In traditional project delivery, a technology consultant hired by the owner or architect will design technology systems, specify products, and work with an integrator, who installs them. In a design-build project, it may seem like the integrator can replace the technology consultant to save money.
The reality is that an integrator operating in a design-build project without the assistance of a technology consultant will likely cost the owner more money (and certainly more headache).
Owners who have felt the pain of a design-build project in which the audiovisual (AV) systems don’t function properly understand this. For those who haven’t, and perhaps can be spared that experience, the following are some fundamental differences between an integrator and technology consultant and how they can impact project outcomes for owners.
An integrator typically gets involved after construction documents have been developed, at which point the necessary infrastructure has not been part of the base building design. This results in costly change orders. Technology consultants design technology systems throughout the process of schematic design, design documents, and construction documents.
Two main things that drive product selection for an integrator are seeking the least expensive product to adhere to the project budget and choosing products for which they likely receive incentives from the manufacturer. As a result, products can end up in the building that truly don’t belong there, and functionality criteria can go unmet.
A technology consultant is vendor-agnostic. We start with the functional requirements defined by the owner, then seek the best possible product to deliver the solution within the owner’s budget. We can also define a range of options with cost/benefit tradeoffs for the owner to consider.
Coordination and Documentation
Integrators typically work in CAD and often perform their design scope outside of an architectural team. Technology consultants are used to working collaboratively with architects and engineers in Revit, resulting in better coordination and documentation and fewer change orders.
A technology consultant uses the submittal process to ensure that what has been priced is provided. Submittals communicate construction intent to the technology consultant, who uses them in turn to communicate concurrence with or redirection to the documented intent.
The shop drawing also promotes field installation efficiency. Without a shop drawing submittal reviewed by a designer, integrators often lack an accurate plan to work from, resulting in too many decisions being made in the field.
For the General Contractor (GC), the objective is meeting a deadline. The GC will work with their subcontractors to mitigate delays but is not motivated to be transparent with the owners about these delays. As a subcontractor to the GC, the integrator is not in a position to raise concerns to the owner. It’s common for an owner to find out the true status of their rooms only on move-in day and then still lack a certain timeframe for the completion of unfinished rooms.
A technology consultant will raise schedule concerns, or any concerns, to the owner as soon as we encounter them. Integrators will often bring their own concerns to the technology consultant for us to raise. If the project is not fully complete on move-in day, the technology consultant can give the owner a reliable appraisal of the remaining timeline to minimize the impacts of delays on business operations. The technology consultant can also help the GC understand the integrator’s timeline by monitoring technical progress with the AV system programming and configurations.
Conversely, if the contract is structured such that the integrator works for the owner rather than the GC, the GC will not necessarily coordinate with the integrator, who could then be left with the short end of the schedule at the very end of the project. In this case, it is even more important for a technology consultant to oversee the process to minimize delays and their impacts.
A technology consultant, when hired for commissioning, takes full responsibility to see that the technology functions as it was designed to. This is an especially important role for the technology consultant to play in a design-build delivery. Depending on the scale, complexity, and schedule of the project, TEECOM will have the integrator mock up each room type at their facility to test the systems before the integrator installs them.
People tend to stay with an integrator for two to three years. It is common for a larger project to go through multiple project managers on the integrator side, with knowledge from the original meetings lost. People tend to stay with an engineering firm for seven to 10 years, remaining for the lifecycle of most projects. As the technology consultant, we document all meeting notes and use a design decision log (DDL) to ensure decisions and changes throughout the project are documented and readily available to the owner or proceeding project team.
Integrators are often regional brands, sometimes national brands, a few even global brands. The reality is that these companies operate independently across these geographies. If the owner has a national or global portfolio of buildings and seeks the development and enforcement of technology standards, it will be as difficult for one integrator to execute this consistently as it would be for different integrators. A technology consultant that operates as a single firm nationally and globally can deliver standards at scale.
No, an integrator cannot replace a consultant
The design-build approach does not eliminate the need for a technology consultant. This remains an essential role to work with architects, engineers, the GC, the integrator, and the owner, ensuring that technology systems are designed and installed to deliver the owner’s functional requirements with the lowest possible construction and operational costs.