Every other year, the release of the Profile of the Electrical Contractor enables us to examine the changes that have taken place in the electrical contracting industry. Change brings growth, but most people resist change because it requires them to learn something new and step out of their comfort zones. As entrepreneur Alan Cohen said, “To grow, you must be willing to let your present and future be totally unlike your past. Your history is not your destiny.”
I can practically hear readers saying, “Sure, that’s easy for him to say, but I have to make a living at what I do, and change can affect my profits.”
Whether you want it to or not, the market always changes. Manufacturers change the systems they supply. The Technical Committees of the National Fire Protection Association and other standards-making bodies continually change the codes and standards. In fact, you may not hear of many code changes until they begin showing up in the market. These changes will cause you to alter your bid approach for even the simplest fire alarm system.
For example, the building codes have changed, requiring fire emergency voice/alarm communications systems (EVACS) in K–12 schools. If you serve that market, you have little choice but to adapt. Even though you have probably performed EVACS installations many times, you must react to the fact that the rules have changed.
In this example, the school officials may want more control, possibly remote control, over the system. In addition, the system may need to provide zones to allow for selective communication, possibly two-way communication, to each area or classroom.
The events at Sandy Hook Elementary School will forever change the way we look at K–12 buildings. The EVACS in our new schools will most certainly become mass notification systems (MNS), and a change in requirements may have these fire alarm systems interface with access control, security and camera systems. As a result, you will need to learn more about sound and communications technology, intelligibility of messages, risk and threat analysis, and how security systems best interface with fire alarm systems.
You can no longer rely on “business as usual” for the long term. As John Maxwell writes in his book Sometimes You Win—Sometimes You Learn, “Why do we keep trying the same thing expecting to get different results? It doesn’t make sense. What do we expect to change? Our luck? The laws of physics?” Maxwell implies change must start with you. You need to evaluate your current work to determine how much of the newly required building systems exceed your ability to provide them reliably and profitably.
You may take on this new work assuming it’s just another electrical system consisting of devices connected by electrical cable. Unfortunately, issues inherent with the new systems can seriously drain the profitability from a project.
With an MNS, for example, you will find more stakeholders involved in the design decisions than just the building owner. These stakeholders will have developed a risk analysis and an emergency response plan and require the installed system to operate in a specific way.
As a result, you may find security requirements imposed on the MNS that you will need to provide. Perhaps the MNS will need to operate unique devices, such as an exit sign that flashes, makes noise or delivers text messages to the classroom with instructions on how to react to a threat. If you haven’t learned the identity of all the stakeholders and what their risk analysis and emergency response plans call for, you may become liable for extra work to comply with their requirements. Also, the specifications may require you to work with the owners’ IT department to coordinate the interface of the MNS with the network serving the building.
Of course, changes in the requirements of NFPA 72, National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code, may affect your EVACS and MNS installations. Understanding the intelligibility requirements—and knowing that you will need more speakers in the system than you usually provide to ensure you meet these requirements—will go a long way in helping you avoid project cost overruns.
The bottom line is changes to building systems will require you to change as well, and planning should become part of your thought process now. To meet the challenges of the shifting environment, you will need to learn more about the new systems requirements and code changes. Your plan should include a rigorous training program for you and your senior technicians. Change can materially affect your profits, but if you embrace the changes in building systems, your profits will increase. As the saying goes, “Change is good! Now, you first!”