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AV project budgets: tools and services to aid integrators

Having previously detailed integrators’ process for putting together successful project proposals, here Steve Montgomery looks at the tools and services that enable them to deliver a complete project plan.

Creating the original system design, pricing it and preparing detailed proposal documentation is a highly complex process that requires a significant level of skill and competence. Not only is it fraught with pitfalls and risks, but it has to be impressive enough to convince customers that the vendor is more than competent. To aid integrators and dealers Designflow provides a design and proposal service backed by experienced system designers and project managers. According to Keith Jones, partner at Designflow: “We are very different to other companies offering tools to help integrators produce proposals as we provide our tools as a service rather than as software; we offer complete proposal preparation and end-to-end system design.

“The objective is to deliver accuracy through shared vision right across the project, thereby enabling integrators to adhere to the original plan and remain within budget. Our project designs are based on more than 45 years of experience in the residential technology and commercial AV sectors: a depth of knowledge and experience that sets us apart from what even some of the largest integrators and AV companies can achieve in house.

“Part of that process is in ensuring that all services are sufficiently covered, alongside the actual kit. This includes labour, commissioning, project management and programming and design fees. If a proposed project is over budget the correct thing to do is to lower the specification of the equipment, allowing the budget to cover all the required services as well as the equipment. Should these services not be addressed from the very beginning there will not likely be another opportunity to charge the client for them at a later date; certainly not perhaps without a very difficult conversation.”

Despite even the best planning and preparation, things can go wrong. Whether they are the fault of the integrator themselves, a sub-contractor or outside factor, they must be dealt with. That task falls upon the project manager, who must exhibit a combination of skills. Kelly Ashforth, partner at Designflow, summarises: “A project manager in our sector should have technical knowledge of the equipment and its capability and functionality, along with diplomacy and a developed level of personal interaction. They will need to build a collaborative relationship within the implementation team and encourage regular client contact to build a valuable and strong relationship. It’s essential to be able to interact with clients and be able to talk openly and honestly, as well as with the entire team. This encourages a culture where any issues can be talked through without prejudice and helps retain morale which can be channelled to focus on the mutual goals in hand.”

There is a wide range of tools available to help integrators develop solutions and communicate with their customer. As Tim Bigoness, VP sales and marketing at D-Tools explains that these “can range from a basic Excel-based tool that helps an integrator put together a budget based on specific products or systems, to full-blown proposal, engineering and project management solutions. It is important for the integrator to understand what works best for their needs. Ultimately, these tools should enable them to set a scope and budget for a project, understand timeframes and communicate this information to the end customer, or work with colleagues to develop a complete project plan.”