These days, if you’re doing only wiring and cabling, you’re probably in the minority. Many electrical contractors wisely continue to expand their customer base, capitalizing on a variety of market upswings in low-voltage systems and services.

According to ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR magazine’s 2002 Profile of the Electrical Contractor, voice/data/video (VDV) is clearly a bright spot. Beyond the main categories of lighting, power and power back up, the study identified the greatest opportunities as: communications/data systems; building automation/industrial controls; security; home automation; and fire/life safety. (Check out ecmag.com for more information.)

For the electrical contractor, the ability to provide a total systems solution is key. Here’s what you may be installing now and in the future: closed-circuit television video (CCTV) surveillance, coupled with access control and even the latest biometric readers and other state-of-the-art technology; building automation, energy management, lighting and other supervisory controls; Outdoor and perimeter detection and fence and gate controls; data, communications and voice products, with networking through cabling and the Internet.

CCTV with Everything

Surveillance still outpaces most categories of product installations. According to a study in Security Distributing & Marketing magazine, integrated systems installers say 18% of revenue comes from CCTV, with continued growth expected. CCTV can be used with access control, remote monitoring, or checking secured areas or doors. It’s often packaged with building automation, with which, for example, it can trigger HVAC when a person enters its field of view.

Systems integrators predict the continued coupling of VDV and other products will be a key driver of the 2003market and beyond. Commercial and residential users want to be able to use and piggyback a host of convenience, security, communications and other products off each other.

At Cinco Electric, a mid-sized, Washington, D.C.-Baltimore-area contractor, the customer drives the market, and they definitely want “total solutions work,” says Donald Thomas, president and CFO. The company focuses on telecommunications, industrial controls, and custom-designed packages. Thomas is a NECA Board of Directors and Voice/Data/Video Systems Task Force member.

“We expect the future for the electrical contractor to continue to expand in the realm of turnkey packages. For Cinco Electric, that includes smart buildings and everything that automates or ties functions of a building together, including automation, supervision and control. For many, the bottom line in all this is that the customer wants to save money, and they can do that with automation,” he says.

“Currently, a substantial part of our work is access control with CCTV, but we try to offer whatever the customer needs. We might have a subcontractor work with us so we can provide the customer’s system requirements. As far as the future, it looks like many of our customers want to shift the responsibility for system installation and maintenance to the electrical contractor from the in-house engineer.”

Systems integration goes hand in hand with VDV applications. At Burhans-Burhans, an Elk Grove Village, Ill., system design and support group, integration that deploys a variety of technologies spurs the voice-data-video market.

Sales vice president Jerry Burhans says contractors are increasingly moving into the VDV market and integrated product solutions using access control, CCTV and fire. “Systems integrators require a substantial wealth of information, and our commitment is to bring the latest technology and solutions to our customers so they may educate their customers.”

Integration means the future for the electrical contractor. Best of all, it can include a host of products and disciplines, custom-tailored for the market. Here are six integration strategies:

1. Evaluate your market and current and potential customers for new and emerging technologies or needs.

2. Attend NECA Conferences, the VDV Expo and local and regional shows to get educated.

3. Get trained, from your local NECA chapter and the National Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee (NJATC). (See NJATC.org for more information.) Ask suppliers, manufacturers and distributors for their expertise. They may hold product information sessions or other training at your location.

4. Stay ahead of the curve-look for new areas of activity, or consider working with other contractors.

5. Focus on turnkey systems solutions and how they can be applied to your customer.

6. Ask for help, from peers, associations and others who can start you on your way to more effective integration.

Get to know integration and how to make it work for your company and your customers, and seal your future with success. EC

O’MARA is the president of DLO Communications in Park Ridge, Ill., specializing in low-voltage. She can be reached at 847.384.1916 or domara@flash.net.