Riding an airwave of consciousness

Recently, I had the opportunity to spend some time with the owner of a successful cabling-installation company. Our conversation took several turns, most of them familiar and one or two unexpected

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Recently, I had the opportunity to spend some time with the owner of a successful cabling-installation company.

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Our conversation took several turns, most of them familiar and one or two unexpected. I think they are worth sharing, because even though one man's viewpoint may not necessarily represent those of everyone, they are very much in line with what I have heard from many professionals in similar positions.

The first topic of conversation was doing business for clients with a nationwide operation. Today, more and more decisions regarding that type of work are made at a corporate level, as opposed to being made at a local or regional level. Practically speaking, that means the people within installation companies who are trying to win these bids are using more e-mail, and less face-to-face correspondence. Someday soon, I expect to hear about a seminar on "effective e-mail communication," similar to the seminars on "improving your people skills" that I have seen-and some people have told me I should attend-for years.

Next in our conversation was carrying out projects in other parts of the country. Depending on what was specified in the bid, the winning bidder can send a crew to the site (which generally is the more costly option for the client), or the bid-winner can subcontract the actual installation and manage project logistics. The latter option, of course, requires finding and using subcontractors. "We have more than 1,500 names in our database of subcontractors," the contractor told me. "We use about 300 of them regularly." He let me know that if he has an unfavorable experience with a subcontractor, he keeps that subcontractor in the database, but makes an impossible-to-miss notation not to use the subcontractor again.

Out-of-state jobs bring up the issue of licensing. "It's a double-edged sword," he said without hesitation. A good licensing program that accurately assesses competence ensures that only qualified outfits are carrying out cabling projects. On the flipside, there's no guarantee that every licensing program does in fact accurately assess competence. And regardless of the program's contents, the process of obtaining a license can consume a contractor's time and money. Some will argue that the time and money are just the cost of doing business. True, but to a cabling contractor who wants to do business in several states, several counties within those states, and several cities within those counties, the time and money can add up. Most licensing that applies today is at the state level, but those county and municipality licensing issues can be very much a reality for today's contractor.

All that being said, the benefits of a good licensing program are important. "Probably the biggest issue today is competition, especially unqualified competition," my contractor friend explains. And competition is fierce. "You can lose a $100,000 deal for $100," he adds. And while he maintains some loyal customers, obtaining new business at a fair price is a daily battle.

I thought our meeting was just about wrapping up when he said, "You haven't asked me about wireless." He then gave me his upbeat take on the medium, and described a wireless installation he recently completed. The customer had to connect four workstations in a shop environment to another area of the business about a half-mile away. After considering several options, including a fiber-optic system, the customer chose an IEEE 802.11-compliant wireless system. "They looked at what a T1 line would cost and realized that by comparison, the payback time on a wireless installation would be about one year," the installation contractor said. Actual installation of the equipment is not mechanically complicated, but defining pathways can be challenging because of the types of environments in which wireless systems usually operate.

In fact, this contractor planned to visit the wireless jobsite later that same day. As he looked out his office window on what was becoming a chilly November day in the Northeast, he said, "I will be interested to see how wind and ice will affect the system this winter."

Shortly thereafter, our conversation wrapped up. I left his office with a number of thoughts swirling about my head: conducting vital correspondence electronically; facilitating work that takes place hundreds or thousands of miles away; hiring and monitoring subcontractors; installation-contractor licensing; fierce competition; media choices; doing what is right for the client. Quite a bit for me to digest. But just another day in the life of a cabling-installation contractor.

Whether you are responsible for the installation, design, or maintenance of a cabling system, no doubt you face a world of questions and challenges on a daily basis, just like the professional I'm quoting on this page. As a new year (and the real new millennium) begins, please accept my sincere wishes for success in your endeavors. Play fair, and work hard.

Patrick McLaughlin
Chief Editor

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