Nearly all low-voltage contractors provide cable testing services. If you are one of them, are you getting everything out of the process that you can? By implementing a full-fledged system for administration that includes comprehensive and professional-looking test result reports along with accurate cable ID labels, electrical contractors can maximize service and maintenance revenue while avoiding lost income on cable repairs and replacements.
Let’s talk about testing first. If you are not providing customers with clean, thoroughly documented test results, there is a good chance your company is leaving money on the table. The first reason is simple customer expectations. Today’s customers do not want a handful of loose pages (or several untidy stacks of them, depending on the size of the project) with cable IDs written in the margin and test results hastily scrawled next to them.
Another reason for upping your game when it comes to producing high-quality test results documentation is that things sometimes go wrong with cabling. If you can’t show that your team is not responsible for the problem, chances are you will eat the repair or replacement costs. Even if the owners did the damage, the finger will likely be pointed at you. And because you want to keep the account and make your customer happy, you will probably end up fixing the problem at your own expense while silently vowing to figure out a way to ensure no additional dollars slip through your fingers.
Purpose-built software platforms can help electrical contractors avoid losing money on repairs and maintenance because they provide a way to clearly document test results no matter how many cables are involved, all in a format that is easy to access, share and store.
Several of these programs are available, but here I focus on Fluke Networks’ LinkWare cable test management software. First, the price: it’s free. No budget-busting going on here; this is one tool electrical contractors can get without worrying about the cost. The Windows-based LinkWare software is available from www.flukenetworks.com and can be used to download test results from many of the company’s fiber, copper and coaxial testers. Adrian Young, senior technical support engineer for Everett, Wash.-based Fluke Networks, said the company heard contractors loud and clear when it came to juggling multiple testers, each with its own software needs. As a result, unlike some of the other test management solutions out there, the LinkWare platform supports nearly every one of Fluke’s field test devices.
“Covering multiple testers means it’s really useful in terms of simplicity,” Young said.
Reports that are pulled out of the software can be generated in the native LinkWare format or as a PDF, depending on what you and your customer require.
“It’s actually built-in within LinkWare that it will export results in PDF format,” Young said, which means you don’t need a converter or PDF-generating software package loaded on every PC your team uses. Security features within the program also ensure that electrical contractors can rely on the integrity of their test result data.
“Once the test results come into LinkWare, you can’t change them,” he said.
It is possible, however, to merge new records into existing projects, which allows multiple teams working at different times to upload data into a single master project file.
Accurate labeling is also integral to the testing process, and platforms, such as offerings from Brady and Silver Fox, among others, can interface with LinkWare for a seamless download of tested cable numbers. Want to be sure your labels follow the TIA 606-A standard? Not a problem.
“We have integrated that standard for labeling into the LinkWare software,” Young said.
A tree on the left side of the program’s screen enables users to sort and tag results by project, room, rack and patch panel. Some of the labeling software applications will also support the data transfer going the other way, with the capability to send cable ID numbers into the test result management software, where they can then be loaded directly into the testers.
This capability solves the sometimes vexing problem of test results attached to the wrong batch of cable ID numbers. With a system that integrates labeling, cable test results management and the records collected by field test equipment, you can be sure your techs have the correct cable ID to tag their test results with. You also know the process works in the opposite direction and that test results can be downloaded straight from the tester into the correct cable ID record.
For contractors who want to take the process beyond managing labeling and test results, additional software platforms are available to manage customers’ overall physical network infrastructures. Cable management systems and change/configuration management (also called infrastructure relationship management) software can be used to oversee every facet of a network’s infrastructure. With this type of holistic, in-depth approach, contractors can provide customers with the infrastructure information they need and expect, while also ensuring repair and maintenance projects contribute to a healthy bottom line.
KNUDSON worked in facilities and telecom management before becoming a freelance business writer. She can be reached at www.julieknudson.com.