Published In January 2001
Suggesting that contractors look beyond traditional project work to more long-term maintenance opportunities will come as a culture shock to some. Suggesting that this is a straightforward way to make extra money will be more pleasing to the ear. Long-term maintenance is certainly a business opportunity that is often overlooked. This is surprising as it offers a path to increased revenue without the need to spend time or money learning new skills. The potential for this new source of earnings is to be found mostly within voice/data/video (VDV) contracts, where follow-up maintenance is widespread. You might ask why your customers should care about maintenance. The point is that the contractor can offer huge value-added services for the clients to help them maximize their investment in the infrastructure, as well as extend its life for as long as possible. The contractor is well placed to maintain the “just completed” condition, which existed at the end of the original construction project. Changing market needs also tell us this is the way forward. Emerging telecommunications standards and the maturing of the cable manufacturing industry are collectively shifting emphasis from new cable technology to proper installation of complete VDV cable solutions. We also know that clients are keeping their cable systems for longer periods of time. Once these are installed, the only way to get additional value is through better management. In many cases, the thinking among electrical contractors is: “OK, the client needs ongoing maintenance but—hey—I’ve been a contractor for 15 years, and I’m not going to change now!” This presents us with the tricky question: Is this good business practice for your company, the established electrical contractor? Most of us will always keep an open mind when it comes to new opportunities to make money. The answer to the above question will differ by company, but in general, additional openings for profit will drive the business practice decision. The missing piece of the jigsaw is to find the connection between the “contract” and “service” approach. This is actually much easier than you think and is found in the “as-built” documentation from which contractors work. This map of the network infrastructure will be used to manage the organization’s network for the entire time the company inhabits its offices. It will need constant reviewing, editing, and updating. This represents the long-term role the contractor can play, making him or her indispensable to the customer. The design at the construction completion stage is, of course, just a snapshot of network history. So how does the contractor ensure that this snapshot stays accurate over the life of the system? The most effective method is through the use of cable management software (CMS), the most common method that organizations use to manage their network infrastructure. CMS is a tool for managing inside cabling, providing accurate documentation of the network and physical layer of the office. It’s a database application that keeps track of cables, their types, specs, and connections, racks, cross-connects, and patch panels. It also monitors service outlets and other parts of the physical cabling plant. In short, CMS allows managers to view where each workstation is located, the wiring and even telephone lines. Benefits include reducing the time and cost involved with moves, adds and changes (MACs), helping businesses with asset management and disaster recovery planning, and increasing network capacity by eliminating unused circuits. These benefits come from knowing what is on the network, what is connected to what, and where it all goes. It boils down to accurate documentation. The advantage for the contractor is that he or she is in possession of the network information right from the start. Having entered all the vital data into the CMS over the course of the project, the contractor and the customer both have a perfect record of the network’s status. This log is vital to the proper management of the enterprise’s information technology (IT) backbone. Yet, the ability to use the software for MACs or disaster planning becomes less efficient if the data begins to deteriorate. To avoid this, a specialist is needed to keep the database updated. That expert is the contractor, refreshing the information already entered at the outset. This is how the contractor makes the link from project to service, and in doing so, makes himself or herself indispensable to the customer. Hello long-term maintenance, and along with it, that steady stream of new cash. Although this could be lucrative, the question remains of how to approach the client to suggest this ongoing maintenance. The beauty is that the contractor uses the client’s own data to sell the contractor’s value-added capabilities. By inputting all the data at the start, you are perfectly positioned to maintain it over time. All companies deal with issues of MACs, asset management, and troubleshooting on a daily basis, so the demand for this skill is very great. Overall, this is a very logical and straightforward process. So the main question for the contractor is: Are you ready to make the cultural leap from “contract” to “service?” Grbavach, a designer for AMP, Lucent, and CableSoft, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.