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Two Paths Cross

The convergence of the structured cabling industry with the traditional construction process is all but complete. It's time for everyone to embrace change.

October 1, 2003  

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W ith the recent announcement that Time Warner was dropping the AOL portion of their corporate name, one could wonder what this indicates about the oft referenced move to convergence in business today.

This was one of the more high profile mergers in recent memory, and by all appearances, it has been less than successful.

Convergence of a different nature has occurred over time in this industry with the integration of structured cabling into the standard construction processes.

Growing acceptance

While the process isn’t new — engineering firms have specified and overseen installations for many years — the growing acceptance of it has reached new heights.

With organizations continuing to place special emphasis on their cabling infrastructures, there is a much greater understanding that their installation goals can be achieved through the process.

This is contrary to the past when they went to great lengths to separate their structured cabling from the rest of the construction agenda.

Is this a good thing? As with all things, there are strengths and weaknesses to any process.

The same problems and perceived inadequacies of the process which frustrate other trades will surely do the same to structured cabling contractors, but it is the difficulties which arise out of a lack of familiarity with structured cabling as a trade that most troubles them.

As the other participants in the process learn to understand the cabling trade better, the faults are less evident.

A permanent fixture

Cooperating trades can work closer with the cable installers and construction superintendents are better versed in the interactions of everyone.

As structured cabling becomes a permanent fixture in the standard construction model, now designated as Division 17, the integration will continue to improve.

A common complaint has been that the tendering through which the structured cabling is priced to General Contractors and awarded based on cost results, represents a loss of control to the end user.

This does not seem to be an issue with other equipment, which is clearly specified for inclusion, such as lighting fixtures, and it is likely that as the structured cabling division matures, these hurdles will be overcome. There is no impediment to the user and engineer clearly making their product decisions known.

A further “convergence” which has occurred is the increased role of traditional electrical contractors in the installation of structured cabling.

The specialization of structured cabling has been viewed as a challenge to the skills of electricians by many, and in fact, electrical contractors have at times struggled with their approach to the market, caught between the desire to leverage their brand and the desire to show differentiation in their products to satisfy those who would demand it.

But there are some clear economies and advantages that can be attained by combining the electrical and structured cabling trades.

A strong link

Let me declare a conflict here in that I am employed by an electrical contractor. Ultimately, any company that makes a strong commitment to training and quality can be an asset to the construction team, but I don’t believe much issue can be taken with the following facts.

The electrical and structured cabling installations are strongly interlinked by the pathway and space requirements, just as mechanical, fire alarm, and security are often linked. While it is clearly not imperative that they be performed by a single contractor, scheduling issues, communication requirements, and finger pointing (or lack thereof ) can be positively impacted by combining these trades.

Further, common project management and administration should provide economic advantage. Many of the arguments against electricians performing these installations are unfounded.

Electricians are typically well trained through apprenticeships, possess good “mechanics” in terms of cable installation, and naturally, are familiar with electronic equipment.

Personnel who are licensed under a mandatory trade that deals with life safety on a regular basis should be fully able to install low voltage cables for communications equipment.

The convergence of the structured cabling industry with the traditional construction process is all but complete. Those companies, be they contractors, distributors, or manufacturers that embrace this change and commit to working within the model will benefit by increasing their market share and their profitability in this segment of the structured cabling market.

Rob Stevenson, RCDD/LAN Specialist, is Communications Division Manager at Guild Electric Ltd. in Toronto, and a member of Cabling Systems’ Editorial Advisory Board.

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