The Three Musketeers of Integration: Fire Alarm, Security and MNS

0719 Fire Focus Three Musketeers Image Credit: iStock / CSA Images / Shutterstock / Kair / Minohek / Arcady
Image Credit: iStock / CSA Images / Shutterstock / Kair / Minohek / Arcady

Are there only three systems that can be integrated? Of course, the answer is no. In fact, there is no technological limit to the number of building systems that could be integrated. But is total building systems integration the right approach? It depends. The owner may be convinced of the potential benefits and request your bid to include all of the systems planned for installation and the requirement that they all be integrated with each other and the building management system.

We cannot throw technology at every problem and expect great results. Do you feel comfortable installing all building systems? Why not? I suspect the answer is you are not completely knowledgeable in the installation and operational and maintenance requirements of every possible system that could be installed in a building. So, what is the point of this discussion? The point is to comply with the owner’s requests and still do the work competently.

To do an electrical or alarm system job proficiently, certain things should be done consistently to ensure the correct application of products, those products operate correctly for the application and they will operate reliably far into the future.

Of course, an electrical contractor should be able to maintain any system. But the goal should be to produce the wow factor, meaning the customer is pleased with all aspects of the job and puts you on their list for future work. To provide this kind of customer service, ECs must be at the top of their game. ECs at the top of their game know what is happening in the industry, attend seminars and webinars to increase their knowledge of both new products and new installation techniques, and attend conferences to learn what others are doing to become their customers’ trusted advisor. In other words, they have a passion for their profession.

Obviously, to be considered a trusted advisor for multiple systems, you must do the same diligent work to know what needs to be done for each system you install. At this point, you are thinking you can’t possibly know everything you need to know to be a master craftsman for each system you have been asked to integrate. My grandfather often told me, if you are a jack of all trades, you will be a master of none.

There are ways to manage the integration of various building systems, and one is to hire specialists in each system area so that the job becomes more of a coordination effort. If we start with the first “musketeer,” fire alarm systems, you could approach the knowledge issue several ways. One option is to hire a fire alarm specialist to essentially oversee all the fire alarm systems business.

But when you hire a fire alarm specialist, you must find someone who is more than a technician. A fire alarm technician’s claim to fame is often knowing one manufacturer’s equipment extremely well, while claiming to know the rest of the market moderately well. That could be beneficial, if you are willing to purchase the brand of equipment the technician knows extremely well for every fire alarm system installation you sell.

However, if you bid projects competitively, you may not be allowed to use your favored brand. Therefore, a specialist should understand the general requirements of a fire alarm system installation and be able to review and monitor all fire alarm system manufacturer’s equipment that is both submitted and installed. Additionally, they should understand the applicable codes and standards and the application of all fire detection devices. The goal is to ensure proper detection coverage and reliable, false-alarm-free fire alarm system installations. They should be able to train your journeyman technicians, as well as interface with and provide training to the fire department authorities having jurisdiction in your market area. And their passion should be like yours but focused on fire and life safety systems design, application and their correct installation.

Another option, using the same musketeer example, is to find an engineered systems distributor (ESD) that sells a reliable, reasonably priced brand of equipment and use it as your primary supplier. Ideally, they would offer an upper tier and lower tier brand based on performance and cost that will fit the various types of projects you bid on and the system complexity necessary to do the job.

This means you must work together toward the same goals, providing on-time delivery, equipment quality and reliability, as well as having your technicians trained thoroughly to ensure they know how to install and service the specific fire alarm equipment offered by the ESD. You should be ready to pay a premium for the ESD’s service, but at the end of the day, you will know you have a partner with the same outlook as you and who will respond quickly to requests based on the level of work you perform together.

The last choice, although a poor one in my estimation, would be to attempt to learn everything you need to know about the current electrical business and the fire alarm business along with the multitude of other systems that may be required to be integrated. Of course, you could be the type of person who can absorb new information quickly and may be able to perform both jobs well. But will you be able to consistently provide the wow factor?

This is only the first of the musketeers that could be integrated. In fact, the three listed are probably the easiest to integrate. The real question is whether you can maintain the integrated systems after the installation. You may have read in previous articles that installation and maintenance are the two most import parts of the reliability equation.

If your long-term plan is to grow your business, systems integration is a great way to increase the size of your contract for each project. However, you need to develop a plan to provide these services in a consistent and comprehensive way. Take some time and review what is happening in the marketplace, and determine how it will affect your current business. The face of fire alarm, security and building management systems is constantly changing. Whether it is power over ethernet or the internet of things, the market continues to be disrupted.

Remember, the only constant in life is change. You essentially cannot continue doing business the old way without that decision adversely affecting your bottom line. Use change to increase your bottom line, and continue to grow your book of business.

About the Author

Wayne D. Moore

Fire/Life Safety Columnist

Wayne D. Moore, a licensed fire protection engineer, frequent speaker and expert in the life safety field, is a principal member and past chair of NFPA 72, Chapter 24. He is a vice president with Jensen Hughes at the Warwick, R.I., office and can be...

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