Experienced low-voltage contractors know that there is more to taking an integration and wiring plan through to installation than just following a schematic—it is about marrying the theory of what the customer wants with the hands-on reality of how structured cabling fits into and supports a wider system infrastructure.

Integrators “get it from idea onto paper,” said Jeff Jarvis, RCDD/NTS, vice president of operations at Primary Systems Inc., St. Louis. “We take the design criteria, and we actually put wire and cable on the drawings, along with termination details.”

The overall process is usually broken down into a series of layers, starting with an end-user’s requirements and resulting in the installation of wiring and components.

Traditionally, an owner begins by creating a high-level picture of what they want. An architect then usually fleshes out the details needed to move the design forward. Sometimes an engineering firm contributes to the design. A general contractor might then fill in additional elements before handing the design off to an electrical contractor who has expertise in system integration. But, with design/build projects, all the parties sit down together and plot out this plan using their unique skill sets.

Regardless of how the overall design evolves, any pieces of information that were missing from the original concept are filled in. End-user transparency is often the ultimate goal of any systems integration project, according to Jarvis.
“[Owners] want to see it as one big system,” Jarvis said.

The completed design must support that goal, along with any functional requirements (flexibility, redundancy, scalability) that are necessary. By the time the project has reached the installation phase, all of those details need to be finalized and documented.

For the owner’s concept to become a reality, the plan needs to be comprehensive and realistic. It should include the installation of structured cabling. Jarvis said the final piece of a good design is “the guys out in the field making it work.”

ermination details, along with information on required testing and other commissioning-side work, are important components of a workable design, and they are rarely in place at the beginning of the process. Integrators and cablers work together to ensure those details are filled in.

In a world where fewer systems operate independently, contractors with the experience to take that initial design and turn it into reality will continue to earn more business.

“We are the ones that put in the equipment and make it do something,” Jarvis said. “We make it talk to the other systems, so it is transparent for the end-users.”

Integration specialists make the customer’s concept come to life by filling in the gaps in the design. Cablers then turn that design into real-world substance. Sometimes, these entities are one in the same.

Many contractors in the integration space are seeing so much action these days that some now prefer to focus internal resources on little else.

“The integrations piece is where the push is right now,” Jarvis said.

Experienced integrators are now highly desirable. However, Jarvis doesn’t see enough skilled specialty contractors involved in the integration process to meet the demand.

Are you interested in jumping into or expanding your cabling business or integration work? Because of the increasing interdependence between systems, reliable cablers with experience in that last piece of the design process are certainly in demand. And while it can be a natural extension of your business to create integration and wiring teams that work together as a one-stop shop, it is also possible to focus only on cabling while still bringing in enough business to keep your crews busy.

If you would rather focus on cable installs and leave the systems side of things to someone else, consider partnering with a good integrator. They may have more visibility with the end-user early in the project, but they will value your expertise as the design process moves through its layers.

Much of the cabling work at Primary Systems is subcontracted out to wiring companies, and Jarvis said it is important to have an experienced cabling team involved in any system design. High-quality cablers know the importance of good labeling and thorough spreadsheets, “so they know exactly what they are putting in from point A to point B,” he said.

Weaving together multiple complex systems takes planning at every stage, and the installation of structured cabling is no exception.

No matter if your company focuses on cabling, integration or both, a good team is essential.

“Find the right people,” Jarvis said.

Do not assume because someone is strong on the integration side that he or she is the correct person to pull cable and vice versa. The skills needed to successfully integrate multiple disparate systems into a cohesive whole are not the same as those required to install wiring. But if you really want to excel in system design, you need to be sure that both are included in the project.


KNUDSON worked in facilities and telecom management before becoming a freelance business writer. She can be reached at www.julieknudson.com.