Design/Bid vs. Design/Build
Previously, we explored the collaboration efforts require to design and implement effective media equipped learning spaces for complex projects. The case study used for consideration was an institution planning a new classroom building, comprised of a variety of learning and presentation space types.
A number of basic architectural design activities were identified, as well as roles that must be coordinated, in addition the work of the institutional stakeholders, architect and MEP, necessitated by the need to physically accommodate multimedia technology. The following expertise is needed:
- Facilitation / Needs Analysis
- Basebuilding Architectural Design
- Systems Design
- Systems Integration
Two methodologies were identified as most commonly employed to achieve successful multimedia implementations for complex projects:
Design/Bid: To hire an audiovisual consultant to conceive, architect and design AV systems with the goal of preparing a specification for competitive bid, followed by the participation of a systems integrator.
Design/Build: To bypass the audiovisual consultant and hire only a systems integrator to conceive, design and install of the systems equipment.
Keep in mind that the needs of every project are unique. Moreover audiovisual consultants and systems integrators come in all sizes and shapes. Some are more capable than others and have different strengths and weaknesses. Further, on any given project, some will perform well one day, and poorly the next. Consistency of overall project and individual staff performance can and does vary, sometimes widely.
The comments that follow are broad generalizations, and should be interpreted as a guideline only.
Consultant's Argument For Design/Bid
Audiovisual Consultants argue that their model of separating design expertise from selling equipment is superior for several reasons:
The "pure" consultant role removes the temptation of self-interest. Design consultants do not sell equipment, nor do they benefit from a client choosing one equipment item or vender over another.
Consultant-based projects tend to lower the cost of acquisition and installation of equipment, as a result of the competitive bid process.
Consultants serve as a necessary check and balance over the self interest of the systems integrator, both in terms of assuring performance and limiting change orders.
Integrator's Argument For Design/Build
Audiovisual Systems Integrators hold that their model of designing and providing integration services is both cheaper and more efficient. They argue:
Hiring an AV consultant causes to the client to pay for design services twice, once for the consulting, and again during the subsequent integration engineering needed to install the actual system.
Consultant's fees to monitor implementation don't add much value if the integrator does their job properly during that phase.
It is interesting to note that many integrators who advocate and engage in design/build, are careful about what they say within earshot of pure design consultants. Indeed, it would not be wise to alienate a good source of bid work by biting (trash talking) the hand that feeds.
The Real Story
Unfortunately, the best solution may not always be either design/bid or design/build. That said, here are a few observations which might be helpful when it comes time to choose.
The best approach to a rational process is to carefully consider the four roles implicit in the AV design/implementation Process.
Consultants may do a better job of needs analysis. Integrators, being the engineers they tend to be, think in terms of equipment solutions, rather than the more broad goals of overall user requirements. Often times, they fall into the trap of being order takers, and merely ask clients what types of equipment they think they want.
Further, a needs analysis by the integrator may be done by a "salesman", who may think in terms of equipment solutions at best, or worse, his commission.
A "consultant" (rather than a contractor or integrator) mindset, helps in their ability to evaluate overall user goals more broadly. Moreover, as they are often more familiar with the architectural based design process, they see their role as not only one of providing expertise, but of client advocacy as well.
However, since most AV consultants come from technical engineering backgrounds, often as systems integrators in their previous lives, their ability to excel at communication, consensus building, and provide organization leadership may be hampered somewhat by lack of a more generalist or business oriented background.
The best facilitator/needs analyst may indeed be neither an AV consultant nor integrator, but another category of consultant, an educational technology expert, who may be described as someone who can provide thought leadership, for short and long term, as well as enterprise-wide master planning strategy.
Advantage - Consultant (or Educational Technology Planner)
Basebuilding Architectural Designer
Systems integrators tend not to have the background or skill set to provide adequate design leadership to the architect. Even though they may be able to provide some guidance, perhaps even drawings, they rarely can add value in solving challenging architectural design problems.
Consultants, on the other hand, typically do a superior job of furnishing architectural design input. Often times, consultants provide a variety of technology consulting in areas such as telecommunications, security, acoustics, etc, and as a result, have far more experience in interacting with and supporting architects. They are also more likely to have staff with an architectural design background.
Advantage -- Consultant
In almost all cases, integrators can do as good a job, or better, than consultants, for the simple reason that they deal with the nuts and bolts of the equipment every day. They have the practical, hands-on experience in assembling and troubleshooting complex equipment under real world field conditions.
Arguably, consultants spend more time interacting with equipment in the context of vendor demos, or during the limited times when they conduct equipment checkouts for a design/bid project. All in all, their hands-on experience tends to be more limited.
How, then, can one reconcile the problem that integrators will charge more for their systems without the cost reducing effect of a competitive bid process? Here is where the issue becomes somewhat muddy.
Typically, the cost impact of a competitive bid does indeed tend to lower the overall profit margin of the integrator, falling in the area of about 12-15% over the cost of the equipment and labor provided.
Under normal circumstances, honorable and well-intentioned integrators, who seeks both a fair profit, and an opportunity to develop an ongoing relationship with their clients, will charge a healthier margin of about 20-25% to do a job on a design/build basis.
There are, of course, those integrators who charge whatever the traffic will bear. Hopefully, we can all steer clear of those guys.
So, the issue becomes the ability to discern whether the increased margin paid to the integrator can be less expensive overall than the fee paid to the pure consultant for AV systems design services, plus the integrator's cost of the equipment and labor. Often times, the answer may be that a design/build solution may be less expensive.
There is an important additional fact to consider. In general, integrators have a greater day-to-day vested interest in maintaining ongoing (design/build) client relationships, than they have with their design/bid clients. Moreover, integrators tend to be far more enthusiastic, and responsive, to projects with a 20-25% profit margin.
To be fair, consultants often times do a superior job when a client's requirements go beyond the traditional, toward the esoteric. Here, the consultant's edge in thinking outside the box probably makes them the better choice.
On the other hand, as presentation systems become more and more commoditized, the ability of the pure consultant to add material value has become increasingly more difficult.
Advantage -- Integrator
Technology Systems Integration
Can an AV consultant add sufficient value, in their role as checker and balancer during the integration process, to earn their fee? At best, the answer is "perhaps".
If the integrator is doing their job properly, there may not be much value-added in having a consultant officiate during acceptance testing.
Often times, consultants run out of fee toward the end of a project. As a result, they may not monitor the installation progress as closely as they should.
Advantage -- Integrator
As a general rule, small, simple renovation and modest new construction projects may best be handled as design/build projects. Institutions undertaking large, complex projects, should consider working with a pure consultant.
Clients who want the best possible outcome might consider assembling a team:
Led by a Educational Media Technology expert who can provide the necessary thought leadership and facilitated decision making to the client team. (This is the strength of EdTech Planning Group.)
A pure AV consultant to aid in the detailed architectural design process and work with the architect.
A systems integrator to design and implement the systems.