How Easy Are You?

It’s a question that we all must ask ourselves at some point: “How easy am I to deal with?”

We all have to answer this question in all aspects of our lives. From the personal aspect, how easy are we to deal with as spouses, parents, siblings and children of our parents? In this sense, “easy” will be defined as how well you listen and absorb, handle stress and react to success. From the security consultant’s standpoint, it means how simple it is to see and realize your value from your client’s perspective and whether or not your price is worth that. I want to spend a little time defining what this means from an integrator’s standpoint and from a consultant’s point of view.

Over the last few years, I have heard from integrators that the biggest challenge isn’t necessarily landing projects, but instead keeping margin. By margin, I mean enough of a margin to fund the non-billable items that it takes to be a well-respected, educated and low-turnover integrator. If you have an installation, service and sales function, then you have a bucket full of associated costs that go along with that:

Employees. Finding good technicians, keeping them certified and then keeping them on staff can lead up to a big cost, one that isn’t appreciated by the end user even though they gauge the effectiveness of your company on this component. I am sure there are few out there who have not heard the saying, “Happy employees make and bring happy clients.”

Installation costs. Along with having good employees comes having project managers or lead technicians, depending on your size, that can actually take a project and bring it in on scope, schedule and budget. I would venture to say that inside the core structure of any good project manager is the ultimate ability to manage these three aspects for any project. From an end user’s standpoint, the perfect formula is beyond scope, under budget and on schedule. From the typical integrator’s standpoint, it is normally on scope, on budget and under schedule.

Project management. A good project manager will take scope, schedule and budget, and focus on them individually to ensure that they work together seamlessly.

For scope, he/she focuses on what was sold and whether it will be achievable within the budget and schedule confines. Furthermore, he/she will look at the scope and brainstorm about other issues that typically come up during projects with similar scope and address them early with the client to lay the ground for either consciously excluding these items or providing them at an additional cost.

For budget, a good project manager will first look at the project as sold and gauge, whether or not the budget is achievable, and highlight the threats to the budget. It’s these threats that pose the greatest risk to the margin because profits typically are the first to be pilfered when costs overrun. These threats are typically defined as one of three categories: materials cost too much, labor costs too much or scope creep.

Cost of materials and labor. These only cost more inside a project when there is a lack of focus on what is being provided and the tracking of those materials to that project. Labor costs are the big expense and can be directly related to scope creep. Adding an additional contact on a nearby door, for example, goes a long way for pleasing the client and doesn’t cost that much in material. However, the lost labor cost of running the wire, landing it on the input and programming costs more in labor than it will in material. One of these is probably acceptable without much damage to the margin.

I was recently on a project where I was looking over what was installed versus what was sold. It turned out that there were 12 more door contacts than were in the design and without any additional price request. That hurts margin.

Finding the fine line between what is acceptable and what is not will define how you handle scope creep, which mostly affects labor costs.

The Ease of Customer Service

Most integrators that I interact with from the consultant’s standpoint place their best customer service representatives on the front end of the project to approach potential clients and close the deal. Once the deal is closed, it gets handed off to operations, which is either a project manager or lead installer. After the completion of the install, the next best customer service representative takes over, also known as the service department.

So, what happens during the operations portion of a project when conflict arises? The typical operations lead/decision maker is more about counting beans and watching scope and schedule than looking at what the next project might be out of that client or the impact of a small scale item with the potential of becoming a big scale problem. Here’s where good employees, good project managers and customer service have to do with being easy.

The formula that end users and consultants use is:

Ease of interaction + Technician knowledge of product/install + Reason for change order requests = “Easy”

It’s not a difficult formula. The ease of interaction is a result of responses from the front line sales, the mid-term operation and the conclusion from service.

During these responses, we heard more between “That’s going to be a change…” and “This issue was a result of something changing in the project and the cost for that will be...” These and the technician on site handling equipment issues without them ever knowing it was an issue set the tone for the reaction from the end user every time.

It’s tough enough to maintain margin in a project when it was put into the dirt going into the project. End users, consultants and architects aren’t typically opposed to valid change requests, but have no patience for change requests without advance notice of an issue with subsequent justification for costs. There will still be those items that will cost more to pursue than to just throw in. Make those the small ones, and make them visible afterward, but not in a way that expresses, “I did you a favor.”

This article originally appeared in the July 2014 issue of Security Today.

About the Author

Charlie Howell is an independent security consultant in Northern California.

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