Stick With What You Do Best?

Not to disparage the many great articles here on IPVM concerning the installation of camera poles, electric lock hardware, and trenching, but are these really the types of things that a systems integrator should be doing? Wouldn't you be better off developing relationships with sub-contractors who could do this work better, cheaper and faster than you could, allowing you to focus on what you do best?

Just as I'm not sure I want to have a carpenter configuring ports on my managed network switch, or an electrician setting resolutions and bit rates in my VMS software, I'm not sure I want a video surveillance technician trying to drill through a solid oak door or dig a trench across my parking lot.

Shouldn't low voltage technicians stick with what they know best and leave the heavy construction work to others?

Sometimes small integrators/installers/technicians have to wear a lot of different hats. Some of them are pretty good at them, too.

As far as "a carpenter configuring ports on [your] managed network switch" - I've been a carpenter in the past. Also a car audio technician, an electrician, an auto mechanic, and grew up in a rural area having to do minor ranching-type work... so if I went back to doing carpentry full time, would that nullify my ability to configure a managed switch?

A lot of guys have gone through a lot of different careers in their lives - it's foolish to generalize on their ability, or lack thereof, as a "video surveillance technician", to perform other related tasks.

Also, keep in mind there are a LOT more people here than just "system integrators", and thus not all articles are aimed strictly at "system integrators".

I think to answer Michael's original question: it's a matter of scale. If an integrator is doing eight doors of access control, and seven are easy (like HES 9600 surface mount easy) and one requires cutting a metal frame, it may be easiest and most cost effective to have them do it. On the other hand, if you need 60 doors cut that way, a door contractor is likely going to be a better choice.

In my past I've done small trenches, installed strikes, installed receptacles, put up poles, and more, all wearing the hat of a low voltage contractor. Was I the best at it? No. But did it get done and not break the bank or fall apart? Yes.

I completely disagree that it's foolish to generalize. If an integrator does not present me with proof of expertise, I assume they have no expertise. Business is not a matter of giving people a chance to prove they can get the job done. It's a matter of getting the best end product. Hence, if you tell me you're a carpenter, and share nothing else on your resume with me, I will assume you should not be setting up my switches.

This is a great question!

Ethan says it best: the problem is scale. In my area, there are not an abundance of trades willing to take on nickel 'n dime projects (ie: put in two poles, recylinder four mortise locks, dig a 90' trench) so it behooves an integrator to know little bits about everything. Often, when a sub DOES take on smaller parts of a project, the sense of urgency and schedule of their small slice may not match up to the deadlines on the 'master calendar'.

When I worked as an integrator, even national projects worked this way for us. We might have teams of local (skilled) subs, but we always sent a crew of 'cleanup batters' from the HQ that could fill in the gaps.

I'm still thinking about this: also, it benefits an end user, manufacturer, and integrator to have a sense of what's "good work" and what "cutting corners" (or worse: "illegality") looks like.

For example, as a security executive, I may never cut a door frame in my entire life, but it certainly helps me know that not all door frames are 'equally cuttable'. Knowing how to properly define the task is half the battle, as anyone who has ever condemned an RFP will bleat.

I like to think that pieces of the posts we write randomly swim around in the heads of our readers until a random problem conjures up the topic from the abyss. Then, instead of starting with nothing, they reread the post/ask a few questions, and get a good jump on the "ins 'n outs" in terms of security system design. (As an integrator, that's exactly how IPVM worked for me!)

Michael, my approach to integration is in line with your question / assumption. I do think it is important to specialize and partner. However, I think the value in knowing these things is not necessarily in doing them but in knowing what the big issues are. I have zero interest in trenching (personally nor professionally) but I would like to have enough understanding to question / check what the trenching subcontractor is doing. I have dealt with too many proclaimed experts (in various fields) who either turn out to be incompetent, crooked or lazy, screwing up very basic things. Having such fundamental knowledge helps spot problems.

John stole my post.....get out of my head!

Seriously, I love the focused reviews but enjoy the wide variation of topics as well. The discussion on tie raps still makes me laugh when I think of it. If I can learn someting that makes me more knowledgable why not. Ultimately we're not forced to read the topics we're not interested in.

Just to clarify, I never intended to imply that IVPM shouldn't be covering the topics that it does. I enjoy these articles as much as anyone. I also understand that just because someone can install video surveillance, that doesn't mean that they can't have other skills such as carpentry or mechanics. But just because someone can do something doesn't mean that they should do it.

I, for example, consider myself to be an excellent AutoCAD drafter, and enjoy doing CAD work more than almost anything else. But on major projects, it is just plain stupid for me to be doing $75 per hour work when I can be billing my time at twice that rate or more doing something else. But I do agree that knowing CAD makes me a much better supervisor when I am overseeing the work of other CAD drafters.

The question was just intended to solicit comments on where integrators should draw the line between what it makes sense for them to do or not do. The comments received thus far have been insightful.

(and don't get upset when you see an article called "How to Install IP Surveillance Cameras" in the latest issue of Backhoe Operator's Daily.... :)

EJ, Michael, LOL!

In terms of where to draw the line, I think that is hard. A big question is what can you successfully outsource? When I was an integrator, we started with all external electricians but we had a lot of problems - quality control issues plus scheduling delays being the big two. It got to the point where it became clear that having our own internal electrician would reduce overall costs and redone work. Now, perhaps, in another time or place, there would be quality reliable electrical subs, which would have changed the decision.

The CAD example is an interesting case because I could see it both ways - primarily as an issue of scale. If you expanded your operation, you might find it profitable and productive to hire a dedicated CAD operator who you could train in your specific practices, issues, etc.

I would have to disagree with the entire notion of "Stick With What You Do Best." Perhaps it's only me but I never want to stand still. Over my nearly 45-year-long career, I've always enjoyed learning new skills to add to my abilities (and resume). The day I stop doing that will be the day I die.

That's what I often find most interesting about IPVM. Something posted here will get me thinking about the post and trigger a desire to learn more. Just like other technical websites sites I frequently visit, including AVS Forum, CNET, ZDNet and the like, I typically read articles about things I know little about, which prompts me to search for more technical information and "how to" articles. From these quests, I've often learned new skills that I've used in my career.

I find IPVM articles and discussions have frequently piqued my curiosity and ultimately added to my skillset. Will I practically apply everthing I've learned at or because of IPVM? Not very likely, but you never know when such knowledge can come in handy, whether used directly or as John stated, just used for interaction with specialists. Either way the knowledge is a plus.

For once, I am 110% in agreement with Carl.

(Was that a swarm of locusts I just saw go by?)

"For once"? I seem to recall many times we've agreed on things. HDcctv, for one...

And it wasn't locusts. Those were thoughts, I think.

I agree with both Carl and Matt.

Just recently an article on IPVM helped us overcome a simple obstacle that stood in our way as related to access control. Did IPVM give us the end all solution? Nope. But a memeber discussion did point us in a direction that we had not before considered or even knew was possible.

Stick with what we do best? If we did that we would never have gotten to where we are today.

There are so many members on this site that have vast levels of experience. Even a simple article can trigger a discussion that can help so many others address an issue that had previously been just out of reach.