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The Difference Between Consultants and Integrators

Imagine this scenario. You are the owner of a medium sized business whose sales have been on the upswing for the past several years. Due to this increase in business, your company is in the process of expanding into a brand new facility to support the increased operational demands that accompany your business success.  Your new facility has ample office space to house your growing workforce, and includes huddle rooms for ad hoc collaboration and a large conference room for formal presentations. Even your warehouse space is drastically larger than your previous location. You are now faced with a dilemma and you need answers. What technology systems will you need to best support the way you do business? What are your options for audio and video systems, telephones, internet connection, security, etc? Where do you start? These are decisions that need to be made not only in a timely fashion, but they need to be made correctly for the overall well-being of your business. At this fork in the road, there are two directions you can go: seeking out the help from an independent consultant or enlisting the services of a design-build systems integrator.

Independent Consultant:

Whenever someone is faced with an issue in life, they tend to seek out help or advice. They tend to consult someone on what they should do next. That is where independent consultants come into play in the technology field. A consultant is there to steer you in the right direction when you have very little to no knowledge of what steps to take. These consultants are skilled at strategically evaluating current and future needs. They have no particular affiliation to a product line or relationship with a contracting company and as a request will provide an unbiased opinion. Independent consultants can conduct a feasibility study after visiting to your site or start with a “blank slate” when designing for a new facility, and in either case formulate the design direction. Independent consultants are typically part of a larger architectural and engineering team charged with designing a new facility or renovating an existing facility, and will ensure the technology systems are integrated within and coordinated with other elements of the facility design. Independent consultants act as the Owner’s advocate, refining the technology systems’ design to best balance the Owner’s concerns, including technology scope, system complexity and level of user expertise, and costs. The design process typically culminates in a set of documents – drawings and specifications – that are used to solicit bid proposals for each trade division that are required to construct the facility, and consultants often have the opportunity to recommend a list of prequalified  systems integrators that  can best execute the scope of work.  The independent consultant method serves best to establish a defined scope of work on which multiple systems integrators may bid, resulting in bid proposals that may be compared directly to each other in an apples-to-apples way.

Design-Build Systems Integrator:

When Owners are looking for a more cost-effective option, they seek out the alternative.  Known as a Design-Build process, it utilizes the design knowledge and expertise of the systems integrator, themselves.  For the Owner, the initial process of selecting a systems integrator is the most difficult, and requires a targeted effort on their part to be successful.  How do I find the right integrator?  What integrator has the appropriate expertise?  Can the integrator design multiple types of systems for my facility? All of these are important questions to ask, and the Owner must ask these and other questions in order to receive answers that establish a level of comfort and trust in choosing an integrator that will deliver success on every aspect of the project scope. So, what exactly are the answers an Owner should expect from such an integrator?  Owners should ask for – and contact – an integrator’s references for similar projects, which is likely the best indicator of how successful they will be on your project. A systems integrator should have a detailed process for assessing the Owner’s systems needs and should compile those needs in a written narrative describing the design of each system in conceptual form, and then review and refine the design and associated costs with the Owner toward arriving at a final design and cost that best meets all of the Owner’s needs and concerns.  Integrators should be capable of working with multiple applications and system types that interoperate with one another, typically through the data network, of which the integrator must also have design expertise. They should also have a good track record of working with other vendors and trades on a project in a harmonious way.  Integrators must have the personnel and internal resources to make the project a reality from concept to completion, including industry certified design engineers, standards-based CAD departments, certified project managers and highly trained shop and field technicians. A systems integrator designs and builds systems for Owners by combining both hardware and software from multiple vendors to assemble multiple systems in a custom way, which when performed correctly can lower the overall cost of the design and installation of these systems by achieving an economy-of-scale typical of a single integrator approach.

As you can see, both independent consultants and systems integrators more than serve their own respective purposes in the world of technology. Which method would you choose when making decisions about the technology in your new space?

 

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