CXO

Why most IT consultants should not run cabling

IT consultants usually want to say yes to all client requests, but some challenges, such as running cable, are better left to qualified professionals with specialized skills.

 Clients develop new ways of challenging IT consultants every year. My consulting firm has been asked to install and configure VoIP phone systems; we've been charged with physically moving server racks and equipment between facilities; I've even found myself installing and terminating Ethernet cabling in new buildings. But just because IT consultants are asked to complete ancillary projects doesn't mean they should.

It's a hard lesson to learn. Not many IT consultants want to tell a client no, even when the client requests services outside the consultant's area of expertise. Not all consultancies specialize in building Web sites, developing proprietary applications, installing or configuring VoIP systems, moving server rooms, installing associated electrical and HVAC systems, or running cabling; however, many consultancies are still tempted to say, "yes, we can do that for you" in response to almost any client request.

Do what you do

The trouble is many of the ancillary tasks clients request require specialized skills and expertise. Cabling is a perfect example. While a well-meaning consultant might agree to run three or four new cable drops for a long-time client to save delays and the hassle of identifying a qualified cable installer, such favors can prove troublesome. I know because I've run my share of cabling.

Some cabling adventures remind me of lessons I learned from installing drywall myself during a home remodel. Hanging four or five sheets of drywall took me an entire Saturday. First I had to get the drywall from the home improvement warehouse to my home, and I didn't have the right truck, which complicated the effort. Then I struggled to maneuver the drywall, hang it in place, and secure it properly. Taping and mudding consumed another day. Later I watched a home improvement show in which professional drywall installers completed the same work in approximately one hour.

The lesson is simple: Different professions require different skills, tools, and expertise. That's why I don't think most IT consultants should install cabling. IT consultants who are used to wearing business dress clothing and not to carrying a toolbox are probably not well suited to hefting rolls of cabling up stairs, running plenum-grade wiring in tight spaces, or fishing Ethernet through finished walls. It's a dirty job that requires specialized tools and a solid understanding of industry standards and even building codes.

Establish a value-added partnership

This doesn't mean that you need to leave clients who require cabling assistance out in the cold. Instead, consider establishing a tight partnership with a cabling contractor. By working closely with a qualified contractor, your office can assist clients in addressing all their cabling needs, going so far as to serve as the centralized contact and invoicing party. If you cut a fair deal with the contractor, you can even make some extra money in the process.

Have you ever run cabling for any of your clients? What other ancillary projects or dirty jobs have you worked on for clients? Do you partner with contractors for any type of work that falls outside your area of expertise? Let us know in the discussion.

Get weekly consulting tips in your inbox TechRepublic's IT Consultant newsletter, delivered each Monday, offers tips on how to attract customers, build your business, and increase your technical skills in order to get the job done. Automatically sign up today!

About

Erik Eckel owns and operates two technology companies. As a managing partner with Louisville Geek, he works daily as an IT consultant to assist small businesses in overcoming technology challenges and maximizing IT investments. He is also president o...

74 comments
Trade Certificates
Trade Certificates

The thing here is,not all electricians terminate data cables. Running cables is usually done by a electricians mate and a electrician, so to say it should be a electrician is open to an argument. I myself am an electrician but I know many electricians who will not touch data as they are only use to dealing with power and the terminating side of things can become a complete headache. http:tradecertificates.co.uk

bkindle
bkindle

I have ran cable regularly now at my last two IT jobs. Matter of fact, I just finished moving POTS to T1 lines this week for my company at some stores we operate. I sort of a consultant at my last job before and ran cable regularly. The way I learned most of what I know was by studying how jobs looked after they were done by the pros and or other contractors/consultants. I have also seen 'electrical contractors' run data cable and do a really messy, poor quality job more often that I care to discuss. So as a rule, I always try to talk my current employer (a non-profit) out of letting contractors do this kind of work and instead keep our data/voice/video cable jobs in house.

jymkch
jymkch

I used to work in construction for quite some years then as a electrician and also run lines for data and telephone. After becoming and IT professional, is just really hard to say no the client, specially if you are just starting in this line of business and I took some jobs where i had to even do some basic electrical and run multiple data lines but one have to be very careful specially if you dont have the required licenses. But it consumes much of your time and it definitely pays more and saves you time and energy to concentrate in networking and leave the cabling to a licensed professional...I work with a guy that I used to work with before, he is licensed and every time i get client requiring this kind of service, i say yes we will do it and subcontract my friend, that way he gets a job and a potential future client and I have a happy client.

bqeted
bqeted

As a cable guy I totally agree we should all stick to our own level of expertise. Even with over 18 years of experience I have still run into what seems insurmountable problems but we do come up with an answer that complies with all requirements.Ive seen a lot of IT installs they usually work but I wonder how and I hope to hell I dont have to troubleshoot the cable problem.

jefferyp2100
jefferyp2100

Focus on your core business, not on trying to solve every need a client may have. The only reason to attempt something like this is if you plan to be making it part of your core business. Carefully consider whether these "one-off" type engagements are a good investment in your time.

moabrunner
moabrunner

I do consulting in Utah and it has been difficult to find a competent cable installer. I have one client that just has me buy boxes of cable, they run the cables then I test and terminate the cables. That works out really well, and I just bill them by the foot and bill them for the cable ends and any patch panels or 66 blocks involved. Other clients if it is one or 2 simple runs, I don't mind I have the tools, but if it is more than a couple I will try to find a cable installer to at least run them, even if they won't test and terminate them. Yes here in Utah there are cable installers that will run it but not test and terminate it.

oldjags
oldjags

Cabling jobs can be a good source of new business, even if you ultimately sub it out to a qualified cabling company. A cabling job often means new PCs, new servers, etc., and it's a good excuse to get in front of the customer and review all their processes and procedures to see what needs updating. Any time there is change going on is a good time to get your foot in the door. They may not be totally happy with their current IT provider and be willing to talk to someone else who can do it better. Cabling is a one-time job, but it can lead to a long-term support relationship, so don't walk away from it just because you don't actually do the cabling yourself. If you advertise yourself as a full-service support company, then cabling is part of that. Just find a good cabling subcontractor to work with, and you can make a small profit on the job, and use the relationship you've built with the customer to generate business once the cabling is done. Cabling companies also don't do IT stuff, so you'll often get them referring business back to you from their other clients.

jmarkovic32
jmarkovic32

My manager is one of those, "I want it done now and I want it done cheaply" people and so we found ourselves installing cable in a 200 year old warehouse turned into an office space by my company. When we got there we found out that we could not run cable across the cieling because the landlord didn't want the ceramic cieling tiles removed. So we had to drill holes through the wood, brick and concrete floor, crawl under the building and cable it that way. Three weeks later all of it is still not done. On top of that I had to get my REAL work done. Needless to say, I still have work backed up from three days of wasting my precious time. At my previous place of employment, I always had a cabling contractor on speed dial. Don't get me wrong, I don't think I'm "above" running cable, it's just that my time and energies are better spent doing the job they hired me for. My boss let his bad experience with one cabling contractor cloud his judgement. In this business everyone knows a contractor they can trust. A licensed, professional outfit would have done that job in a couple of days. We really didn't save any money either. We had to hire a couple of extra bodies to help us run cable and we had to buy the material. In addition, we were unable to serve our business "customers" while we were crawling under buildings and fishing cable through walls.

cloudnavigator
cloudnavigator

When I started working with PC LANs in the mid-1980s you had to run your own cabling. There were no cabling standards and the electricians and phone guys had no idea how to do it right. I remember one phone installer tell me that "a pair is a pair" after I pointed out to him the proper termination of pairs for Ethernet over UTP. To make matters worse, every vendor had their own preferred cabling system. IBM called theirs the IBM Cabling System. It wasn't until SynOptics demonstrated that you could run Ethernet over UTP cable in 1988(?) that things began to change for the better. By the early 1990s structured voice and data wiring systems based on EIA/TIA specifications began to take hold and everything converged on using UTP cable. With the arrival of 100Mb and 1000Mb Ethernet cable installation and testing required both knowledge and the proper tools to test and certify. I hung up my 110 punch-down tool in the mid-1990s. It only comes out on an emergency basis. If I have a project that requires wireless, fiber-optic or high-performance (CAT5e/CAT6) cabling, I call one my colleagues who do this for a living. Can't say that I miss it either.

vgr
vgr

I'm astonished. We have been running a 7 years old IT services company, and from day 0 we didn't want to take cabling projects. Cabling requires skills that are not so alike with other IT skills, like system administration, app managemente and IT support. In fact if you check most IT services methodology frames, cabling is not found as a key issue. So, why is that? Have you heard about cable management?. No kidding, there is whole discipline about cabling. So if you want to have it done right in the first place, don't try to do it yourself.

reisen55
reisen55

I prefer a certified electrical contractor to run cables whenever possible. The real plus beyond having the job done RIGHT is you can make a co-networking contact. Give him your business cards and hand out his cards. Works for me. Secondly, I run cables only short distances or if I have to do external runs or ceiling runs. This is ugly but it works well, so I limit the amount of damage I can do.

paul
paul

There comes a time when it shows that some consultants experience is potentially limited in that they infer that they should not install cabling. There are some of us that have worked our way up from the installation level to the consulting level and have NOT forgotten our basic skills. So to advocate no installation work to be undertaken by consultants is demeaning to those that can. If you don't understand the infrastructure you rely on to support your prognostications how can you justify the application of your consultancy.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

I've been trained and have my own tools from that training, but our contract doesn't explicitly include cabling. I'll pull a replacement run if it doesn't involve cutting or conduit and will get the customer back up today. Many of my primary customer's installations are so old, though, that network outages require I test and re-terminate at least weekly. Because I do it so often, re-terminating has become a one-or-two-minute job. Added: For obvious reasons, corporate won't provide appropriate test equipment, so 'certification' is a continuity check and communication verification. In several cases, later work at some sites has required certification testing; haven't had one of my pulls or terms fail yet.

ps.techrep
ps.techrep

Relying on installers of any type who aren't licensed to do all the trades work needed to get the cabling though a structure is just plain stupid. But even if unions and building codes are ignored, only a very small percentage of IT industry workers have the understanding and training needed to run and terminate modern high speed communications cabling. Cabling is an essential piece of equipment, and just like a network card or motherboard, it can screw up the performance of the systems it's used to create. If you want to dispute this, ask each of your staffers to explain how to use a TDR for cable certification. Eliminate each one who doesn't know what a TDR is. Then ask them to write down the minimum permitted bend radius, the color code and pin-outs for each type of 568 connection, and the requirements for sealing a plenum penetration. If you yourself can't answer these questions, your aren't qualified to verify their cabling work, and you should be outsourcing all your cable installation and termination work to technicians who are certified installers. Relying on untrained, un-certified cable installers is an invitation to erratic network performance and outages.

MarkoHendy
MarkoHendy

When it comes to fault finding and the cabling culprit does not own up to it and costs time as well as money. Mark.

y0shi
y0shi

I do cable for my customers. I'm not suppose to since I do not hold a low voltage electrical license for the states I operate in. I let my customers know this up front. However I do know what I am doing, I am quick about it, and I follow code. I know this because I really butchered the first couple of jobs I cabled and I decided to learn to do it correctly. Even with my training and experience I still draw the line at fiber. Last job I did an electrician reported the work was done by a non-licensed person and the company was fined $400. The Operations Director told me not to worry about it and that it was still cheaper to have me do it. I have heard some stories about work being stopped when caught by inspectors, especially in union areas. I make sure to avoid inspectors like the plague, and if someone asks me what I am doing, im always "cleaning up". I agree, MOST IT CONSULTANTS SHOULD NOT RUN CABLING!

Chris029
Chris029

With more and more VOIP - low power installs become more and more common. With low power installs comes the need for a low power license. Just a thought.

ted.watkns
ted.watkns

I work for a medium size retailer and cabling comes with the territory. I often joke that IT stands for 'Internet and Telephone' because part of my responsibilities are to take are of the cabling also. Basically, it depends on your situation and skills. On the positive side, I have found that there is value in having a variety of additional skills.

mla_ca520
mla_ca520

I agree that cabling and rack installation should be done by people who know how. I would not do hvac work...that is a distinct certification from general building. The drawback is that even hiring a professional doesn't guarantee a good or even sufficient job...it's best to learn as much about the topic as possible and check up on how the work is done...that it is done right...I would install cable for a client or even build a server room after consulting with a qualified hvac technician to confirm that where I want to build and my plan will work for their installation.

Daniel.Muzrall
Daniel.Muzrall

I'll agree with most of the comments folks have made. You've got to know what you're good at, what you're passable at, what you're not so good at, and most importantly, what you will or will not do! I've done a reasonable amount of cabling in my time in IT. I'm fairly competent at it too. Am I a whiz? No. Does it work and meet it's intended requirements? Yes. I'll do temporary network installs (temporary office spaces, office trailers, etc.) or the occasional single drop. Other than that, I sub out to local cablers that have been properly vetted. Makes life a lot easier. You know that everything is going to be done right, and done cleanly. Plus, when you use a professional cabler, you often get a nice line testing/certification report and warranty on the work conducted! That beats my continuity testing and knowledge that I'll be around to fix it if it breaks!

douglasalt1
douglasalt1

Agree with the sentiment, use contractors with the required skills. This applies to employed staff as well. Cases that come to mind: One site used a multi-company office block, cabling to one office meant going through common area (needed way-leave permission from site owner), same site had 18" concrete wall to drill through. Another site had Grade II listing (historic building protection) so no holes in walls. Yet another site with asbestos sheeting in the path of cable runs, had to wait for local authority to clear asbestos. The list goes on but gets new t-shirts, towels and coffee mugs to the seen that, done it part.

seanferd
seanferd

The taping, mudding, and and sanding must have been really high-quality, then. :p Those shows tend to lie just a bit, for sake of expediency. The total time spent may have been relatively short, but you have to wait for stuff to dry properly. And they must have used only one coat of mud. er, edit: Good article, though. I didn't show up just to complain or whatnot. :D

mafergus
mafergus

I think it's like everything else, use common sense! I ran cabling in my pre-official IT career, so smaller jobs do not phase me. However, I do not hesitate to call in the pros for larger or complicated jobs. It just isn't worth my time to handle those jobs!

wyattbest
wyattbest

I'm a technician at a local PC sales/service shop. I agree with your advice about letting contractors handle some things professionally. We repair PC's in shop, on site and provide a full range of IT services (server administration, satellite TV, web hosting and design, networking, etc). However, we contract out three main things: 1. Hardware repair of laptops 2. Cabling 3. Clean room data recovery All of these are done through local contractors who built their own businesses, not through franchised organizations. We handle all the contact and invoicing ourselves. I'd say it works pretty well. Technicians like me can focus on what we do best, and customers get high-quality service. I will say that it's very important to pick your contractors carefully. When a customer wants to know how long till they get their laptop back, I pick up the phone and speak directly to the technician working on it, not a front desk or answering service. It would be very bad to have to tell a client that we don't know what our subcontractors are doing. We also have other local people we pass business back and forth with, like business internet and phone service. I know their technicians and sales reps by name, and they know who to recommend when someone's server is down. Keeping all the people in touch with each other and knowing how partners operate means that customers are more than happy to pay a little more for us than for the flat rate joint in the mall.

oldbaritone
oldbaritone

You can get yourself into a real hornet's nest. Do you know how to identify a plenum ceiling? It requires special cable. Does the local municipality require a license to run cable? Some do. And if you're working in a union shop, you're just asking for labor trouble if you pull DIY cable. You're a professional; do your own thing. And let the electricians do theirs. :-)

DCMadMan
DCMadMan

Now I'm not an independent in a sense that I am full time consultant but, I do work some hefty side project that dose require me to be a Jack of all Trades.. I find it Extremely valuable in and out of the independent field to take on such small projects in order to strengthen troubleshooting skills in small and large network environments.. Not taking the opportunity to refresh your skills from time to time can land you in a bad spot if you decide to one day give it a shot. These skills flood over into my professional career managing a Data Center, not only troubleshooting hardware but physical infrastructure as well.. If I need to run a new cable within the DC or out to a new desk in the office I have the full confidence that I know what I?m doing.. Even when I have contractors come in to install Fiber from an ISP I tend to look over their shoulder and ask questions about what they are doing and the equipment they use. Now on the other hand if you are consulting full time, which most of you are, I can understand leaving the dirty work up to the pros because, as stated, it just gets done the right way and much quicker. But if you do take these smaller projects on then you tend to acquire the tools and skills to get the job done just as fast and professional as the Pros will..

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Point out to your clients that while a licensed installer may charge more per hour, he's likely to do the job in much less time, be bonded and insured to cover physical damage you aren't covered for, and know the local building codes. He may cost more per hour but be less expensive in the long run. Consider establishing a relationship with one or two installation contractors. If you can regularly steer business to them, you may be able to arrange a standing discount for your consultees. "Tell them, 'Erik said you're the guys to call."

magic8ball
magic8ball

Absolutely correct. What also needs to be considered, as was touched on in the article, is not the can you physically but can you legally. In NM to run even low voltage cabling you have to be a licensed electrician. So while I physically can run and punch down cabling, even in a timely fashion, I can't run it because I am not a licensed electrician. This holds true for many other locations as well. Recently a client I work for had some cabling run and I spent some time talking to the cabling contractor about this exact issue. That's not to say that it doesn't happen but it shouldn't according to the way the law is written.

tbmay
tbmay

I ran some cable with previous employers but it was in buildings nobody really worried about. If it was to be done in a new building or one with some aesthetic appeal, pros were used. As an independent, I just don't. I agree with your points entirely. Some clients think I should but I established that policy before I started the business. I'm not good at it and I'm not going to start drilling in clients walls when I don't half know what I'm doing.

Editor's Picks