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Join Date: Jan 2000
Location: New York, NY, USA
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So, your next logical question is how to choose an installation firm. Well, you can follow the good advice that lots of people here and in other threads give which is to interview the company, get their references, and make some calls to hopefully satisfied customers.
A bit too much effort for most people these days. And there are pitfalls. First, rest assured that the reference list you receive will be edited and vetted. Only clients the firm knows will provide glowing reviews will be on it.
Worse, some of those glowing reviews may be from clients who simply don't know any better. You'd be surprised at the percentage of clients who are satisfied with terribly installed, poorly functioning or even not fully functioning systems. I can't tell you how many times I've seen even cost-no-object systems that have serious deficiencies such as major parts of the system that simply never have worked. Yet, the clients have accepted the poor situation as the norm and are even reasonably satisfied!
There is a better way than checking references. It's more foolproof, in my judgment. Just ask to see one of the company's installed equipment racks in a client's home or office. Take a quick look at the front to make sure everything is perfect, but what you really are focused on is the back of the rack. Have the rack pulled out and take a long look (don't pull out the rack yourself; a tall equipment rack can weigh 700+ lbs; tip it over and you could be seriously hurt or cause major damage).
What you should see back there is a work of art. If it doesn't look like perfection, if there are loose wires and unsecured devices, if it looks like a dirty, disorganized, tangled heap of wire spaghetti, and it's hot as the devil with nary a sign of thermal management, walk away.
Poor workmanship says everything. A good firm does things right not just because they have pride in workmanship and the technicians are well-trained, but also because it makes the system easy to service in the future - they can be more efficient. And that means lower cost and less downtime for you.
There are a couple of other things to inquire about: Ask how many on-staff programmers does the firm have and what are the approximate annual sales of the firm. If the answer is we do $5M/ year and we have one full time programmer who "floats" and we sub out the rest of the work, or the owner was a CAPE in a previous life and fills in when needed, then this isn't the firm for you.
Programming is a significant bottleneck in most firms. But hiring more programmers isn't an easy decision - they're expensive and hard to find. So, most firms end up under-staffing relative to their actual needs. If there aren't enough programmers,though, deployment of your system will be painfully slow. Little changes will be slow, repairs and upgrades will be slow.
If they outsource the programming, the program may be well written - it's what they do, after all - but it will be difficult and time-consuming to make changes. The programming firm will have to find a slot to schedule your work. There will be lots of back-and-forth over internal paperwork and scheduling between your installation company and the sub-contracted programming firm. What's more, you'll generally pay quite a bit more for the privilege because of the two-firm mark-up. Keeping it in house not only makes for efficiencies and lower overall cost to you, it means one firm is fully accountable.
A second thing to ask about is can you get a copy of the program in case you want to move on to another firm at some future point. Crestron programming is compiled, so a firm taking over from your first firm will need a copy of the system code to make any changes.
If the response is we own the program (or the sub-contracted firm does), it's our intellectual property (which it is), and we don't provide the code to end-users, run away. Why should you be held hostage in perpetuity to what you have learned from experience is a bad situation? And with an attitude to heavily invested clients such as that, there's a good chance the program won't be well-written - which means it will all have to be re-written anyway...at a cost thousands or even tens-of-thousand of dollars. By contrast, a solid, reputable firm will put in writing that they will provide you with the program if you request it at any point.
Lastly, ask about service: Does the firm have a tech on call after hours? Will the firm do whatever it takes to solve a mistake, even if it means ripping something out and doing it again at their own expense?
If the answers to both of these questions is an unequivocal, "Yes," and the workmanship of the racks checks out, and there are a sufficient number of programmers on staff, you've found your firm. As long as you heed their engineering advice, you can be absolutely confident you will get a convenient-to-use, perfectly functioning, and reliable system to enjoy for many years. Done well, it may even enhance the resale value of your home.