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Government Installation Issues

Nov 1, 2007 12:00 PM, By Dan Daley

Experts discuss challenges in security, budget, and technology.

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The City Council Chamber in Johns Creek, Ga., uses HD displays instead of projectors because of the low ceilings.

The bidding process can be complex for government projects, from the Pentagon down to a local municipal auditorium. What's the biggest challenge in this regard, and how has the process changed over time?

Stanford: Most of our government work has come through fairly traditional channels, such as electrical contractors and/or general contractors, which means the bid process hasn't been dramatically different. What has changed for us is the paperwork during and after the project and the level of detail now required in the billing process for the “sunshine” laws [which dictate that the allocation and spending of public funds on public projects are fully tansparent to the public].

Giblin: Some of the government [requests for proposals (RFPs)] received by CEI are vague, stating only overall requirements of the project. The integrator needs to research and propose a complete solution as part of their response. Other RFPs include detailed equipment lists and systems designs produced by another consultant. Often the consultant's design is incomplete.

Although the RFPs generally contain a response evaluation system based on the integrator's technical response, history, methodology, and project team, there is a strong weighing factor in favor of the lowest bidder even at the expense of a clearly more experienced organization or better designs. Though this is not always the case, it is a frequent occurrence, often does not provide the best technical solution, and may limit flexibility in the long term.

Culbertson: New construction is the toughest. To be considered as a contender on the latest government bids, a company may find that the licensing requirements requested on some bids force many good companies to ‘no-bid’ the project. The government is really the loser in this situation through higher pricing from larger companies, less customer service in the after sale from larger companies, and certainly less flexibility to make changes quickly when needed. In the end, you have an unsatisfied customer and higher government spending.

Hammond: I have found that the bidding process has not changed much over time, and that is the problem. There tends to be no difference between purchasing carpet and furniture and purchasing a custom-designed AV system. What would make it work better is for the process to be a qualification-driven process for a design/build contract. That way, the client can make sure they are hiring a reputable company to do the work, and then they can work with that company to provide them the best solution for the budget that they have.

What kinds of workaround strategies are available for budgets in government projects? For instance, many computer makers will offer reduced costs for their products for educational applications. Are there other strategies similar to this that can give government projects more bang for the buck?

Stanford: We occasionally see a manufacturer or distributor offer 10 percent off for government projects, but we haven't seen massive discounts in the industry to seriously change the bang for the buck on government projects.

Giblin: CEI's government customers frequently upgrade their systems incrementally. They will purchase equipment one year and install it in a future year's budget, or build small digital islands in old analog facilities.

Hammond: Many manufacturers offer government discounts on products, and some offer registration discounts if you are able to get a project registered before anyone else does. This is good if you have a product that you know will work well if you happen to be one of a few vendors that carry it.

How is high-definition video faring at the governmental-install level? Do they want, and are they willing to pay for, HD?

Stanford: We have yet to see high def really take off in government projects. I think they'd love to have it — and in cases where it is a necessity, it happens — but for the average install, it is still too much of a luxury. We have seen more webcasting or streaming video, with which it clearly isn't prudent to try and use high def.

Giblin: Most of CEI's government clients are not considering high definition at this time. An exception is the Library of Congress National Audiovisual Conservation Center, where video is archived digitally at the highest quality available.

Culbertson: High definition has only just recently hit the courtrooms. This is due to product availability. Our industry has been forced into the HD market — there is nothing else available to sell and install. The HD format is not always the best choice for the courtroom. To get the same size display with a 16:9 as compared to 4:3 requires a larger HD LCD. For now, larger HD formats push the project price tag up. These, too, will drop, of course — but for now, it creates a bit of a transitional challenge.

Hammond: I just had one local government really embrace it. Most don't know enough to understand the benefits. Some of the biggest problems I have seen so far have been the price difference between small HD projectors and large HD projectors. Almost all government projects that I have worked on require bright projection systems. Most cannot afford the price of a decent, bright HD projector. Plus, mostly what they show is PowerPoint, so HD does not mean much.

We are starting to see some movement in the HD broadcast side of the business, though. The HDV camera market has really made this an attainable goal for local governments.

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