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Many years have come and gone since MMS installed its first digital signage system. We have lived through the era were most of the software was vapor ware. Meaning more promises of what is to come than what the software could actually do. But through it all we persevered and successfully obtained reference after reference, which ultimately proved to be more important than any profit from any specific job. During that process, we made more than our fare share of mistakes and got surprised more times than I can count by things/circumstances that we had not taken into consideration.
Following please find 25 gotcha’s that MMS has learned along the way. The short explanation following each gotcha, represent just a brief insight, I encourage you to step back and consider how it could apply to your Digital Signage Project… Trust Me… Most of them will!

-Mike White, CTS
President and CEO of Multi-Media Solutions

1) Last Minute Content
Beware of the impact of having a new and revised content being introduced to your DS system, untested, untried and of course URGENT. Be sure and define in Writing, that the launch of your DS network or system will be with tested content, that you have in your hands(virtually) at least a week, before you go live. Your customer will likely not adhere to this, but you need to protect yourself and have this contingency written into your contract and how you are going to react and where the liability for extra time (and there will be extra time) falls.

2) Installation Conditions and Timing
Make no assumptions on the conditions that your team will have to work. Many fine pieces of hardware have been destroyed by last minute construction workers and the dust of last minute work. Don’t forget that most of the time, the A/V company is an after thought and when they build their time lines for completion, they generally did not consider your need to get into the work zone and safely finish the job. Also don’t forget about the overtime, that will most certainly happen as a result of extended hours or 3rd shift work. Also don’t forget the security qualifications and liabilities of your people in a location, that has exposure to liabilities that have nothing to do with your job. Just think of installing a DS network in a Shopping mall during 3rd shift and you will get the idea.

3) Firewalls and Fixed IP’s
DS is all about getting information from one location to another, don’t forget about the firewalls a customer might have in place and don’t expect getting a Fixed IP to be simple or timely.

4) Acts of God
Nothing more exciting than a lightning hit directly to a facility where you have installed a DS network, other than if your team happens to be working at the time the storm or flood hits. Both have been true for my team and I strongly suggest that you have built into your written understanding, in your contract that you can not be responsible for equipment that is damaged and has to be repaired or replaced, because of Acts of God.

5) Operator Competency
Oh my goodness, this one should be obvious. Best have that discussion up front on who will be trained and can they change a light bulb, without help.

6) Security – Who Stole my equipment?
I know this has never happen to anyone else, but we have paid the price many times for assuming our equipment was in a secure location. This will cost you and you will likely not get any support from your insurance or your customers, because they will be pointing fingers at each other for eternity. Lock it up, till your customer signs for it.

7) Shipping and Receiving
Be very pro-active on shipping and receiving, make no assumptions and how the products will be received and secured. We have lost more than one flat panel, that was signed for by Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck… well you get the idea… they were received but conveniently lost.

8) Electricity – Do you know what else is on that circuit?
Well this one is self explanatory, you must make sure that your electric source is clean, up to spec for load and not on a switched circuit.

9) Warranty Period Service
Everyone in the industry knows this, but if you don’t cover this with your customer, you will end up on the wrong and costly end of the deal. Make sure that the customer understands the warranty on the product does not cover, taking the device down from its operating positing, shipping it to the depot repair, then getting the unit shipped back to customer site and then re-installed. If you are going to do a service contract, which is would great encourage you to do, please take this expense into consideration.

10) What constitutes an emergency?
Again, pretty self explanatory. No one has ever died as a result of a plasma screen not working, but to a customer on opening day, a failed panel is a matter of life and death to them and they WILL LET YOU KNOW ABOUT IT. So do what you can to prep for the calls, help the customer understand….. what is a reasonable response. Likely your definition and the customer’s will greatly differ, trust me.

11) Realistic Completion Timeline
Based on others As I mentioned earlier, the A/V Integrator is very seldom considered a vital part of a project, until the last minute and then it is all about the A/V player and it is all their fault if open deadlines are not meet. So be VERY VERY PROACTIVE with negotiating your legitimate time needs in the project and do not assume it will work out some how… what will happened is you will end up with tons of overtime… and your team will take the beating for some other sub contractors last minute work.

12) Who says it is finished?
Commissioning starts in the writing of the contract. Finished is a broad term, that will plague you strategically and financially. I highly recommend very well written definition of finished in to your contract and get the customer to agree up front, paying special attention to last minute content changes, that can really mess up the entire system. I suggest the use of the term substantial completion and have 90% of your billing complete under that term and then define what will really mean finished and establish a written punch list, so you can get paid. Which brings up another topic, make sure that your punch list does not include things never promised…they have a way of appearing on the list and costing you big money.

13) Working with a Consultant?
Many consultants are really great and very qualified and you should count your blessings to work in support of one of those. However, I have had my share of working with ones that simply have not kept educated and specified End of Life equipment or even worse specified a collection of hardware that they think …really would be cool if they worked together and then you have the job of making the impossible happen. It is true, we make the impossible happen nearly every day as a A/V integrator, and that is a part of the job that is really challenging and fulfilling, but DO NOT UNDER ESTIMATE THE VERY SERIOUS COST TO THE JOB.

14) Working as a Sub Contractor
Wow, first strong suggestion, don’t work as a sub. It is far better for everyone, strategically and financially that the A/V team have a direct contract. But if you do have to work as a sub, make sure you read the fine print and make sure you know what you are agreeing to… Trust me, your assumptions can cost you a lot of money and stress, beyond words.

15) When do you get paid?
Cash Flow Impact As reflected above, make your contract clear. You should set up your contract so that your payments toward your project come as progress is made. I use a 30,30,30,10…. Invoicing…. 30% upon signing of contract, 30% upon delivery of hardware and software, 30% upon substantial completion and 10% upon final punch list sign of. Taking special note that I make sure that customer understands, that invoices must be paid in the terms on the invoice Net 15 or 30 or what ever you decide, but don’t assume that just because you invoice, they will pay. You should have a contractual agreement that if terms of payment are not made, work ceases… I know that sound harsh, but the A/V Company to often has to serve as the bank and the company caught in the middle.. and that can and will put you in a cash flow crunch and possibly out of business.

16) What can you be charged for?
Again, this is a gottcha that you will have to think about , specific to every project. I give this as an example, so you can put your arms around what I am suggesting. On one job, we had multiple projectors blended into one large image and like many projects, we had to install the projects while other parts of the building (dusty building) was being completed and one of the projectors, because of the dust, had to be repaired… emergency … and guess who had to pay ….. Big Bucks for an emergency rental of a spare projector… get the idea.. this should have never be our liability, but because we never thought of this… we had to eat the heavy cost of the rental…

17) Impact of Distance Installations
Seek and find local contractors that you can call on when emergencies happen. Because they will and if you don’t have some organization, in place you will end up with very very expensive flights of people to locations and all sorts of extra expenses .. you never considered. Trust me, it is worth paying another company to come in before you finish the job and familiarize them with the location and top level layout of everything, so they can be your Johnny on the Spot and save the day… An investment well worth the making.

18) Back up’s
You would be surprised, but most high end museums and DS projects, do not have adequate or sometimes any backup. Build it into your budget, tell your customer that this is a required insurance policy, just like UPS’s and Surge Protectors.

19) First Time Configurations
I know that no one else has ever had this challenge, but we have grossly underestimated integration of many new products into our DS networks. My strongest caution, if you have a project, that you are using several components, especially software that you have never used, please build in contingency into your budget, you will need it.

20) Train. Who and How many Times
.. Ok you finished the product and now you think you have seen the worst.. well if you have not defined up front, who you are going to train, their competency, when you are going to train them and how many times your are going to retrain them, you are about to experience a very costly gottcha…one that will break the bank… so define this in the scope of work…up front.

21) Change Orders
I believe these words provoke more bad feelings than any other .. within the confines of our work. My experience tells me that no matter how much experience I have and how well prepared, I believe we are, that there will be something, that we/ I did not think about when writing the contract or proposal. So as much as I literally hate the term and try to avoid… you must pro-actively established how your are going to handle change orders and what will define a change order. Remember, our failure to consider the other gottcha’s are not grounds for change orders… they are challenges that you will have to eat financially if you do not plan for them and if you do not carefully plan for change orders, you will loose big time here as well.

22) Your Contracts and Understandings – with Big Companies and Organizations
Most big companies will not sign our contracts, they will send it to purchasing and they will issue a PO.. that you work from.. VIP … do everything you can to get them to reference your contract and understanding on the po. At a minimum, get a clear understanding and buy in from the most senior manager you can that this po, is being delivered under the contract and understanding of your proposal. I wish that I had a iron clad way to help you and I avoid this gottcha, but reality is, every job is different. The bigger the company the more likely you will have a challenge with this.. just beware and do all you can pro-actively… for your sake.

23) Can you take pictures and video of your work?
Make no assumptions, get a clear understanding in writing up front, that you expect and want to take pictures and possibly video of the job, upon completion. Remember, sometimes, because of the gottcha’s the only thing you will finish the job with, is pictures and video, that will help you land the next job.. you may have spent all of your potential profit, just overcoming a gottcha.

24) All your eggs in one Basket, Train more than 1
Never, Never..just have one person trained to do a specific task. They put you in to much vulnerability and could cost you more money than you have budgeted in profit for the job, to hire someone, at the last minute to finish some task…that you had only 1 person trained to do and that person, quit , got sick or got hurt… it really doesn’t matter what the reason, you pay big time.

25) When the Nuclear Option Happens
Just know that sometimes, no matter how much you prepare, no matter how hard you work, no matter what…your loving customer is going to press the Nuclear Button and you are going to have to deal with it. My suggestion, is to meet with it head on. I am sure that you have done all you could and you will do all you can, but things still happen and someone has to be responsible and stand. Running and hiding are simply not an option. If you are not prepared mentally, that does not mean you look forward to it, or even know what you are going to say or do, but if you are not a person of integrity and ready to stand accountable, you should not be in this business, because the time will come, maybe not on the first or the second job, but the time will come and your employees will be watching to see what you are made of… It is easy to be a leader when everything is going well, you really see what kind of leader you are ,,, under pressure.

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