Changing How We Think of Change

The National Electrical Contractors Association’s big annual get together continues to expand beyond our association’s convention and the NECA Show. Thus, NECA 2006 Boston offered a whole smorgasbord of educational opportunities. They varied in form and focus, but they were all related to the overall theme: “Take Charge of Change.”

The need to address change, not only to cope with it but also master it, is what brought the electrical contracting industry into being and continues to define our profession. But taking charge of change is about a whole lot more than acquiring technical expertise.

Consider integrated building systems (IBS), for example. IBS was the focal point of a special conference in Boston last month, as well as additional workshops and presentations, and was also highly evident at the show. This attention hallmarked the maturing of a market sector and, at the same time, identified pathways to future success, as that sector will continue to grow by an estimated 5 percent per year throughout this decade.

IBS refers to such applications as network cabling; sound; security monitoring; security, fire and life safety; access control; and wireless networking through integrated systems that allow one computer to monitor and control an entire structure’s operation. The overwhelming majority of NECA-member contractors are involved in this market, and a survey of all electrical contractors in the United States shows that most nonmembers are as well. More than 70 percent of the general population of ECs provide services in communications and connectivity and an even greater number work with automation and access controls.

As IBS work becomes more of a mainstay than a niche, many contractors are being forced to change the way they do business. An increasing amount of this type of work is being done on a design/build process, and that is facilitated by innovations in system interoperability, which enable one contractor to install and maintain products from different manufacturers so that they all work together and fulfill the building owner’s particular needs. But the necessary changes aren’t limited to how jobs are bid and how the technical requirements are met; they extend all the way to how jobs are manned and when.

For one thing, as customers increasingly embrace the concept of one contractor coordinating the entire low-voltage electrical infrastructure, providing exemplary customer service becomes all important, especially if the contractor hopes to provide ongoing services (moves, adds and changes). Customers want to know they can rely on the quality, professionalism and integrity of every member of the contracting company.

IBS customers also demand job site flexibility. They often want to be able to have work done on their facilities after hours and to have contractors available to work in multiple locations, and the like. These are all items I discussed at the NECA convention last month and in my talk to our labor partners in the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers at their own convention.

As I told these diverse sets of conventioneers, technology has not just created the new materials and devices we install. Technology has not only created the data networks we build. It has also created the way we bid and contract for jobs from customers over those networks. It has created the need for highly trained and skilled electrical workers and for less-skilled support workers. Its a world that requires ready teams of service and maintenance workers around the clock.

Technology has created a new economy and a new kind of customer. These are the most important changes that must be addressed.

-Milner Irvin

President, NECA