Saturday, December 21, 2013

When SI projects go right; some notes

I've just finished building the technical infrastructure for a big media company who are moving premises. The job has gone rather well and I've been trying to crystallize my thoughts as to how it's differed from jobs that haven't been so enjoyable. From my point of view it all breaks down into three areas - the client, the contractors and time.

The client

  • Big broadcast and film companies always have in house people who manage projects and the disturbing trend of recent years is to have project managers who are very conversant with Prince2 or some other methodology, but often don't have a background in broadcast engineering (or indeed any technical discipline).  They tend to be disinterested in the way that non-technical people are when they don't understand something; it's easier to be dismissive than show your ignorance.
  • "Getting a good deal" - When I'm quoting for a job and the customer starts talking about discounts and good deals from the outset it raises a red flag for me; they're cheap and will want to reap where they do not sow. They'll be a problem and so I'm going to put fat on the bones of the job where you won't know about it as I'll need that later on. As soon as you start driving us down on cost then assume you aren't getting a good deal. 
  • Penalty clauses and "open book" jobs - see the previous point.
  • Holding back tens of thousands of pounds because of a tiny fault in one piece of equipment that requires as firmware update from the manufacturer. They won't fix it any quicker because the SI is hurting!


  • Often on large jobs the builder is the primary contractor and everyone else answers to him. If the SI is a direct-appointment then it's often a nightmare getting access to the things you need ahead of the electricians, data guys, air con guys etc as you are viewed with some suspicion.
  • Having the electrican/data guys/gardener run the cat6 cable - it happens and it's never pretty! You don't realise what you do until you work with someone who doesn't do it. A job last year had us trying to unpick 700 cat6 feeds that had just been dumped into a hole in the floor of the machine room. Many weren't numbered and some even had different numbers at each end. It took three of my wiremen ten days to sort them out and identify them. Of course the customer was unhappy to pay for that.
  • It's nice to be in the happy position of having enough wiremen to have them play to their strengths. The job I've just come off had between eight and sixteen wiremen and so I could have the guys who were good at fibre just doing that, the good data guy just doing cat6 panels and the good mechanical guys assembling bays and wallboxes. I was even in the nice position of being able to have one guy responsible for stores. It's a rare but pleasant state of affairs.

  • The job I've just come off had a very compressed timescale - ten weeks for two machine rooms (seventy+ cabinets) and twenty+ production rooms.  This sort of thing is only do'able if the customer isn't being "cost conscious"
  • A timeline is always good; those last minute jobs like programming the router, labeling the patch panels and all the testing take longer than you remember!
  • AT LEAST a week is needed to really understand the workflow and hence produce the bones of a design that will work.

In the end you have to guide the customer to understand the golden triangle of all technical projects;

  1. Cheap
  2. Good
  3. Quick

You can only ever have two of these!

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