Consultant of the Year: AV Helpdesk
AV Helpdesk plucks positive aspects of design-build and puts them into bid-spec projects, while reminding the industry to focus on clients’ needs.

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Steve Grace AV Helpdesk
Steve Grace, a former integrator, co-founded AV Helpdesk in part because he viewed the traditional A/V consulting model as not representing the clients well enough.
December 12, 2012 By Tom LeBlanc

Some integrators and clients prefer design-build projects. Some integrators and clients prefer bid-spec projects.

Former integrators Steve Grace and Collin Hogan will tell you that both traditional paths to commercial integration projects have inherent flaws, which ultimately damage clients’ results and integrators’ reputations. So, when the duo formed AV Helpdesk (AVHD) a decade ago it aimed to combine the best of both worlds into a new A/V consultant model that allows for a design-build level of customization in bid-spec projects.

Yes, AVHD is a consultant and a specifier, but Grace and Hogan have written their own definition of what that means. Theirs is a consultant model that changes the relationships between consultant and client … consultant and integrator … and integrator and client; it prolongs them. AVHD doesn’t hand over the specs, so to speak; it stays with the specs, acting as the clients’ representative while project managing alongside the integrators in the field.

“With our model, we work with the client early on to identify business goals and budgets and then clearly document the requirements,” Grace explains. “We then produce a detailed, build-ready documentation package that includes functional narratives, infrastructure requirement drawings, signal flow diagrams, rack elevations and a variety of scope documents that provide the direction necessary for integrators to bid effectively and be competitive.

“Our approach is designed specifically to level the pricing efforts so that we can then select the vendor who is best suited for a particular client or project based on their capabilities. Our model is designed from the ground up to result in the most transparent and fair playing field possible for each of the integrators.”

AVHD’s model also puts the consultant “in the trenches” with those integrators, adds unified communications consultant Chris Neto. “We roll up our sleeves and immerse ourselves in the project and technology by taking a hands-on approach.”

Most traditional consultants aren’t in the field with integrators and it’s safe to bet that many integrators are comfortable with that sort of arms-length relationship. Grace, however, insists that AVHD’s model tends not to rub integrators the wrong way. In fact, while AVHD may naturally butt heads with integrators in the field on occasion, it’s actually better than traditional methods of conflict resolution. “By actively participating in every step of the process and maintaining frequent and consistent communication with the vendors, we are able to identify and head off most issues before they get to the point where the client needs to get involved,” Grace says.

“While there are often instances where vendor representatives say or do something they are not supposed to and we need to correct behavior or give additional direction, we deal with these issues honestly and openly and always with the shared goal of finishing the project on time and on budget. It really hasn’t been an issue.”

It’s tough to argue with Grace, since his firm has seen five consecutive years of 20 percent growth and, he claims, “has never lost a client.”

The integrators that CI spoke to seem to have liked working with AVHD. Having the consultant remain so intimate throughout the project is beneficial, says James Welsh, director of engineering for Sudbury, Mass.-based Adtech Systems, the CI Marketing & Proposals Integrator of the Year. “I feel that because [AVHD] maintains involvement in the project the needs of the client are more fully met,” he says. “When an issue arises during the installation, it’s a benefit to have the designer available to work with the integrator and the client, if necessary, to come up with an acceptable resolution.”

About the author

Tom LeBlanc - Editor-in-Chief, CI,
Tom has been covering electronics integration since 2003. Prior to being named editor-in-chief of CI, he was senior writer and managing editor of CE Pro. Before that, he wrote for the sports department of the Boston Herald. Migrating to magazines, he was a staff editor for a golf publication and an outdoor sports publication. Follow him on Twitter @leblanctom.
View all posts by Tom LeBlanc
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