge as part of his work product.  Industry standards for AV CAD drawings are anything but standardized. That fact notwithstanding, some basic consistency along these lines is beneficial:

  • Equipment shown on the drawing should be clearly identified and the drawings on site should be large enough to read.
  • Signal flow should move left to right (inputs on left, outputs on right).
  • Wires between pieces of equipment should be labeled with a number at each end (preferably the same number) and defined as to type (Mfr/Model or composition – 22/1pr, 16/2, CAT6A Shielded).
  • Devices should have the number and type inputs/outputs you think they have, and that any adapters or “pigtails” that have been included in the parts list and that they have been ordered.
  • Power instructions on all equipment should be included. Be certain the Power Distribution Units have enough outlets to accommodate everything in the rack (and more) – realizing that “wall warts” will require extra space on the average PDU.
  • Installers are going to set tap values on the 70V speakers based on the drawings. Make sure they are correct.
  • Use of off-page flags and on-page “bubbles,” are great, but make sure they are correct. And, once you finished and checked your drawings for errors and mistakes, check them again.
  • Check your drawings for errors one more time.
  1. Sufficient Supplies

My team is expected to report to work with their brains, their bag of tools, and their strong backs.  Any connectors, adapters, zip ties, cable sheath, mud rings, wall plates, lacing bars, POE injectors, rack screws, zip toggles, and similar hardware should be supplied.  Additionally, ladders, scaffolding, and/or scissor lifts (if required), should be provided unless prior arrangements have been made.  If we need to provide any of these items, we will be glad to invoice you for them.  As you would expect, these items are at cost and with delivery expenses built in.

  1. Realistic Timeline

Our expectation is that we will work within a budget of hours each day and at some midpoint, take a lunch break.  We’ll maximize our efficiency during that time, but included in that budget is access and egress from the work site.  Many things can delay an actual start time and cost budgeted hours. Time spent passing through security and waiting for an escort (if required), along with time spent waiting for access through locked doors and other barriers all eat away at the budgeted hours.  If these are to be daily encounters, they need to be added into the estimated time necessary to complete the project.

We’re a well trained and experienced team of skilled installers whose sole goal is to do an excellent job for our clients.  We can do amazing things if we are properly prepared and provisioned.  Our time on site will be brief, but productive.  We will get in, get it done, and then get out.  The best way to ensure that you get the best possible outcome from your investment in an AV subcontractor is to ensure that we are not stymied by poor preparation or a site that isn’t ready for our arrival.  We promise to amaze you with our abilities but remember, however, that there is a difference between “magic” and “miracles.”