Tech Talk: Quality Assurance

Lessons learned from technology commissioning.

Technology commissioning is a quality-oriented process for achieving, verifying and documenting that the performance of educational technology systems and assemblies meets specifications.

In any project, contractors and various subs each do their jobs, but the results may not be satisfactory. It can take months to remedy problems. A commissioning agent tests systems to ensure that everything works as designed.

Interest in technology systems commissioning is growing. It offers many obvious benefits, but it requires an investment of time and money, which can become significant depending on the complexity of the systems involved.

At the heart of commissioning, functional performance testing is the most critical and time-consuming step. This is the point at which all components and subsystems are tested together to verify that the overall facility meets design objectives from a systems perspective. This step takes time because it generally requires coordinated participation by all vendors and the school.

Some common mistakes:

  • Bringing the commissioning agent on after the technology integrator has been paid in full. The end of a project is the most difficult time to get anything fixed. You can't go in after the fact and commission something. A commissioning agent needs to arrive just before the project is completed — while payments still can be held pending resolution of any issues.

    Before commissioning, the agent should be presented with all bid specifications, including the bid documents offered by the contractor.

  • Rushing the commissioning process. Technology systems generally are the last major component completed in a project. Take your time with this process; it may be your best chance to make sure it is done correctly.

  • Failure to have the integrator rectify problems prior to the final payment. This is the most common mistake that institutions make. Depending on the size of the project, no less than 5 to 10 percent should be retained by the school until the commissioning has been completed and necessary corrections made. It can be difficult to get an integrator back on site once he or she has received payment.

Technology commissioning is an insurance policy that helps to ensure the success of a school's technology systems. Technology systems are designed and built in order to address an institution's requirements and needs. Commissioning validates the investment by providing a framework for successful and smooth operation of those systems.

Given the time and money invested in education facilities, good planning (and the experience on which good planning is based) pays off in substantial risk mitigation and avoidance. That helps to get facilities into operation faster and speeds their positive effect on the bottom line.

C. William Day is senior analyst at KBD Planning Group, Young Harris, Ga., a firm specialized in education facilities and technology planning. He can be reached at [email protected].

TAGS: Construction
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