Making the Switch
Branching out Brings new revenuejjjj A paradigm shift into Information technology (IT) and IT-based systems has bred a new area of systems work for contractors. While most ECs still count straight electrical work as their primary source of business, other systems work has crept up in volume and is becoming a vital revenue stream. Today’s world is heavily centered on various forms of voice and data communications. Though all IT reverts back to, and most definitely requires, electrical power to operate, IT has taken center stage as one of the primary catalysts for new business and opportunities in contracting. This speaks to the importance of integrated systems within the built environment. The voice network is no longer simply a line brought in and maintained by the phone company. Voice systems are complex entities unto themselves and are integrated into other systems, such as fire, alarm, access control and even data-based systems. All these systems—though individually important and critical—are, to some extent, dependent on one another. Because of this continuing shift in the marketplace, this column will focus more on systems that once were considered fringe systems for typical contractors. But as most of us know, contractors have done a good job of incorporating these other systems into their daily repertoire of standard work. The future focus of this column will be to explore and examine some areas where contractors may not feel they are a natural fit, even though they truly are. This includes technologies and solutions, such as IP-based storage, data centers, automation, virtualization, servers, etc. In fact, even technologically driven, newer versions of older systems such as voice over Internet protocol, security, access control and networking could be considered part of this category, since they generally are becoming integrated systems. Overall, these technologies that go beyond the basics of electrical power are becoming essential parts of a contractor’s business. The best thing about this trend is, regardless of which other system is being discussed, they all have one thing in common: They need power as the backbone for operations. Perhaps this is all coming full circle. Contractors found their way when electricity was the primary system contained within any given building. From there, the contracting industry changed and adapted to include voice communications. From there, data communications was born. Once again, contractors evolved, and now most provide electrical, voice and data systems work on a routine basis. Now it is time to move to the next level, which is where contractors learn to take all their base knowledge and use it to move outside their core competency zone and start delving more into other systems work. In the same manner contractors found their way into specialized areas such as fire alarm and access control on a sporadic basis, these other technologies are starting to move into daily business life. The key, moving forward, is recognizing all the potential available opportunities. It also is important to understand that even some of the most obscure technologies still need—you guessed it—some form of power, voice and/or data connectivity for intended operations. As simple as it may sound, that is the key contractors have to unlocking the doors to all of these additional opportunities. The best defense against difficult economic times is to continue to have a good offense. Contractors must stay on top of as many potential opportunities as possible, even those that may seem out of character for a traditional EC. Just remember that not too long ago, voice communications came with the same “it’s a new technology” stigma, and now, it is just an everyday part of an EC’s world.
Published: August 2008