The Case for Independent Testing

Although it is hard to admit, human error plays a part in every endeavor, whether that endeavor is designing and constructing a school building, preparing a tax return, or installing a building-wide technology system.

As a means of ensuring that the final product is of acceptable quality, the final solution usually is examined in one way or another. For instance, a construction manager may review the contractor's work on behalf of the school district; the Internal Revenue Service reviews and sometimes audits tax returns to verify their accuracy; and technology integrators test their own systems before the school begins to use them.

In these three scenarios, the technology integration is the only project in which the same firm who does the work also verifies its accuracy. No independent third party is involved. This situation can open the door to unscrupulous integrators who may choose to modify the solution they bid, or provide inferior workmanship for their own benefit. It also increases the possibility of honest human error and can adversely affect the verification process.

Minimizing errors Educational institutions should initiate a program aimed at minimizing the human-error factor in the implementation of technology systems in schools. An independent, third-party evaluation of an installed technology system can provide an accurate analysis of the system's integrity and will supply the institution with a quality-control measure previously absent from most technology integrators.

Experience has shown that conflicts often arise between the integrator and the owner, either during the installation, at the final punch list or shortly thereafter. Relationships can become strained between all parties due to the nature of goods, services and expectations. To minimize the possibility of this, a third party, who can be retained by the school district or the technology consultant, can provide an independent review of the work. The inclusion of an independent firm to test and inspect the system should be noted in the bid document.

There are four criteria to consider when choosing an independent testing firm. It should:

*Be an independent consultant not affiliated with a manufacturer or the installation firm.

*Have at least three years of experience with voice, data, video and wiring infrastructures as an installer of these systems.

*Have a registered communications-distribution designer (RCDD) on staff.

*Use an ETL-verified handheld local-area-network (LAN) cable tester or a calibrated network analyzer.

Using a third party When the independent testing firm has been retained, it should be provided with: *A copy of the bid specification/RFP prepared by the owner or technology consultant. *A copy of the bid document or proposal submitted by the successful integrator. *A copy of the contract signed by the integrator and school district. *A copy of the floor plan of the building(s). *A copy of the wiring infrastructure test results and verification compliance prepared by the integrator. *A copy of any applicable warranties. The independent firm should perform several basic tests. For installation of Category 5 unshielded twisted-pair (UTP) cables, which are subject to change as standards requirements change, tests must include those specified in telecommunications systems bulletin TSB-67; attenuation, near-end crosstalk, wire map and length. For fiber-optic installations, tests should verify compliance with the fiber-optic performance requirements set forth in the TIA/EIA-568A standard.

Visual inspections should include checking all outlets and cross-connection points to ensure that they are labeled properly. Terminated spaces must be checked to see if UTP untwists exceed the 1/2-inch Category 5 limit. Also, look for excessive jacket abrasion and prohibited splice points within the building. Some questions to ask include:

*Has cable management been handled according to industry standards? Analyze test results to verify that all workstations have been tested and that they correspond to the floor plans at the time of inspection. *Have all equipment cabinets been ganged together with manufacturers' ganging kits? *Have all cabinets, open-frame racks, cable trays and telephone switches been grounded in accordance with NEC Articles 250, 645 and 800, and EIA/TIA 607?

The video-distribution system should be checked to ascertain that all source equipment is functioning properly, that the TV-monitor signal meets lines-of-resolution requirements, and that all control functionality is correct.

The telephone and voice-mail systems should be inspected for compliance and verification tests including switch size, expansion capabilities, uninterruptible power supply (UPS), and that all required system features have been met.

Making it work One of the most important characteristics of the independent testing program is that it provides an unbiased evaluation of what the owner or technology consultant specified, what the integrator installed, and whether it works.

Another result of independent testing, for many educational institutions, is solidification of bids. In other words, the sometimes-large variances among solicited bids probably will be reduced if all bidders are aware that their work will be tested independently and visually inspected to industry standards and school-district specifications.

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