A system assessment is essentially a comprehensive overview of the structure, layout and functionality of any given system. In the world of electrical contractors, we are more often than not referring to networking systems, even though the same methodology applies to electrical systems.

Prior to performing a full system assessment, current and projected system requirements need to be understood and analyzed. This is actually a part of future proofing that has always dictated that initial system design and installation is something that has been thoroughly thought out.

Both voice and data systems need flexibility and scalability designed into them, so that expansion features, functions and capabilities can easily be achieved. It is important to address this during system assessment because if this task is not accomplished during the initial design and/or installation phase, it would become an issue that should be noted within the context of the assessment findings.

Three separate components need to be thoroughly addressed via a comprehensive system assessment: system hardware; system equipment; and system software.

The hardware portion would include such items as the structured cabling. The equipment portion includes hubs, routers, phones and the like. The software side is one that generally comes into play when one discusses systems such as Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP), IP telephony and similar systems that rely upon software packages to operate the system itself.

An assessment should not only take into consideration, but also more clearly define and perhaps even readjust, the future proofing and current requirements of the end user/system owner.

Final results/findings should not only be presented to the owner in some form of a written, professional format, but also be openly and honestly discussed so that the owner/end user is aware of not only what type of system that they currently have, but also what the future capabilities of their system is. It is extremely important for contractors who offer such assessment services to include this one-on-one assessment discussion in order to alleviate any confusion that may occur.

Depending upon the complexity of the system, additional expertise may ultimately be required to assist the electrical contractor in providing a system assessment. This is especially true when various disciplines are represented within the system. A good example of this would be a system that relies heavily upon software. Since many electrical contractors outsource this portion of the network in the first place, they would most likely utilize a software specialist to perform this portion of the assessment. Keep in mind that there is another option available for electrical contractors. It is not highly unusual to offer only assessments on the structured cabling portion of the system.

This may not be a bad idea overall since the structured cabling portion is an extremely important one. Most electrical contractors are aware that people repeatedly attempt to expand systems operating on antiquated cabling that cannot handle any more information transfer or users. Most end-users do not comprehend that if an old system with outdated/improper cabling is overutilized, it will ultimately slow down the entire system. If this were the case, then one of the findings discussed within the assessment would most likely be a recommendation regarding cabling upgrades.

Analysis of the equipment side of the system can often times be performed by electrical contractors, since many firms have been involved in voice/data communications for many years and have had experience with such system equipment. Equipment such as hubs, routers, switches and the like need to be evaluated to determine whether or not they are still capable of performing at their intended/expected level of performance. Another determination that could also be made at this point would be a determination regarding whether or not the equipment has been being properly maintained.

The software side relates back to the possibility of utilizing a third-party contractor, one that has extensive, targeted experience within that particular arena.

Ongoing routine maintenance of the system itself may be addressed within the assessment. In fact, maintenance and assessment agreements can be lumped together into a comprehensive solution to help ensure functionality. Not only will this type of bundled service benefit the end-user by helping to increase return on investment, but it also helps promote the other offerings of you, the electrical contractor. In fact, the possibilities are endless. Electrical and communication (voice, data and video) systems maintenance and assessment are all options that could ultimately become part of an overall arrangement. This is usually an easily incorporated package deal since most electrical contractors are already structured to provide all of these services.

As you can see, system assessment is an important aspect of contractor/client relations. Not only does it keep you involved with your customers, but it also has the potential to generate additional business. By remaining in contact with your customers, you keep open the door for additional business to come your way. EC

STONG-MICHAS, a central Pennsylvania-based freelance writer, can be reached via e-mail at JenLeahS@aol.com.