Best Practice: Project Files and Ownership

Simon-BuddleBy Simon Buddle, KNXtoday.

I’ve spent many years working in the AV and control systems industry, and for a number of those years I had my head buried deep in a laptop with noughts and ones flying past my ears all day. Ah those halcyon days, donning the wizard’s hat and entering the dark and mystical land of code writing! The ability to write a piece of code and then see it turn on a TV and set it to the component video input was, in my view, quite something to behold (or maybe I should have just got out a bit more!)

Programming can be a work of art.

Programming can be a work of art.

The quotations prepared by most AV companies would always contain a line for the programming time. The integration and customisation of such integrated systems is a complex job. The value of the program cannot be overstated, for without it, clearly nothing would work. Systems integration is by its very nature a bespoke industry with subtly different programs. No two systems are ever alike.

ETS, Homeserver and other apps are the very heart of our systems, requiring understanding of the customer requirements as well as the skill to create and write the project file that may well be required to interface with other systems not supplied by us. It is no small task to complete, successfully, the entire system, and it ought to be applauded that dealers take on such onerous tasks.

Who Owns the Code?

Setting up device parameters and the stitching together of group addresses are, by and large, done on a job-by-job basis. Now it is true to say that many of us have developed ways to import addresses and cut and paste devices to speed up the job. But unless you literally configure every system to be the same, there will be a considerable amount of bespoke work done on every project. This work is, of course, chargeable to the client.

It is therefore quite understandable that installers are ‘precious’ about the project files or code that they have written. Are programming costs for systems simply part of the system, or does the program form an intellectual property that we, the installers, own? It is at best a moot point, but one that I feel is worth a little further exploration.

In the past the need has arisen for me to ask, on behalf of the company, if a dealer would pass on a project file so that a system could be maintained. The response on more than one occasion elicited a response similar to that of Gollum when asked if the Ring were available to borrow for few days.

Gollum jealously guarded the ring (from the film 'Lord of the Rings').

Gollum jealously guarded the ring (from the film ‘Lord of the Rings’).

On the surface, this may seem like a perfectly reasonable response. However, look a little further and we might think differently. It is quite likely that the client has paid to have the file written – they have paid you for your time. Doesn’t that make the code theirs? Food for thought.

Most clients are more than happy to stay with you after the job is finished; indeed there are huge advantages to be had in retaining people who were present during the build and installation phase. You know the building, its history, where everything is and importantly how all the systems hang together.

Whether you feel that you have some form of intellectual property rights over the client’s files or not, in most instances, the client will have enough money to throw at solicitors should a disagreement arise. That alone could put you out of business without even getting to the court room.

The KNX marketplace in the UK is still in its infancy. We need it to grow and to become better known to a wider audience. Positive news travels slowly but bad news spreads like wildfire. Would you rather see a customer happy, albeit with another dealer, or have them bad-mouthing you and the industry at every opportunity? I know where I stand on this one. If asked, I would sadly but gladly create a project directory on CD with all the necessary documentation, arrange to meet the new dealer onsite and hand over the job in the most professional manner possible. Better the clean break than the nagging worry of unhappy clients or solicitor’s letters coming through the letter box.

Objectives

Written on the KNX Association’s website as part of the Mission and Objectives statement is the following:

KNX mission

Conclusion

There is great reluctance on the part of many installers to release the project file(s) once the final invoice has been paid, but I think that this is a short-sighted approach which has considerable negative overtones for the company involved and the broader industry.

Whilst we all aim and hope to keep our customers happy and to provide them with ongoing maintenance and support, it can sometimes be the case that circumstances conspire against us such that the client wishes to have another company provide the maintenance role.

Ultimately you will have to give up the files or suffer a loss in reputation and/or finances. Either way, it is not good for the industry, which means it is not good for you. I therefore suggest that the project file(s) ought to form part of the O&M (Operating and Maintenance) documentation that is given to the customer as part of a professional service.

Simon Buddle is a systems integration consultant and installer. Simon is also a regular contributor to KNXtoday magazine and HiddenWires magazine, and the first winner of the CEDIA Region 1 Special Recognition Award.

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Comments

Best Practice: Project Files and Ownership — 2 Comments

  1. Here, here! When we finish a project, we create a system settings CD that sits in a project file (more recently a virtual CD). It is very easy to send a copy to a customer if required, but we would hope that our customer service standards mean that the customer is happy to stay with us.

  2. If they’ve paid you for your work, then you should release it, no question. But if they’re withholding payment for whatever reason then you shouldn’t.

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