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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 new Library of Congress National Audiovisual Conservation Center in Culpeper, Va., features several rooms like this one for converting original audio recordings to digital format for storage and archiving.

Installing AV and other media systems for government clients is a multidimensional proposition. The bureaucracy and procedural process can often be as complex as the technology itself. In this article, we'll survey a number of systems integrators who pool their experience on municipal, state, and federal installation projects to bring a tactile sense of scope to the issues and challenges involved with this unique market.

Participants include Steve Stanford, senior systems integrator at Allied Sound in Nashville, Tenn.; David Giblin, vice president and general manager for Communications Engineering (CEI) in Newington, Va.; Paul Culbertson, marketing and sales at JAVS in Louisville, Ky.; and Anthony Hammond, AV systems sales engineer at Comprehensive Technical Group (CTG) in Atlanta.

What sets a government installation project apart from commercial projects, in terms of technology, process, and procedure? Do government clients prefer not to push the boundaries of technology?

Stanford: Most of our government projects have been very strict in terms of equipment choices, installation techniques, and even value-engineering options. They typically have a consultant involved of some nature. As for the process, certain government sites and projects are in a much higher-security area, and may involve some level of background checks for everyone who may work onsite. Depending on the project, all the equipment may also have to be checked out and pass through a security checkpoint.

Dealing with all these issues has to be considered when pricing a government project. Most of our government projects have utilized some level of technology; however, they rarely push the boundaries. Frequently, we have to introduce some new technology to them — though, on occasion, we have seen some more “independent” government agencies step out and apply more leading-edge technology.

Giblin: Several of our government clients are working in older facilities with old technology. The facility upgrades can span multiple generations of equipment and multiple budget years of incremental equipment sales. As a systems integrator, we may be less likely to recommend less mature technology to our government clients than to commercial enterprises. A minor software bug in vendor-supplied equipment can tie up payments from the government, where commercial customers can be more flexible.

Culbertson: The processes typically stretch out over extended periods. A courthouse project may span five or six years from initial conversations to actual installations. This potentially changes the project's procedures with regard to the originally specified products changing both in models and, at times, functions. There can also be new players (administrators, judges, and IT staff) who have their own requirements and design ideas on how the courtroom should function.

Hammond: When working on the local government level, it can be quite challenging. The problem I have found stems from the fact that most people in charge of purchasing technology within a local government really don't know how to go about the process of getting new audio and video technology installed. Usually, it is a bidding process that starts way too late — and there is rarely a consultant involved — and they usually must always pick the lowest bidder.

It is not a question of do they want the latest in technology — they almost always do. The problem is that their purchasing processes usually keep them from getting it. [But] I have been successful in convincing commercial clients that design/build [which puts both design and build under a single entity's control, thus reducing redundancy] works much more in their favor.

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