Holding On For Too Long

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When should you embrace the future, charging full speed ahead? When do you hold on to the past, benefiting from the wisdom and experience that only time, experience, and proven products can provide?

This choice has always perplexed me, and, despite my best efforts, has always left me wishing Id made that other choice. But there can be little doubt that in this era of rapidly changing products and elevated client expectations, some things simply need to be left behind. Hanging on to known technology, whether tried and true or not, can be a grave disservice to not only your customer, but more importantly to your entire business persona.

This point was recently driven home to me in painful detail during a very troubled installation. We had been brought in to review what the overlay control system may or may not have been doing to an HVAC controller that was getting rooms too hot and other rooms too cold. The client had lived with this situation for more than two years; a main living area was constantly over-heated in the summer, while the adjacent rooms were always freezing. Then in the winter that same living room was freezing, with the air conditioner constantly running, despite all thermostats being set to 80 degrees. The client had built the home using a long-time friend and contractor, with whom he had been extremely patient. That contractor had then used their usual, proven HVAC contractor to provide the heating and air-conditioning equipment for that residence. There was a lot of experience, a lot of expertise, a lot of good relationships, and a lot of opportunity for success, as well as failure. This one resulted in failure, and for the very reasons that should have brought success.

For two years of constant client dissatisfaction and badgering, that HVAC contractor kept testing the wires, kept testing the motors, kept changing this and blindly altering that, all to no avail. They had finally managed to convince the general contractor that the problem had to be the overlay control system that was connected to the HVAC thermostats. Someone needed to be brought in to analyze what the control system was doing to their installation of time-tested equipment.

What we found was technological stagnation. The HVAC contractor in question had been around forever, providing years and years of valid, competent experience. But they had failed to keep that experience current and up to date with the latest improvements in HVAC thermostat technology. For the past two full years, they had been refusing to even touch the multi-function thermostats that had been installed for the overlay control system to monitor the residence. It wasnt the one type of thermostat that they used, that they were trained on, and that they warranted to work. Additionally, they never even got involved with any of the internal settings that any of the newer generation thermostats have that allow for wider tolerance set point dead band settings and heating/cooling anticipators. In fact, they used only one make of thermostat for years, and werent even authorized to make any setting changes on even those thermostats. In short, they knew nothing of the power of the few tools they had, and were therefore totally unprepared to utilize even the capabilities of the very tools that they themselves had chosen to deploy. What had worked for them for years was good enough before, and so was good enough forever. It had to be that new-fangled technology stuff causing the problem. It couldnt be anything that had worked for them over and over again. So the client suffered for two years while the GC supported the HVAC company, and the client supported his GC buddy.

Loyalty to brands and devices is a good and proven practice, but its a double-edged sword. Over-familiarity can cause one to be shortsighted on serving the clients best needs and solutions. Remember that we are all trusted by our clients to provide the best of all possible alternatives. So that means that no matter how disconcerting it may be, we all have to consistently strive to wander out of our comfort zones and specify or at least consider new, unproven approaches and technologies.

Carl Easton (ceaston@axiomdesign.com) is the director of systems engineering at Axiom Design Inc.

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