Square Peg, Round Hole? 3 Reasons Software Built for Low-Voltage Design Beats Construction Applications

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In my daily work with system integrators, I hear a common refrain – “finally, software that’s built for me, I wish I had it 10 years ago.”  They’ve  tried it all – construction software, PDF mark up tools and every which way to design for their customers and meet the demand.

While system integrators and MSPs have leaned towards adopting software and digitizing their operations; in the past, they were stuck with B2B software that was built for someone else requiring brute force to make it work.  Frankly, this is no longer a niche market, SIA and ASIS published a report that the global market for physical security is projected to be $500B by 2026 and growing steadily.  In other words, we need the right software to help deliver on that demand.

Even today, many system integrators rely on ill-fitting applications to take care of their low-voltage, building automation and security system design. Low voltage and electronic security systems and related technology are unique, with specific attributes and needs that construction design tools weren’t built to accommodate. 

It’s almost like trying to shove a square peg (low-voltage system design) into a round hole (construction software): it’s a poor fit that leads to mixed results.

Wonder what we mean by low voltage?  Check it out here.  It is high technology, don’t be fooled by its name!  I love this quote from the article: “low voltage is the backbone of our technology driven world”.

To meet the potential and demand, our industry needs the right software for design, implementation and life cycle management – beware to use the wrong applications.

Why Construction Software Misses the Mark

New building construction is primarily focused on just that – construction of a facility, parking garage, airport etc.  It’s about design and project management of the new build.  It certainly includes the use of building automation and low-voltage systems (like access control systems, video surveillance hardware, and other physical security devices) but the software tools designed to meet the needs of new construction have other things to worry about, making them a less than ideal fit for low voltage. Integrators and architects and engineers are often pulled in to help with this design but it is at an earlier stage.

Misaligned with How System Integrators Work

The reality is that most system integrators will spend most of their time on retrofits, not new builds. In fact, most system integrators tell us it is the old 80/20 rule.  Eighty percent of the time they are working on retrofitting technology for existing buildings. That means all the bells and whistles included in those construction applications are largely irrelevant to the day-to-day work of most integrators. It’s not just a square peg and a round hole. It’s a square peg and a very complicated piece of software that does all kinds of things that you don’t need — and can be poor at best at the things you do need. There are no out-of-the-box icons for the technology devices or cable paths you need.  While it was a good prospect, it is harder to make it work out of the box.

Good for the Target Audience, But Not Great for Integrators

Tools like BlueBeam, Plangrid by Autodesk or ProCore are good for construction and can work to a point, but system integrators find themselves having to build technology device icons and details manually to force the software to meet their needs.

This adds precious time to the design and proposal creation process, meaning system integrators are slower to produce a decision-ready proposal — something that can and does lead to lost sales and challenges with operations to manage the life-cycle.

Too Complex — Yet Not Specific Enough to the Need

Another thing that we’re told is that 80% of the projects (at a minimum), CAD software is overkill. They are looking to create a technology and low voltage design to share with a non-technology expert. So, it needs to be clean and easy to understand for the customer and detailed enough for the installer.

And yet in specific crucial areas, this overly complex software isn’t complex or rather specific enough.

The electronic security devices used in physical security system design have a different kind of complexity and requirements gathering process, a higher level of depth in terms of technology information, including camera and device area of coverage data, installation information, inspections, photo capturing, hardware requirements, and more. The systems are also more dynamic in nature.

You don’t need this level of depth of information on a board or wall or other physical building component (the things CAD software is designed to document). But you do need it for your physical security and building management system.

3 Reasons to Align with the Right Business Software for Site Surveys and System Design

We’ve covered the disadvantages of construction software for technology integrators. Now it’s time to look at the positive side and consider what a powerful difference the right business software can make.

These are three advantages of using modern software that’s custom built for low-voltage system design. 

System Surveyor for low voltage system design

1. Increase Your Speed to Productivity

First, purpose-built software can drastically increase your speed to productivity. This kind of software allows for easy input of a floor plan or Google map image, out of the box icons and functionality specifically built around the needs of low voltage, IT, physical security, AV, cabling, and camera system design. The best of them even come preloaded with specifications for common products and accessories, even across multiple brands and device categories.

Imagine how much faster — and more accurate — your site surveys would be if you could drag and drop actual security cameras into a digital site plan and see those cameras’ area of coverage, hardware needs, costs, and physical specifications. 

(The comment from integrators is…I wish I had this for the last 10 years of my career, it would make life so much easier.)

Using a collaborative tool designed for low-voltage systems also allows you to invite clients into the design process. You can store pictures from your physical site survey, uploading them to your digital floor plan. You can identify and indicate the right accessories for a device and even create an accurate bill of materials directly within the collaborative floor plan.

All these features combine to accomplish the seemingly impossible holy grail of time-to-productivity: shortening your time to proposal. With the right software, you can create a decision-ready system design and proposal in hours, not weeks.

Case Study: Learn how Sonitrol completed projects that normally required multi-day visits in 30 minutes, allowing them to close deals quicker and deliver solutions in real time. 

2. Achieve Consistency for All Departments

Using purpose-built applications for low-voltage systems design and installation solves another ongoing problem: consistency across departments. CAD software is too complex to expect non-specialists to pick up and learn. So, if you’re using CAD software for this kind of system design, chances are your salespeople can’t (or don’t) use it.  Also, construction software built for design and project management, which has come a long way, still gets “Frankensteined” when it comes to low voltage and IoT systems.  Each department ends up creating icons for the things it does not have out of the box, creating more issues that solutions.

You end up with different ways of doing things (and worse, different sets of files and notes) in various departments because not everyone can use the “right” software. It’s inconsistent, and it hurts your brand’s productivity and image.

In contrast, using purpose-built business software eliminates all the unnecessary complexity, offering all team members a platform that allows for real-time sharing at the right technology level.

To put it another way, using the right software (something that isn’t over engineered or designed to do things you aren’t doing) levels the playing field. It allows team members in sales, ops, engineering, project management, and more to collaborate in and operate on a platform that’s intuitive and easy to pick up and learn.

3. Create Dynamic “Living” Designs

With the right business software in place for managing low-voltage and physical security systems, you’ll also gain the ability to create dynamic designs that live, breathe, and evolve. 

This is crucial in multiple ways: you need a way for your designs to evolve over the course of planning and implementing a system (to paraphrase Sun Tzu, no implementation plan survives first contact with the real world), but that shouldn’t be the end of the story. You (or your clients, or both) also need a way to keep up with and document that system as it grows and changes over its lifespan.

This is necessary for documenting technology-heavy digital systems because the pace of change is much faster than in conventional building and construction. It’s not surprising that businesses don’t keep up with these changes on the as-built: construction software has less of a need for it compared with technology, because walls and ceilings don’t generally get relocated without quite a bit of planning. 

Think of it this way: a six-year-old floor plan, PDF, or CAD file won’t ever reflect “on the ground” changes. Low-voltage security cameras get moved. Access control systems get reconfigured. Sensors and IoT devices get added, moved, replaced, and removed. If I personally compare how fast my own Google routers have changes, then the pace may be faster than 18 months! Same thing is happening in building and business technology systems.  Let along what will happen for new devices that support the AI influx.

It’s too much to track effectively in software that wasn’t meant to do so. And handwritten markups on a floor plan or PDF aren’t much better at capturing the level of detail needed to be useful down the road.

So, the right business software will give you the ability to create a dynamic, living as-built of your low voltage system, something that can be easily updated as the system changes. With this capability, you or your customers can always have an accurate resource just a few clicks or taps away.

The System Surveyor Difference: Built for the Job at Hand

System Surveyor is dynamic, cloud-based software built to accommodate the square peg that is low- voltage system design. Tailored to the needs of low-voltage systems such as electronic security, lighting, AV, building automation, sensors, nurse call systems and much more, System Surveyor is a powerful, industry-changing tool for system integrators, MSPs, physical security professionals, and anyone else involved in the design, sale, or implementation of low-voltage systems.

With System Surveyor, you can create a digital as-built that’s truly a living, breathing document that can evolve as its system does. And because System Surveyor operates in the cloud, anyone who needs access (whether for viewing or collaborating) can work together securely within the same digital floor plan.

Not only is this a far better way to collaborate than any other existing method, but it also provides clients, integrators, and other stakeholders with a single source of truth — one that contains the appropriate level of detail for the tech-forward components involved.  

System Surveyor is the difference-maker you’ve been looking for. Want to discuss migrating from your current construction application or integrating with System Surveyor? 

Try it Free for yourself.

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