Steve Montgomery investigates software packages and techniques that aid integrators in delivering projects on time and within budget.
Anyone who has ever worked on an AV installation project, no matter how large or complex, knows that very few projects run according to plan: the majority will experience an increase to the planned budget that often cannot be charged on to the end customer, whether or not this is the fault of the integrator.
However, creating an accurate proposal and preparing and sticking to a plan is essential. Failure can mean the project runs at a loss, with possible dire consequences. Integrators must manage projects within budget to be successful, which is often not a trivial task when it comes to complex installations. Fortunately tools and techniques are available to assist.
The first step is to create an accurate proposal that is competitive and complete. “In today’s difficult market where almost everything is being bid on, a decent amount of competition is prevalent. As an estimator, you’re tasked with three goals: cover all costs and don’t miss anything, make a good profit, and win the project. If you’re good, you typically win only one in every four jobs. In today’s market it may be more like one in six or ten,” says David Lahey, director of estimating, Conference Technologies.
Online AV product and services database AV-iQ carried out a detailed study of the problems that integrators face in developing proposals using equipment from a wide range of vendors, each providing different levels of information and with a wide variation in pricing and discount mechanisms. Even within the same organisation, different estimators would price the same project with wildly different outcomes. This resulted in the development of the AV-iQ Project Cost Estimator, a database of product information and pricing on over 400,000 devices, populated by manufacturers and containing estimated installation labour predictions. Integrators can supplement this by adjusting the figures locally according to their own capabilities or direct supplier offers.
Many other companies have created tools to aid integrators. These include software packages that manage original specification, estimation and proposals through to the creation of system drawings and ongoing project management. However the take-up within the industry is comparatively low, despite their low cost and ease of use. “All integrators need to create accurate proposals and cost estimates, but the majority still do not use a dedicated package, preferring to continue with manual combinations of Office tools including Excel and Word, and home-grown applications,” points out Paul Dexter, CEO of Jetbuilt. “The major disadvantage of this approach is that they are exposed to out-of-date and incomplete data that increases the risk of inaccurate pricing and product selection. The time saved through the use of a proprietary package can recoup its low cost within just one or two projects. In fact we have customers who use the 30-day free trial version who immediately sign up after experiencing a cost saving on one project greater than the cost of the package.”
As a cloud-based, cross-platform system, Jetbuilt ensures that all data is up-to-date and correct. Manufacturers and distributors add product details and pricing structures directly into the database which integrators and dealers can then access. A method of authentication allows individual companies to incorporate their designated level of discount and any special offer, such as discount for pre-payment. Pricing details can then be listed in a proposal at whatever level the integrator or dealer chooses, and combine it with documentation, images, corporate background and marketing information to create a sophisticated and attractive offer document for the customer.
The cloud-based nature of the package means that all projects and data can be accessed by all team members, allowing high levels of collaboration. “In many cases there is a long delay between original proposal and the customer placing the order, so a revision is often necessary. Sales people can adjust the specification while visiting customers to ensure that it best meets their needs, knowing that the pricing is 100% accurate,” says Dexter. “They can even email a completely revised proposal within minutes of completing it. A crucial element of the system lies in its handling price increases or discontinued products. These are flagged up in the proposal allowing estimators to deal with them in time, rather than the integration team having to face the problem on site.”
A further element that is of immense use to integrators is direct links to manufacturers. A full project plan, including system drawings and parts lists, can be shared with manufacturers who can check and advise on shortcomings. “This allows the manufacturer’s pre-sales support team to check the validity of the system from detailed plans before the bid is placed, rather than through phone calls and emails from site when an error is identified, which allows costs to be anticipated before, rather than while the project is live.”