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Hired Guns

With the Right Approach, the Cost Will Pay for Itself Many Times Over

May 1, 2003  

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Just like a Request for Proposal can make or break a structured cabling project, the same applies when it comes to the hiring of a consultant. With the right approach, the cost associated with bringing in high-priced talent can pay for itself many times over.

Dennis Mazaris, president of PerfectSite, a structured cabling consulting and management firm in Dulles, Va., has posted an FAQ on his Web site. Question six is from an office administrator at a large law firm who has been handed the arduous task of handling the cabling for the voice and data at a new site. He’s concerned that the job will end up being more than he can handle.

“You are not alone in this matter,” Mazaris writes. “Many firms delegate this responsibility to someone who is usually overloaded with the everyday job. Unfortunately, it is the cabling job that suffers, but the trouble doesn’t usually surface until the end of the project when items that you thought were finished were not, and violations of standards and code occur that you knew nothing about.”

His suggestion: Call in a consultant to give a presentation to office colleagues in order that they have a better understanding of what will be expected of the office administrator. The goal is to come up with a rational decision based on the information presented and discussed.

According to Ehvert Technology Services in Toronto, today’s high-speed communications networks need an equally reliable high-speed physical infrastructure. These infrastructures must be properly designed, installed and maintained in order to effectively support your present and future communications needs: “The reliability and performance of your network, depends on the quality of your physical fibre cable infrastructure that delivers network signals, regardless of whether it runs between workstations or between buildings.

Mark Maloney, a senior consultant at Ehvert, says there are two issues organizations must consider. The first involves the selection of the consulting firm, while the second involves determining how the company and the firm should work together.

It all starts with due diligence. “Consultants are only as good as their last project,” says Maloney. “We don’t make things, so all we have is our reputation. References are a good thing for potential clients to ask for and actually follow up on.

Two key criterion to consider is length of time in the business and experience related to the type of project being considered.

Knowledge of standards is also important, says Maloney, who sits on several committees including TIA . “If you want to keep your client ahead of the curve or at least help steer them through murky waters, the only way you can cut through all that is by knowing what’s going on and the direction the standards are going in,” he says. “There are a lot of predators out there spewing their marketing fluff.

“You need to know who’s trying to pull one way and who’s trying to pull in another direction and find out what the motivations are. One of the great things about going to standards meetings is that you can actually see which companies are trying to pull the wool over people’s eyes and why the standards are where they are and that type of thing.”

Robert Horne, president of HorNET Consulting Services Inc. in Carleton Place, Ont., a firm that specializes in structured cabling design, inspection, project management and training, spends a lot of time dealing with strategic and planning issues. It comes down to the basics: Where are you going to put things and how are you going to connect them together.

“If you’ve ever seen server farms or data centres that haven’t been done well, it’s just a hodge-podge of cables and bad documentation,” says Horne, who’s current client base includes the Bank of Canada where he provides professional services that include structured cabling and internetworking design.

So what should a company look for? Someone, who has good communications skills, he says, and someone who not only has a good track record, but also can provide references that can be checked as well as a portfolio detailing past work that has been completed.

Chemistry is also important. A good consultant, says Horne, earns trust and is not afraid to challenge ideas and bring in different views. “It’s fine for everyone to say yes to everything all the time, but the role of the consultant is also to be the devil’s advocate. They need to ask questions such as have you thought about this or what about that?

“Sometimes people within an organization are afraid to express their views because of concerns about job security. One of the roles of the consultant is not to put up roadblocks, but bring to the forefront any issues that other people may be afraid of raising.

“I’ve always said that while my job is to please the client, my other role is to bring up issues — both good and bad — that they may not have thought about.”

That was certainly the case during an often frustrating optical fiber installation that was part of a $2.9 million network upgrade project at the Bank of Canada’s head office in Ottawa (see Cabling Systems December 2002). The bane of his existence became the small-form factor (SFF) connector MT-RJ. Phase One of this particular installation began in March 2001 and within two months, connector issues began to crop up when the installer began getting poor results on their tests.

After the vendor was brought into investigate the situation, Horne found himself in a Catch-22 position, one in which he was finally able to get out of after being able to settle a dispute between the manufacturer and the installer. The contractor was losing money, the vendor was facing a PR nightmare and the consultant’s reputation within the Bank was at stake. He was able to get all sides working together and avoid what could have been a disaster.

“Sometimes, stuff happens, but it’s not what happens, it’s how you deal with it,” says Horne.

Meanwhile, once a contract is signed, the working relationship between client and consultant must be hassle-free. In order to do a truly effective job, the consultant must be brought into the fold.

“A company should have the consultant sign a non-disclosure agreement and tell (him or her) everything that’s going on,” says Maloney. “Where is the business going? What are they considering doing? Forget the cable plant and forget the pathways for a moment, In terms of the infrastructure, if we don’t know the demands that are going to be placed upon it, how can we truly design one that will live as long as the building?”

To that end, it’s imperative to meet and work not just with technical staff, he says, but also operations, marketing, sales and service personnel. “Techies like new technology and sometimes want to implement just for the sake of it. Companies today are taking a real hard look at what any new technology is going to do for the bottom. All you have to do is look at Voice over IP. We’ve been hearing all sorts of stuff since the late 1990s and now (analysts) are saying that maybe it might start to take hold in 2005. I pity the poor sons-of-gun who have already bought into it.”

Another example is the Category 6 versus Category 5 debate. A good consultant, says Maloney, will insist on test results that show the actual performance of the channel because not all Category 6 systems are created equal. “If a customer is going to pay a premium, then it behooves the consultant to make sure that his client gets what he paid for. The only way you can do that is scrutinize a whole boatload of test results. A consultant who says that’s too arduous a task is obviously not up on what they need to do.

“If a consultant is hot to trot on new technologies, I would be concerned. If he or she has pathways and spaces as their number one focus that’s the type you want. The simple fact remains that if you don’t have the space and you don’t have a way to get there, I don’t care what the new technology is, you’re going to have a difficult and extensive time implementing it.”


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