Combining Electrical and Low-Voltage: Allison-Smith Co.

Allison-Smith Co., Smyrna, Ga., has been doing low-voltage installations since the 1980s, when it began working with IBM to install cable on its projects that involved connecting personal computers to each other. The company subsequently assisted IBM in developing the prototypes for many of its field-installation methods. These days, the company continues to focus on electrical work and cabling.

“When we do a project, in most cases, the owner wants electrical work and low-voltage work done and asks us if we can do all of it,” said James Barger, technology division manager, Allison-Smith Co.

Generally, the electrical wiring and the structured cabling can be done together during a project when ceilings are uncovered.

“This overlay construction activity makes a lot of sense for us,” he said.

In fact, rather than having two divisions that work separately, Allison-Smith’s employees are integrated into teams that can do both kinds of work—regular electrical work and structured cabling work.

“In many cases, our projects are led by journeymen wiremen who have been also trained to do low-voltage, and we create our crews with a mixture of apprentices and journeymen who can also do the electrical work and the structured cabling installation,” Barger said.

While Allison-Smith does the electrical work and the structured cabling, it usually works with other specialty firms to do the specific low-voltage equipment installations, testing and certification.

“For example, we do the rough-in work for fire alarm systems and then partner with another firm that has NICET certification to do the connections, testing and certifications,” he said.

The company also gets involved in some sound-masking-system projects.

“With these, we do between 80–90 percent of the work and then partner with another firm that has that specific certification to do the remaining part of the work and sign off on it,” he said.

The company also partners with other firms on access control. Allison-Smith will do the rough-in work, and the partner will install, test and certify the displays.

“We are also starting to do some A/V lighting projects in conference rooms where we will run the HDMI cables,” Barger said. “These are not full A/V package projects that involve surround-sound. However, we sometimes hire A/V vendors to work for us under our overall contract.”

While Allison-Smith has different types of customers, most of its jobs are for Class A office space tenants. These tenants have one or more floors in high-rise buildings. In some cases, large companies, or maybe the building owner, will occupy up to 20 floors of a building.

Much of this Class A office work involves projects in existing buildings, rather than new-construction “out of the dirt” buildings. That is, every few years, building tenants will change, and the new tenants will want some work done.

“In fact, we are working on two projects right now that involved 20 floors of construction in buildings that now have new tenants,” Barger said.

According to Barger, the company considers its competitive advantages to be threefold. The first is safety. All of the company’s office personnel are OSHA 30 trained, and most of the field staff are OSHA 10 trained. In addition, the company employs a corporate safety director and 12 full-time safety personnel. Having an impressive safety track record not only ensures the safety of the workers and those around them, but it also reduces project delays that might occur as the result of accidents and injuries.

The second advantage is resources, and the third is scheduling.

“We are able to hit tight schedules, such as 24 months on a large project or an eight-week schedule on a single-floor project,” Barger said.

One reason for this, of course, is the company has been doing this kind of work for decades. Another is that it employs a productivity manager, and one of his responsibilities is identifying the most productive work processes that the company has developed and then ensuring these are duplicated on all job sites using standardized work processes. This ensures maximum efficiency, time savings and cost savings on the projects the company does.

Allison-Smith has a number of keys to its success in these integrated projects. One is that everyone in the company focuses on the customers’ desires.

“We have the ability to solve problems for customers,” Barger said. “We focus on, ‘What do you want to do, and how can we help you do it?’”

Also, the inside people and outside people listen to and work with each other.

“A lot of people who work inside started out working outside, so they know what the work is like,” he said. “In addition, the inside people realize the importance of getting out into the field and working with the field crews.”

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