Equipment consistency: how to find your niche
In the fast moving world of technology what is the right approach as an integrator to avoid fads and ensure you deliver quality solutions to your clients?
As anyone who is ISO9001-registered knows, this quality management standard is rigorous about researching, testing and approving new equipment.
First, let’s look at how to avoid fads. All too often I’ve witnessed the typical scenario of sales rep visiting from a supplier to rave about their latest and greatest piece of kit. The integrator gets caught up in the feverish sales pitch. By the time the sales rep has left the integrator is convinced that this new piece of kit will alleviate some ongoing problem they have been having on their projects. This can result in them switching over to using this new piece of kit without much thought for the consequences. No testing is done, no approval is made. The integrator simply replaces the equipment they were using before with the new, “improved” version because they were convinced that it will give better results.
In my days as an integrator I fell into this very same trap more than once, and I'm sure we all have at one time or another.
So how can we avoid this? Well, if we look into ISO9001 a bit more deeply we find a few things that can help:
Project review; upon the completion of a project everything that happened during its execution is examined in detail. From the moment the sale began right through to the final handover. What we are looking for is things that went well in addition to things that went wrong. This way we can repeat the things that went well and create a lessons learned log of the things that didn't go so swimmingly so they can be avoided in future projects.
Research; ISO9001 suggests that someone (or a group of people) within the organisation should be responsible for research into existing and new products. This means there is someone actively looking out for new ways to solve the problems we found during contract review. It also assigns someone the task of keeping the company up to date with the latest technology trends. Trade bodies, shows and the internet are all excellent sources of information to help with this.
Testing; any products selected by the researcher or research team for use in projects should be rigorously tested in-house before they are specified into any projects. This allows the organisation to understand the product in detail and assess its performance and any foibles way before it gets near any clients project. This avoids surprises during installation when that latest and greatest widget doesn't quite operate as we expect.
Approval; once a product has been selected and tested it moves on to approval. This is where the business side takes over, assessing if the product can be sold profitably. The amount of time needed to install the item is examined from the testing phase. The supply chain is checked to ensure the product is readily available and any delivery timelines that might affect future projects are noted.
Once a product has successfully passed through this process it is ready to be sold and specified into your projects. You can be safe in the knowledge that the item holds no hidden problems or surprises which might ruin the profitability of a project or worse, create an unhappy client.
Don't get me wrong I'm not suggesting here that we should all be ISO9001 registered, my current company is not and although my previous integration company worked hard towards this I left before we actually got the certification. What I am saying is that we can learn a lot from the methods employed in the standard to help us avoid the pitfalls of adopting new products in our projects.
Another item of note from ISO9001 is to keep our supplier list as narrow as possible. This has obvious advantages in increased discount rates and supply consistency, not to mention simplified accountancy and consistent profit margins.
Finally, be brave – don't just be a “me too” company, offering the same products as all the other integrators in your area. Stand out from the crowd by offering something different or focusing on one particular aspect that you excel at. You may be surprised to learn that this can win over customers who would otherwise just be shopping around for the lowest possible price.
Keith Jones studied Product Design at Central St. Martins where he graduated in 1996. Since then Keith worked in numerous high end audio outlets, culminating in owning and running his own AV installation company from 2001-2008. After a career break he started Jones designs in August 2009 which has recently morphed into a Ltd. company called designflow, with his business partner Kelly Ashforth. Designflow aims to increase awareness of design in AV and help installers win jobs and create proper documentation for them.