It seems as if many people talk about the future a lot. The problem with such discussions is that if predicting the future were easy, many of us would not be working today because we would have made a fortune in the stock market by now.

One area where predictions are a little less difficult than in the stock market is networks. Futureproofing of networks may not be as hard as predicting the future overall. The key components of futureproofing a network are items such as current and potential system performance, system compatibility, and system reliability. There are some measures you can take in order to offer futureproofing benefits to your customers. This is essential since voice, data, and video (VDV) system requirements change at the speed of light, and everyone wants to receive the highest return on their investment, mainly via longevity.

At the heart of futureproofing lie some fairly rational principles. The entire concept of futureproofing is inherently based on desired features. It is the end users’ expectations over the long haul that make all of the difference in the world.

The process needs to begin with an assessment of current electronics and structural components. Since the electronics aspect of the equation has a greater tendency to change, it is highly important to accurately assess the structural facet of the network, because the structured component has the longer life-span.

The structural portion of a network, the cabling, is an extremely important element of the overall system. This is due mainly in part to the logistics of the cable itself. Whether it is fiber or copper, the cable itself is generally installed within the confines of the building’s structure. This makes it a much harder piece of the puzzle to replace as opposed to the electronics, which are often located in highly visible, easily accessible locations.

Due to the layout of the structured cable system, it is important that future needs be incorporated into the initial cabling design. By assessing current and projected bandwidth requirements, one can form an educated opinion about which type of cable will add longevity to the structured cabling factor of the network. This facet of the network should be seriously discussed in instances such as new construction, building renovations, and facility retrofitting, because large-scale projects are easier to implement during such phases.

Beyond the structured portion of the network lies the electronic piece of the puzzle. This component is often a difficult and gray area for electrical contractors, since much of their training and experience lies within physical plant components. Many contractors use the services of an outside consultant or subcontractor for this portion of the network, but everyone needs to be aware of a few basic rules surrounding this topic.

Many people rationalize that electronic components are easier to replace, however, one must keep in mind that they are costly. By initially investing in products that have expansion capabilities built in is one way to lower costs and add futureproofing benefits. Upgrading equipment has become commonplace. There is a whole host of products available that can be upgraded.

Sustained usability is an important concept for end-users because it helps determine the Return on Investment. This is an extremely important factor based on the high costs associated with networks. If a contractor cannot illustrate the benefit of a particular system, it may encounter difficulty in getting the final go ahead. This is a paradigm due to the fact that many buyers base their decisions solely on cost, yet they have the assumption that all systems automatically come with the guarantee of long-term scalability. As everyone in contracting has learned throughout the years, this really is not true in the communications arena. Sometimes, old adages such as this one actually make sense: “You get what you pay for.”

Electrical contractors are often laced into a consultative sales role. The futureproofing issue adds to their responsibility, as it is placed directly on the contractor. It is imperative that you relay the importance of future expansion to your customers.

Overall, it sometimes appears as if you can predict the future, even though it may not be in the ways in which we would like, but in small ways by simply paying attention. By asking your customers for information regarding their projected expansion plans, growth forecasts, and potential endeavors you will probably be able to help them decide what path to go down to ensure a successful network for years to come, with no more added expense than necessary. EC

STONG is the enterprise developer at G. R. Sponaugle & Sons, Inc., a full-service engineering, construction, and communications company. She can be reached at (717) 564-1515 or via e-mail at Jennifer.stong@grsponaugle.com.