Watch This Architect Explain Why He Doesn’t Bring in Integrators Sooner

Architect, TV host and Crestron Masters 2019 keynoter Danny Forster paints a picture of how the relationship between integrators and architects SHOULD work.

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Architect, host of "Build It Bigger" and Crestron Masters 2019 keynoter Danny Forster

It’s clear that architect and host of Build It Bigger television series, Danny Forster, respects technology and custom audio, video and automation integration. He hammered that point as a keynoter at Crestron Masters 2019.

That’s not to indicate that Forster thinks the architect-integrator relationship always runs perfectly. “One of the worst things I find in the interactions between my integrators and my clients is that they’re made to feel a bit dumb,” he said on stage.

That’s not good, and perhaps it offers a window into why most integrators tend to struggle with building valuable relationships with integration firms.

The integration firms that have mastered the integrator-architect relationship tend to view it as an invaluable opportunity to learn about projects earlier and establish lasting partnerships with the architecture firms that trust them.

CI recently wrote about Bellevue, Wash.-based Avidex which credits its unique relationships with architects and general contractors as a key driver of its recent growth.

However, many integration firms consider the relationship with architects to be elusive. I told Forster that many integrators think of architects as their “white whale” and he found that rather ridiculous.

“The white whale presupposes that they’re hard to get. Why? Architects get solicitation calls for lunch and learns probably three to five times a day depending on the size of the office,” he said, explaining that most architects are anxious to learn from integrators and it probably just takes a little more effort.

After Forster’s Crestron Masters 2019 keynote, I talked to him about the relationship between integrators and architects. Here are some key points:

Why do architects tend not to bring in an integrator until later in the project cycle?

Forster: There is a desire is to have technical expertise available to the client and the design team as early in the project as possible.

It’d be great if they were there not to pitch their company, not to pitch a black box, not to pitch Crestron

That being said, that expertise has to be ready to participate as a consultant/expert. In other words, I don’t need a salesman pitching to me at the very beginning of the process. What I need is to be onboarded.

My team is a team of architects and interior designers who don’t know anything about the complexities of the work the integrators know about.

It’d be great if they were there not to pitch their company, not to pitch a black box, not to pitch Crestron but rather just to say, “Here are a range of technology solutions that you and your client will benefit from.”

We would bring them in sooner if we felt that they were going to be providing a design assist.

Why don’t you like the term “needs assessment?”

Forster: I’m an architect. I am not in the AV industry, so any critique I have comes as someone who was just looking from the outside in.

A “needs assessment” might be a great term that you all use. No one needs Crestron, right? You’re not a heart surgeon, right? You’re not an attorney for someone who’s in jail. What you’re doing is you’re developing an experience.

For me, rather than providing a needs assessment, I’d rather have someone understand what the desires for the client are. What are the goals of the project? Just understanding not how the technology can help them but really, assuming they know very little about the technology and just hearing their story.

From their narrative, from their very non-technical narrative, can we produce a technological solution? Maybe a “needs assessment” is the right word for the community, but from my perspective, it’s really just about listening to the client and hearing out what their ambitions are. 

Can you talk about your comment that sometimes integrators make your clients feel dumb?

Forster: I guess what I was suggesting is that oftentimes technical expertise can be wielded to minimize transparency, meaning that a client may have some questions, but it’s all too complicated and they don’t actually break down the ultimate solution for the client.

I think it comes down to the salesperson trying not to sell but rather to develop a solution based upon and predicated on the needs of what the client has to say.

I think from my point of view, the sales folks can certainly bring whatever technical knowledge they have.

At the outset, the client doesn’t really need to get into the nitty gritty.

I think it comes down to the salesperson trying not to sell but rather to develop a solution based upon and predicated on the needs of what the client has to say.

Try and whitewash your brain from it and don’t show up with an a pre-approved set of ideas and what you think they need. I think that’s a huge issue, which is walking in, seeing the space, hearing them say a few words, “I get it. I know what you need.”

That’s brutal. You may ultimately be right, but gosh, I would much prefer if we could all arrive at that solution based upon a process not by immediately landing on a solution because you know that’s what’s best.

It might be what’s best, but allow the client and the experience to earn that certitude by going through a process.

About the Author

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Tom has been covering electronics integration since 2003. Prior to being named editorial director 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.

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Comments

  • Jesse Miller says:

    It boils down to a simple question: Have you hired my firm to provide expertise? Or are you looking for a free design to shop around to my competitors? (Or ‘get a ballpark price’?)

    If the answer is the first one, then we have a professional relationship and I will provide my expert opinion for a fair rate, customizing a precise AV solution for you and even presenting a range of options.

    If the answer is the second, and you expect my work for free, I will use that time to do everything I can to maximize the return on my investment of my time.

    I believe the reason that Architects ‘dont want AV salespeople involved early in the process’ stems from the difference in revenue models between AV integrators and Architects.

    It feels like, in the scenario presented, the Design team wants consultation, not yet integration. So the question remains, are they prepared to hire an integrator to act as consultant, or do they expect free consultation from an integrator?

  • One issue with the design assist concept is the underestimation of the value of the AV&Acoustics that often happens with architects. It becomes a disservice to the owner when the a complex AV design has to be fast tracked, because the “design team” (architects, MEP, interior decorator, etc.) have already made architectural choices that severely impact the outcome of the technical systems. An AV consultant doesn’t sell the client products, and too often an architect leads a client down the path of bringing in an AV consultant who is not an AV consultant, but an AV integrator who does sell the client products. Architects need to more often consider bringing in an AV & Acoustics consultant much as they would an MEP for projects. It is more often than not in the best interest of their client. My question for architects is do you know which type of projects you should bring in an AV & Acoustics consultant before or when you bring in an interior decorator?

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