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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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How is the impending digital broadcast switchover, slated for February 2009, impacting the thinking of government clients as they consider new media technology installations?

Stanford: Most of our clients have at least considered the change in planning the infrastructure, but most of our projects have not been affected much.

Giblin: The digital broadcast switchover has not had a significant impact on CEI's government clients since they are usually not broadcasters in the traditional sense of the word.

Culbertson: The most notable impact is to existing government networks. Backbone judicial networks across the nation are ramping up their bandwidth to accommodate increased network usage from applications they traditionally pushed off to parallel networks, such as ISDN and dedicated T1 networks — videoconferencing, media storage, document imaging, and IP communications.

Hammond: Well, most people that I talk to still don't think much about it. But as I stated, HDV camera systems are making this an attainable goal for some of the larger local government customers.

What's different in the role of the consultant in government AV projects? Is it more complex than in a commercial applications? How so and why?

Stanford: We've had some consultants act as consultant and project manager for some projects, and others were long-distance voices at the end of a phone who we never saw and [who] didn't want to sign off on anything. It seems to depend on the agency and how complex the overall project is and how much [the] agency wants to pay.

Giblin: One significant difference is that a consultant who specifies equipment and solutions to a government agency is often not eligible to bid on the installation and deployment of the systems.

Hammond: In my opinion, the best part of having a good consultant design a system is mainly in the infrastructure. It is always reassuring to know that you have sufficient wireway and power for a system, and that at least everyone bidding on the project is bidding on the same thing.

Where it gets a bit more complex is usually in the programming, tuning, and testing phase. A good consultant will either handle this part or at least give specifications on what the final result should be. I have seen certain projects where none of these things were worked out, and it was up to the contractor to get it done. This is usually where, if you are not careful in reading the bid documentation, you could lose a lot of money rather quickly.

What is the nature of the interaction between systems integrators and other key service providers — architects, trades, etc. — in a government context? How is it different than in a commercial project?

Giblin: CEI has the same level of interaction with our government and commercial client's service providers. We provide architectural specifications, such as power, grounding, HVAC, conduit, cable trays, and acoustics. We support the various trades on site with location/schedule coordination and drawing interpretations.

Culbertson: It changes with each stage of the job progression and implementation. Our industry is typically the last one in the courtroom due to the sensitivity of the hardware and technology. At this point in the project, many of the trades just want to finish the job and move on to the next. They tend to be less open and cooperative to any changes at this point. For one thing, there may be conduit access issues that don't show up until system installation.

There is also a tendency of certain trades to overdesign or oversell a courtroom. Courtroom technology can often be “island technology.” All too many times, the technology in new courtroom construction has been installed without consideration of integration. This typically forces the consumer to use separate control interfaces for each technology, and no easy path to combine the product functions.

Hammond: The main difference that I have seen is in government you tend to always be a subcontractor to the electrical contractor. Architects like doing it this way because that means they only have to deal with one entity as it relates to the technical and electrical part of the job, especially when it comes to new schools.

In commercial work, the trend is that you almost always work directly for the end user, so the other trades tend to treat you a little differently. Now, this is great if you have the ability to be a part of the project from the beginning, and your design is in the construction documents.

Where it doesn't work so well is if you are brought in when the general contractor is close to getting a [certificate of occupancy (CO)]. At that point, you may find it very difficult to get anything done that you need, if it is not already in the plans. Also, you may find that everyone else has gotten their change orders approved, and the money to pay for the extra 50 parking spaces that now are required to get the CO just came out of the AV budget. So there are definitely pros and cons to both.

How is organizing a project different for government projects? Commercial installs usually have a fairly clear hierarchy, but government projects often serve multiple agencies. How do you deal with that?

Stanford: We will always try to arrange a meeting with end users of systems during a design or prior to the installation commencing to try and make sure the goals of the system haven't been lost in the process. The best thing we have found is to try to overcommunicate with end users and owners, especially when they are not the same.

Giblin: Government projects typically require significantly more contract administrative efforts for tracking deliverables, project scope adherence, etc.

Culbertson: It is a job-by-job basis, for the most part. Our projects have us working directly with [everyone from] judges to the maintenance personnel. A courtroom installation affects many different disciplines within the organization.

Hammond: The toughest part about it is the length of time it can take to get a decision on projects. Once the decision has been made, and the project is starting, usually there is single point of contact.

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