NSCA members represent a rapidly growing, highly valued segment of the commercial new construction and renovation sector. We have also been incredibly successful in reaching prime bid status using the provisions of the CSI MasterFormat. What we do really matters, as technology is an extremely vital element of any commercial project. Yet, in many cases, we find ourselves being undervalued by the bidding process.
Our industry has evolved to the point where, in most cases, we now find ourselves seated at the grownups table alongside owners, developers, architects, engineers, designers, consultants, construction managers, and other prime building trades. That position of influence has been earned by our ever-increasing role in integrating and managing advanced technical solutions critical to the buildings functionality, lifecycle, and usefulness – and it’s a position of high value and trust.
Many systems integrators are new to the world of construction, and have a tendency to get steamrolled by the procurement process. They leave themselves in vulnerable positions by exposing prices, doing designs for free, and leaving their fate in the hands of other contractors who may only be evaluating based upon lowest price. The undervaluing of the highly qualified systems integrator can inadvertently happen when a general contractor sends out a bid that includes CSI MasterFormat Division 27 (Communications) and Division 28 (Electronic Safety and Security) in Division 26 (Electrical). This means that the electrical contractor becomes a prime contractor, and NSCA members revert back in time to the days of being a third-tier subcontractor. As an industry ,we need to educate and inform the entire stakeholder group on the differences between integration firms. We also need to be able to demonstrate the real differences between firms.
Selection of the right systems integrator for each project is complicated for all parties. I find a direct correlation between owner frustration and low bid, primarily stemming from an undefined scope of work, lack of prequalification process, substitutions, or, in many cases, schedule delays that collapse the window of time between when we mobilize our field work and the closeout date.
By the nature of what we do, it’s usually us or the sod company who leaves the job site last. We are accused of delaying the project even when our schedule shrinks by days or weeks.
Owners, construction managers, general contractors, and electrical contractors need to appreciate the importance of partnering with a competent systems integration company. The systems integrator is one of the last contractors to arrive on site. With many projects, by the time the systems integrator arrives, the project is behind schedule and there is increased pressure to get done on time.
If the general contractor and electrical contractor plan to receive the final 10% payment on schedule, at the completion of the project (where all of the profit is), they need to contract with a systems integrator that knows how to effectively manage and integrate a project quickly, accurately, and under a tight schedule. We are often left with liquidated damages and no recourse for charging OT when we’re not at fault. To compound the problem, an integrator with limited resources that is hired based only on lowest bid price will only make the situation worse.
When you combine the dynamics of low bid with the reduced work schedules, it becomes a recipe for disaster. The right systems integrator should be selected for solutions, capabilities, and resources compared to the value they can provide to the functionality of the building or performance. When that decision is left to price alone, the credentials and expertise are simply forgotten or disregarded all together in many cases .
I encourage our members to be qualified and professional, to be skilled and knowledgeable, and to be the best at what they do. In turn, I ask the design community to see value in that investment and work with our members to pre-qualify only the most capable integrators for the projects they are suited best for.
I see some great advantages with today’s technology integrator having a solid history in contracting because they know the game. When the game isn’t fair because your value proposition don’t match the rules set forth in the procurement method, you simply have to walk away. –Chuck Wilson, NSCA
Image by: Stuart Miles