Silva Consultants | 06/22/16 11:14pm
As a consultant, I advise my clients to look at a lot more than price when selecting an integrator. Experience with similar projects using similar products is very important to me, as well as the depth of the integrator's overall project team. Good references and the integrator's demonstrated track record in solving problems when things go wrong are also big factors in my recommendations to the client. (All integrators look good when things go well, the real test of an integrator for me is how well they respond when things go badly. In many cases, this is due to no fault of their own, such as a bad product from a manufacturer.)
In many cases, I can convince a client to pay a 15% to 20% premium to get a more qualified integrator. But if the price difference is higher, it is difficult to convince the client to select the higher-priced integrator no matter how qualified he or she is. In public works projects, usually the client's hands are tied - he must choose the lowest bid unless there is material proof that the low bidder is unqualified or has made a major mistake.
Sometimes (believe it or not) the client chooses to ignore my advice completely and selects the low bidder or someone he has a previous relationship with. Remember that in most cases, the client, not the consultant, makes the final decisions.
When I specify a specific product or group of products in a specification, integrator's need to understand that this is not something I pull out of the air - the decision is usually based on many weeks or months of product research, visits to existing sites where the product is installed, and factory product demonstrations with client representatives. At this late stage in the process, final decisions have already been made, and we are generally not willing to entertain other products or design approaches.
That being said, I often allow bidders to submit two proposals: one that fully complies with my specifications, and a second that utilizes alternative products or a different design approach suggested by the bidder. Within this second proposal, a strong case needs to be made as to why this alternative proposal benefits the client. Being significantly less expensive usually always gets the attention of the client, but other benefits can sometimes tip the scales as well. Alternative proposals that benefit only the bidder (Milestone is specified but the integrator sells only Exacq so proposes it instead) are rarely successful.
I discuss this topic in more detail in my article How Security Integrators Can Succeed Working With Consultants
IMHO, at best it's wishful thing, at worst it's bad advice.
While offering a part sub, or an alternate vendor might be accepted, as your "design improvement" starts to resemble an actual change to the architecture, i.e., "I think that retina scanners are a better fit than prox cards in this case", the odds of acceptance plummet, even if the suggestion is sound.
There's a hundred ways to skin a cat, and a good integrator might know a few options that a strong case could be made for. But making that case to 'show your sauce' is most likely a dead end, and possibly detrimental to your chances, even if you submit 2 bids.
Let's face it, the consultant is being paid to be the 'brains' of the project, and unless he is an extraordinarily confident expert and unusually humble, he will naturally be resistant to anything that could lessen his value or abilities in the eyes of the client.
Integrators are no different. It's like when one of their junior tech suggests that 568-B might be the way to go here, or makes any number of reasonable suggestions that are not in line with the integrators way of doing things.
It just ain't happenin'
Some of this misses the point I was trying for in the article. Not all changes need to be wholesale design changes; some are "tweaks" that can give us a sense of how and integrator selects products and speak to their strengths in supporting their installations.
Cameras were an example I used. We often specify Axis cameras because they are a known quantity, widely distributed, and easy to cross. We've had great success with other brands and an integrator using their "house brand" may be more responsive than one who doesn't ordinarily carry the brand we specify but ordered the product because they were afraid to substitute. I'm talking "like" products here, not unproven low-end imports.
We also had a bidder decline to bid on a project recently because we specified performance for wireless networking without picking a brand and model number. In that case there were a lot of products that fit the bill, the wireless equipment wasn't a significant portion of the project, and we wanted them to use products that they supported. Still, the integrator wanted us to specify something which told me that they may not have much experience in that area. We got enough other bids on the project, and I honestly can't remember which brand the winning bidder was using. Their track record was sufficient for me to go with their experience on that project.
Again, many consultants (including Michael Silva, it sounds like) are looking to recommend the best alternative to their clients, and that's not always the low bidder. Sure, there's a limit to the premium a client will pay, but you need to help us understand why you're worth that premium and it needs to be more than slick marketing material and an overly long response package.