Help them understand what they need, not what they want

Selling an owner on buzzword technology is unethical when that application is inappropriate for the installation

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Selling an owner on buzzword technology is unethical when that application is inappropriate for the installation.

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We have been a most fortunate company and have retrofitted many office buildings and public schools/colleges for telecommunications technology. These retrofits have included the cabling, devices, racks, patch cords, and "active" data and telephone management equipment to maintain Gigabit Ethernet LAN systems. But we've also witnessed some amazing attitudes among the owners and/or their personnel.

It seems that many owners want their retrofit performed in a certain way at the request of either an in-house IT professional (hopefully), through information they've received from a seminar they've attended, or because that's what a particular grant tells them to do. They then call for plan design and have it installed. But even after this, most of them still don't understand what they're getting and what it will do.

Many don't even know what the money is paying for.

Part of the problem is that in some circles, retrofits have become a status symbol. You'll hear an office worker say, "Our office/school has just had a technology retrofit, how about yours?" And owners will boast, "We have Gigabit Ethernet, Category 6 cable, voice-over-IP, and we are prepped for a future wireless installation." Notice the buzzwords and how they can make an owner feel proud. But we've found that few owners know what these terms actually mean for their business.

Without question, there is a serious need to inform business, government (local and beyond), and educators about telecommunications. But that information needs to be more than buzzwords and mystique. Application is the most effective type of education-it will tell people what they will be able to do, or not do, with the new technologies. Of course, we have to be straightforward with what we say because we have to do it in a 30-second commercial. Americans, after all, have a habit of tuning out anything longer than that.

So, we could put up a 10-second commercial that says: "What does it all mean? Technology retrofit. Wired for the Internet. Category 6. Wireless. Gigabit Ethernet. Go to such-and-such a Web site.com. Your free technology expert." Wouldn't people try it at least once so they wouldn't get embarrassed when asked about these things? And what if a major telecommunication organization like BICSI sponsored the site? They could persuade people on the importance of having systems designed by technology experts like RCDDs. And they could further persuade people to have installations performed only by licensed BICSI contractors.

But should we have to go that far? No, we simply need to concentrate on giving folks the correct information, not "just enough" information that can be misleading. Selling an owner on buzzword technology simply because he or she has money to spend is unethical when that application is inappropriate for the installation. We must have integrity.

We must also look inward and make sure we aren't afraid of educated owners. But if owners are educated and are able to make better decisions on what type of technology will make them more efficient and productive, will that prevent us from making as much money? And will they tell us what they believe is the most cost-effective solution and not listen to our insights? These are justifiable fears, and each one prompts honest discussion. That is what we must be striving for-honesty.

Our biggest fear should be that we should work only for the almighty dollar. That motive won't give you a smile every morning when you go to work. But teaching people new things and the right things, and making them better at what they do, will.

This is the opportunity we have-to make people's lives easier, not just giving them what they want. Along the way, we will be retrofitting buildings to encourage learning, and giving new and useful technology tools to owners, employees and students.

Chris Garick, PE/RCDD, is a founding partner of Humber-Garick Consulting Engineers, Ft. Walton Beach, FL.
You can reach Chris via e-mail at cgarick@humber-garick.com

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