Thursday, February 11, 2016

What is Your Wireless Engineering Worth?

I had something interesting happen to me this week. A project I have been working for the last 4 months took an interesting turn.

Our area is experiencing phenomenal growth; new stores, new houses, new entertainment facilities, etc. Through that, the requirement to provide technology that is easily accessible, works well, and serves as a benefit to the user is strong.

One of our projects that we zeroed in on was something that would serve thousands of users simultaneously and provide a killer fan experience. It was put together and worked on by a number of people on my team, and it was exciting!

Through the help of the tried and tested LPV (Large Public Venue) team at our vendor, we took the time and effort to build a network that would provide a remarkable service, while keeping budget and future growth in mind, but still being so robust that we wanted to stamp our name on it. A mini-Levis Stadium if you will. From naming rights to purchasing suites at the facility, everything is on the table. This is something that we can be proud of and we want to be proud enough of our work to share it. 

However, something really shitty happened. Before moving on, this is not a sour grapes post. This is about believing in yourself and your work, so don't stop reading if you think it's about someone losing a deal. 

The end-user, not a technically minded company at all, made a few decisions that made no real sense to us, but that happens all the time, especially when it is not an IT-centric end-user. Having to categorize everything into two categories, "computers and telephones", was a grim reminder how technology, no matter how pervasive we think it is, still hadn't made its way into the nooks and crannies of the entire civilized world. 

After months of design, engineering, and precise calculations on this network, we were presented with a bid sheet that asked us to quote "apples to apples" against a list of components that had been supplied by a national, non-local, vendor. This supplied list included components of a certain brand which has a strict requirement to engage their LPV team on a project of this size.
The only problem was, this competitor hadn't. They, the competitors, decided to circumvent that policy and spec in their own equipment recommendations, against the manufacturers policies, and sell it off as the same type of solution. 

The problems with this are too many to list, but I'll give you one technical peek at it: the radios specified by them were 4x4 MIMO devices, using external 3x3 MIMO antennas. Hint: 8 radio connections, only 3 antenna connections. 

When I was first asked to use the LPV team by my manufacturer, I didn't want anything to do with it. "I've been doing this for 20 years, I know what I'm doing" I told them. "It's policy" they told me. Because I value my partnership with them and I wanted to be a good partner, I let it go their way. Does that mean I win the deal because I'm right? Probably not, but it means I stuck to my guns and stood my ground for me and my vendor partner. 

When asked to submit prices against a competitor who refused to use the process required by our vendor, I refused. I brought up the fact that it wasn't the right way to do it and the manufacturer would likely not be happy about it or support it. 

Knowing that my bid is probably double or triple the amount of the competition, I have left it on the table. 

I believe in doing the right thing not just by my partners and vendors, but by my customers. Sometimes they might not see what the right thing is because they're trying to save budget in one place or another. Information technology is usually not the right place to try and trim budget to save a buck or two. 

As a consultant my job is to make sure the customer knows what is good and not good for them and stand behind it, sometimes to the point of losing. 

As a company I can't stake my brand or name on something that is not designed properly. Going through the process and stringent requirements of my vendor gave me the peace of mind that our design is and was what would serve the customer best. I believe in our work and the work of everyone on our team. 

As I mentioned to our end-user, comparing apples to apples is fine, but make sure you're doing it on the design and spec supported by the manufacturer, not by the team that is so eager to win they'll sell you crap now, to sell you more crap tomorrow. 

So did I win or lose the bid? 
I don't know. But honestly I am not worried about it. If I win, I win doing the right thing and if I lose, I lose doing the right thing too. 

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