There’s no denying that the busiest time for AV installs in educational institutions is the summer period, but with an increase in school activity during this break and integrators and installers in high demand, how do you plan for success and ensure projects run smoothly? Adam Harvey, Solutions Architect at University of Hertfordshire, offers some guidance.
While universities want and need to be at the forefront of technology, there is no denying that a major AV upgrade can be disruptive, and the truth is there really is no ‘best’ time to do this kind of work. Vacation times have the least amount of activities in the teaching spaces so it’s a bit easier to co-ordinate, but only a bit. Conference bookings, summer schools and general maintenance works are all competing to get into the spaces when they are free. Out of hours and weekend work are an option but they come at an increased cost not just for install teams but also for university staff who are required onsite to accommodate the project.
Sometimes budgets dictate when we can do the work. If the budget is agreed in principle for the new financial year but not released until April, for example, the next available opportunity is the summer break. New builds are slightly easier but they are still reliant on the construction programme, and as this tends to be planned to open for Semester A you are again looking to carry out installs in the busiest period. Unfortunately I don’t think this problem will go away so it’s likely the ‘couple of rooms a month’ approach will end up being the best way forward for rolling replacement works.
A large majority of our AV projects are CapEx funded. This is either part of a larger new build or refurbishment project led by our Estates Department or as part of a pre-planned body of work such as our AV ‘Rolling Replacement’ programme. For each of these projects we have to prepare a detailed bid document detailing the project aims and outcomes backed up with information detailing benefits to the staff and students and the organisation as a whole. We also have to balance this against sections on demonstrating value for money and various other parameters required by the university. We can carry out small projects from our OpEx budgets but these tend to be repairs and replacements generated by faults.
Most of the time we pre-plan installs several months ahead. In this case it is very important to be in contact with key manufacturers from the start so we can forecast what we need and factor in any waiting times. For long lead time items, such as lecterns, we do as much work as possible ahead of tendering the projects to ensure manufacturers have all the information they need to start the build process as soon as they get a PO. On some occasions we also pre-order products to ensure they are available when we need them. Of course this doesn’t always work as there are always a number of late projects thrown into the mix, but with standardised kit we can usually get things moving quickly even in the busiest period for the sector.
For me, the key issue when planning and carrying out installs is communication. Manufacturers and distributors should engage with the universities early on to find out their plans for the year. Forecasting numbers of products that will be required and ensuring there is stock available is always going to be helpful. Most universities will know a large majority of their plans early on but possibly not if they will get funding for them all. Information is key to ensure the supply meets the demand.