By Steve Sedor
Congratulations, you are the proud owner of a new AV system! But what happens now that everything is installed? Did your integrator pack up and leave town? Will they be in touch? Knowing what options you have after the installation is complete is one of the most important considerations you may have when evaluating and selecting an AV integrator. A firm that has invested in fully staffing and equipping their service department with dedicated, cross trained personnel and all the necessary tools and software has also likely paid the same attention to detail in developing best practices throughout the rest of the organization.
First, make sure the integrator has dedicated service and support technicians with no other responsibilities beyond these functions. Only then, can you depend on prompt response times up to and including guaranteed Service Level Agreements, if required. Ask about the levels of certification held by the service tech staff, such as InfoComm conferred CTS-I or any factory authorized training. Visit the service department to see for yourself if the company performs bench level repairs and to determine how well they are organized and equipped. In addition to skilled technical repair and maintenance staff, the integrator should have at least one dedicated trainer on board to provide refresher training and for training updates as a result of personnel turnover. There should also be dedicated inside sales representation that is always available for quick response in procuring consumables such as lamps, filters, and incidental replacement items that tend to fail just before an important meeting.
Once you are satisfied that you are selecting an integrator that has shown a deep commitment to service and support, your options should be extensive.
At minimum a basic level of support will include phone response within a couple of hours of placing a service call, a limited help desk function to assist with remote diagnostics, and next business day on-site response with loaner equipment available for major items if a failed unit cannot be field repaired. This level of service is usually included at no charge as part of the first-year warranty that should be standard for all new integrated installations. Depending upon the complexity of systems or critical nature of their use, it may be advisable to enter into a formal, fee-based Service Agreement with guaranteed telephone and on-site response times. For example, a true service-oriented and committed integrator should have one-hour phone response, unlimited help desk, and four-hour on-site response readily available as a guaranteed Service Level Agreement offering. There should be an option for replacement parts for systems that are out of warranty. In order to extend system life and usability it is also advisable to purchase a preventive maintenance plan with at least two visits per year to provide cleaning, calibrating, and adjusting along with other possible services such as firmware updates.
In support of complex installations, an integrator should offer a combination of remote and on-site support services. For example, multi-point video teleconferencing can be challenging to set up, monitor, and manage. A fee-based offering of either remote support or on-site personnel should be a standard offering to help ensure the success of important conferences. Another example includes installations utilizing control systems with custom code and a variety of asset management, monitoring, and measurement functions. These resources are often deployed not only to turn systems on and off and to control various items of equipment, but also to determine asset utilization and to track service interruptions and trouble tickets, among many other uses. Often, however, for a variety of reasons, these valuable functions are underutilized, resulting in a diminished return on investment. A well-equipped integrator with properly trained and dedicated staff will be able to offer remote support of these systems up to and including providing monthly reports on all critical system data and utilization, as well as remote diagnostics, repair, and firmware updates.
An increasingly popular suite of services is often referred to as Managed Services. While this will vary among integrators and is generally offered only by the top tier of integrators, it generally involves a combination of remote and on-site support of all major system applications and functions such as video conferencing, control system management, after hours system diagnostics, automatic system shutdown and turn on, trouble tracking and reporting, and more. This and other offerings referred to in this article require that the integrator truly be skilled in the AV/IT integration scenario as it will require access to and utilization of the client IT network or deployment of an independent network.
As a final option, the top integrators will offer full time, fee based on-site staffing. In this scenario a complete needs analysis will determine the level of technical support required and the integrator will recruit the appropriate individual to report to the client facility on a full-time basis. The individual would be an employee of the integrator who is responsible for all compensation, management, and benefits.