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Mission: Control

Jan 10, 2011 12:00 PM, By Patrick Barron

How to put together an accurate bid for a control system programming contract.


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A key question to answer would be whether custom graphics are expected or whether the user wants a standard simplified interface to reduce the overall costs. The time to create the user interface is not a trivial part of the process. Having clear expectations of the style and complexity of the user interface is a key component of the overall bid. A cookie-cutter GUI typical of others the integrator has done is very different from a highly complex custom interface created specifically for the project in question. Talk with the programmer to find out what options are available regarding the overall look and style of the interface. If the end-user wants any specific graphics, this should be conveyed during the bid process so the programmer can be aware of this expectation. The time required to create the GUI can be adjusted to factor any customizations that the client might require.

Monitoring

The bid also needs to take into account the type of monitoring and diagnostics that the control system should have. Does the system in question have Crestron RoomView or AMX Resource Management Suite (RMS)? Does it have remote login and control capability? This is a very common element that is often overlooked until the project is almost complete. If a project is bid without considering advanced remote monitoring or a specialized computer-based room-management system, the time allocated for programming can easily be depleted before this can be implemented. If remote monitoring using remote desktop, VNC, or some other web-based control is needed, it could factor into the programming time. If the user wants to control the system from an iPhone or iPad, an interface will need to be designed with the limited space requirements in mind. If it is important that advanced remote monitoring and control will not interfere with system operation from the primary control panel, a separate and unique interface might have to be created. You will need to account for this when estimating the time required for the project.

Aim for Accuracy

How does a programmer handle a system with too little information to quote accurately? Many times a request for proposal comes in from a consultant with vague requirements. The integration company could bid high to account for a worst-case scenario and potentially lose the bid. Or the company might decide to bid what a typical system would entail and take a chance of it being much more complicated and lose money on the project. Neither situation is desirable, but every effort should be taken to get the scope and requirements clarified before a final bid is completed. If no answers are available, the programming quote should include what assumptions were made regarding the scope and reserve the ability to edit the quote if necessary.

There are several keys to creating an accurate programming quote. The most important is communication to find out as much information as possible. Determine the exact requirements of the equipment that will be needed on the user interface and don’t simply count the number of pieces of equipment used. Find out who the end-users of the system will be and what technical capabilities the users have along with their expectations. Ask questions to establish if there are different user modes in the same system, as well as any expectations about the graphics in the interface and whether custom graphics must be incorporated. Don’t overlook IP-controlled equipment. Remember to get information on the need for remote diagnostic, monitoring, and web-based control. The control system bid will be a much more accurate if you consider all of these factors. Accurate programming quotes are essential to make the project successful and profitable.

Patrick Barron, owner of Barron Systems, is a 20-year veteran of the AV industry specializing in control system programming and audio and system design. Barron Systems is located outside of Dallas. Patrick has worked on a wide variety of high-profile jobs throughout the U.S. and abroad.



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