Gathering customer information.
This unit continues from Issue 29 and is the next step in the process of creating a scope of work upon which to base an AV design.
REVIEW AVAILABLE DOCUMENTATION
The first step is to gather and review all available documentation. Documentation is generally available with information about the existing physical, organisational and technical aspects of a project. In new constructions this is relatively easy to obtain. For existing constructions it may be more difficult.Ask the client for existing documentation. This can consist of items such as scale and engineering drawings (printed drawings, computer-aided design drawings), architectural program documents, organisational project directories, design manuals, standards, best practices and other owner and end user information.
Ensure you have a full set of drawings for the space your design and installation tasks will address. Be sure to examine all the elements that may potentially affect the layout, mounting, installation and operation of the AV system components. If no documentation is available you may need to create new material based on existing conditions.
It is also important to ask the client about their budget. Providing a fixed budget and estimated expectation will address any concerns the client may have. Ask what part of the budget is for the AV system and what part is for other contracts on the project. The customer may not be aware that other trades may share the project.
EVALUATE SITE ENVIRONMENT
If the AV systems are to be installed in an existing facility, it is important to tour these areas during the needs analysis process to gather information about the physical aspects of the spaces and how the spaces are currently being used. Determine with the client if there are any constraints, such as work hours, noise levels, or security issues which may affect the project. It is important to learn about any issues that may impact your ability to work at the client site once the design and installation tasks begin. In many cases the design and installation teams can identify a method to work around any constraints, such as working during the evening or night in areas where daytime disruptions are prohibited.
When touring the existing facility and evaluating the site environment, take special note of the acoustics, lighting and seating. Use handheld light meters and handheld audio analysers for quick, useful measurements. You’re not trying to make a detailed acoustic analysis; you’re just getting to know the space.
You should also consider visiting other similar facilities for review and comparison. This is known as benchmarking. This activity gives the owner and the design team a common (and sometimes expanded) vision of the user wants and needs. Seeing a number of locations of similar size, type and usage establishes a benchmark (or guide) on which to base the new facility design.
Benchmarking refers to the process of examining methods, techniques and principles from peer organisations and facilities, which can be used as a basis for designing a new or renovated facility. It offers the following benefits:
• It provides an opportunity to see varying approaches to design versus budget.
• It may inspire new design ideas.
• The team can identify successful (and unsuccessful) designs and installations with regard to the project at hand.
• It can help to determine which functions and designs are most applicable to the current project.
• It allows project stakeholders to establish a communication path with other building managers and end users about what they learned in going through the design and construction process, and to discuss what they would do the same or differently if they needed to do it again.
The objective of a benchmarking visit is to identify the AV features and functions desired by the client. Arranging a benchmarking trip involves the following steps:
• Determine appropriate facility types to visit. These may be a precise match to the owner’s operation, or they may be facilities with similar functions and operational needs.
• Create a list of potential facilities to visit.
• Check whether the potential benchmark sites allow visits of this type. Some benchmark visits may require only a user’s perspective in a public facility, but many are private facilities that require permission to enter. In addition, most benchmarking visits benefit from a behind-the-scenes tour, which may require coordination with the technical staff.
• Narrow down options to a final list.
• Determine who will go. The benchmark group may draw from the end users, owner’s technical staff, owner’s administrative managers and the architectural design team, as well as the AV provider.
• Schedule and make the visits.
• Write a benchmarking report summarising the sites visited, the pros and cons of each site, what impact there is on the client’s anticipated needs, and the resulting AV systems which will support those needs.
Benchmarking can’t occur on all projects but sometimes you can save the time and money it takes to physically visit similar sites by letting the client and end user look through a portfolio of your organisation’s similar projects, or asking them to provide you with pictures of examples of systems or projects they’ve seen and liked.
BEST PRACTICE: ASKING QUESTIONS
Knowing there are many ways clients can use AV, how can you find out what your client needs, so you can recommend the best of many possible choices in each specific circumstance? Why not just ask? Many, probably most, will need your help to determine what they want to accomplish and exactly what they want to buy.
The best way to determine what the client wants, occurs in a free exchange of information between the client and the provider. When you create a good dialogue, both of you can better understand the client’s goals. A good dialogue is also friendlier and less threatening.
When asking questions, use an appropriate combination of open questions, closed questions and directive questions. Questions foster a dialogue, gather important information, get the client involved, and persuade more softly than statements. Use them often and use them intelligently.