Reality: Preparing for an install

When your church decides to invest in their Audio, video and lighting system it is a big deal, you want to get the most out of your money.  It is important to know the process, and if you haven’t been involved in an install before there are certain things you need to know and understand that may go against our human nature.  After the decision to upgrade your systems you will have to choose an integrator, set a budget, do a design, set your timelines, and train on the new system.

Integrator:

Most of the time, not always when dealing with new construction you work with a design company and they form a bid package that goes out to many integrators, but most of the time I recommend finding your integrator first.  They will help you set a budget (you should have an idea of a budget though), figure out a design, set a timeline and so on.

When choosing an integrator there are some important things to look for.  The first thing is to choose a company that is willing to work within your budget and is willing to listen to you rather than fulfill their own agendas.  Companies that have an agenda spend more time convincing you to spend money than to come up with creative solutions, or to do things according to their preference rather than your preference.  With that said, if you have too small of a budget or have little experience, you will run into this with any company you go through, do your homework before talking to any integrator.

Always ask for recommendations before agreeing to go with any company.  Check with other organizations.  When you talk to these people find out about the quality of work, how easy they were to work with, job communication, and servicing after the install is complete.  An install goes far beyond the initial integration, servicing and follow up are extremely important, and you want to choose a company for a long-term relationship rather than a quick job.

Depending of the size of install you may need to go with a specialized company, someone that works only in Audio, video or lighting and has access to better pricing on higher end gear.  I work with some integrators that I absolutely LOVE! But there is only so far I will go with them because their knowledge and resources only go so far. So in those cases I have someone else I work with.

Budget:

Usually you will have your budget roughed in before you even select your integrator, but sometimes you need to wait until you get gear pricing and fresh ideas before you lock in your budget, in fact I would say always go in with a rough budget but be prepared for that to change once you start to put down gear.

When dealing with the budget, there are usually some commonly missed things.  The first is, plan to have someone do the install for you. Yes, that means paying for labor.  The reason I recommend this is that unless you have experience installing AVL systems, then you don’t know that there is a lot more to it than attaching some cables.  Also, there are some code requirements that integrators are aware of that you aren’t.  Or if you do have experience you probably won’t be able to do it yourself.  Save yourself the headache and stress, you will be better off hiring experts.

The most common forgotten about thing to budget for is construction.  More often than not, carpenters, electricians and HVAC techs need to do work before a job can be done, leave room in your budget for these things or you may pay more later if they have to work around stuff.

There are lots of things that can come up at last minute, always leave a retainer for the just incase, you don’t want a job to run out of money before it is finished, some things can only be figured out or discovered in the middle of an install.  If you are re-using gear, I have seen many times when something was overlooked, broken, or just decides not to power up; again, don’t leave yourself stranded.

The last thing with having a budget is that gear prices change for many reasons.  If you are planning out or if a job gets postponed, prices will change over time.  Always get new quotes before purchasing gear if it has been awhile since the initial quote, and just because a job has been post pone doesn’t mean gear prices will go down.  Prices go both directions, and more often than not, they usually go up.

Design:

Don’t ever start a project without a proper design.  Before any piece of gear is purchased your design company or integrator should have full drawings completed or as completed as they can be.  This includes line drawings, showing every cable run, path, conversion, and piece of gear in the system.  This way you know exactly what you are getting (if you are good at visualizing).

So when dealing with a design, it is important to know want you want and need in a system, be sure that the system will do what you want.  Make sure it is within your budget and keep track of all paperwork and revisions through the design process.  Before the final purchase order goes through, take it upon yourself to look over all previous paperwork to make sure something wasn’t accidently cut out, overlooked, or added without your consent.

If you are re-using gear, make sure the integrator has a list of what will and won’t be re-used, and all specs on that gear (most gear that is repurposed won’t be under warranty by a company, some companies won’t accept customer owned gear).

Timelines:

Big projects like doing any section of an AVL system is no little task, plan way out! A month is NOT planning out!  I’m talking a minimum of 6 months before you would like the new system to be online.  Finding an integrator, setting a budget and coming up with a design can take a few months in itself.  And once the contracts are signed with your plan, don’t expect to be installing the next day.  Most gear takes 1-2 months to get (more or less depending on the gear) once the order is placed.  I can’t tell you how many projects that I have been on that have been rushed where gear doesn’t show up, then almost like clock work, something important is back-ordered for another month or two.

When dealing with Installers make sure it is clear when they can start and when the job needs to be finished.  I recommend giving an installer as much time as you can.  The more time you give them, the better job they will do, quality can take time.  Since most of us work in the church world, we usually have a week to complete a project when dealing with current facilities.  Do what you can to break it up into sections that way you can still do your services and allow for more installation time.  Work with your integrator to set good timelines that both parties are comfortable with.

As I have touched on earlier most installs require work from electricians and contractors.  Be sure that all your stuff is done before you integrators come in.  Integrators need to be able to get stuff done on their timeline, if you don’t fulfill your side of the deal by having stuff completed, it will cost you in the end and risk leaving your job unfinished.

If you are leading the project for your facility, be sure either you or someone you trust to make decisions is on site at all times. If the job needs to be done in a short amount of time, installers will be working long hours, and so will you; be sure to open up your schedule as you will be spending all your time on site J.  If you can’t be onsite, make sure the facility can stay open, and be sure to make yourself reachable.

The middle of a project is not the time to make changes.  If you must, then do it, but you should have as much figured out ahead of time and know that changes may cost more.  If you are onsite, try to refrain from asking too many questions and stay out of the way of the integrators unless they have assigned you a specific task.  It is important for you to understand what is going on and why they do things a certain way but not so much that you hold up the job from making progress.

The last thing about dealing with timelines is if you are on a tight schedule, integrators may have to piece the system together in order to get you through a weekend, be in communication but also know they will be coming back to finish and tidy up the job.  Their number 1 goal is to get you up and running for services, everything else will follow.

Training:

New gear requires training; leave room in the budget for lots and lots of training.  This is a Must for all new installs, If you don’t know what your gear can do and the capabilities of the system then you may as well not even do the install in the first place.  Make sure all your staff and key volunteers can make it to your training, but with that said make sure it is people with similar knowledge bases so that the trainers are not starting from square 1 on every little thing.  For example, if you are getting training on a new switcher, invite all the TD’s that have the best knowledge of switchers, don’t invite your camera operators or newly trained TD’s.  Rely on the people at the training to teach everyone else when their time comes.  If you make big jumps in technology, you may need hire specialists rather than relying on volunteers.

Be open to new ideas and processes.  Most trainers have seen many facilities, and many integrators design things a certain way.  Be open to changing the way you do things.  This doesn’t mean your overall look (although it can) it more means how you use your gear, what planning now needs to take place, and the thought process that has to be used.

I know we are all professionals, but I think wisdom comes in knowing who you are and what your skills are and more importantly what they aren’t.  During big upgrades, you need to be certain that the direction you are going is within your skills and sweet spot.   If not, you may need to think about hiring specialists or stepping down.  I have seen many people get put into positions that are beyond their skills, but they have a passion for their church and community.  What they don’t realize is that the best thing for them to do is to step down before they hold the church back or run the ministry into the ground.  It sounds harsh, but I have seen it far too many times where someone comes in after someone has left and spends years cleaning up messes, with gear and in the political side of the church.  If an up grade or change is over your head, do everyone a favor and move on, it will be the best thing for your ministry.  And once you resign, volunteer.  Stay connected, it is a great way to humble yourself and learn.

Conclusion:

The key to doing an install is to do your homework.  Research the gear you want, what it costs, how you want it to work, and how long it takes to install.  Make phone calls to other people that have gone through the same processes and talk to as many different people as possible.  Education is key and will ultimately allow you to excel in your project.  Make sure you know what you want, once the install actually happens you will need to make snap decisions, and there is no time for waffling.  Do enough homework and be confident in what you’re getting, whom you are working with and what you want the end product to be.  If you do this and walk in prepared, you will have a successful install.

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About brhoda

I freelance doing a few different thing in the video and live production market. I worked for a church for 5 years directing services and designing control rooms.
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