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Q & A with Christine Mosholder of Fort Point PM

- An Owner Representative's Perspective on Project Management
In our recent newsletters, Single Source Group sought the expertise of successful people who manage AV projects and asked them to share their experience. In our last edition we interviewed Carolyn Reckman - Director, athenaEnvironment and Antonio (Tony) Costa - Office Services Manager, athenahealth.

In this newsletter we had the pleasure of interviewing Christine M. Mosholder, Partner - Fort Point Project Management.

The focus of our questions for Christine was on her role as the Owner's Rep for the athenahealth project in which Single Source Group had been involved. We asked her to share with other customers her expertise of project management and how she processes the selection of teams, goals, and planning, so that they may adapt some changes. The focus was on AV projects and the success factors in bringing AV contractors on early in the planning sessions and project meetings.

Will you define your role at Fort Point PM?

Christine Mosholder: I am an owner of the company and for clients like athenahealth, who we have had for many years; I actively manage and act as the owner's representative.

Will you explain your role in the athenahealth project?

CM: On that particular project, I was an owner's rep coordinating on Carolyn's behalf with the architects, the engineers, any specialty vendors - like audio visual, signage and then put the project to bid to the general contractor - ultimately seeing the project to fruition.

Was there anything unique about this particular project?

CM: Yes, there were a couple of things. Rather than bringing on a construction manager early in the process, with Carolyn we decided to go with a general contractor approach - where the completed construction documents were bid by competing GC's. There were a couple of reasons we did this. The scope of work was somewhat limited given that the space was originally built to athena standards five years prior and then subleased. athena was bursting at the seams and positioned to occupy the additional space with a few upgrades, carpet replacement, workstations and office reconfiguration and of course, a number of audio-visual upgrades.

I'm sure Carolyn told you that in this particular case, the AV vendor was chosen very late in the process - and they had a provider that they partnered with on an ongoing basis. SSG came into the scene relatively late with an introduction to Carolyn - and she said let's see if we are getting the best pricing. SSG came through with better pricing and a better service plan.

During this particular project, what specific steps were taken to meet your quality, time and budget goals?

CM: Typically, what we try to do is focus on the planning phase. That planning phase is about design and specifications and project reviews, so the client always has budget estimates even early in the game. By associating dollars with scope and design options, the client can make better decisions and prioritize where they want to spend their money thus, streamlining the drawing process. So, if AV is a business critical upgrade for the client's conference spaces and it is coming in $10,000 over what they were hoping to spend, with an experienced AV consultant at the table, they can help you figure out how to use that money without losing any functionality. That it is why it is important to have all these key partners at the table during that planning and design phase.

As the representative for Fort Point PM, can you explain the importance of planning sessions and project meetings?

CM: I think that the most important part of the planning and design phase is setting realistic budget and scheduling expectations.

It is always less expensive to make changes early on - on paper - than once they are swinging hammers on the site. If you have to expedite things at the very last minute, it simply costs more money. You are paying more for labor, to work premium time hours, and the added cost to expedite shipping and delivery.

So, that is the value of planning and getting all the right people at the table in the design phase as vested partners contributing to a realistic budget and schedule.

Will you explain why AV technology is important to your client base?

CM: Actually, over the years it has become more and more important. Primarily because of the technology innovations and more cost effective solutions in video conferencing, everyone can share information in real time. Minimizing travel while supporting collaboration are the obvious benefits to the state-of-the-art AV solutions.

What were your aspirations for the AV project?

CM: Honestly, it is fairly common that they are brought on too late. It was more of a hope than expectation we wouldn't run into that on this project and I could see that as the decision was being made as late as it was, there would be some hiccups along the way.

Ultimately, I think SSG made up a lot of ground in a very short period of time, quickly overcoming the learning curve with a new client. They really stuck it out on the service side - by making sure that everything was coordinated for that first day of operation in the new space. It actually happened, in this case, that a lot of folks had to stick around on Friday of the long weekend to make sure that when everyone arrived "Day 1" in the new space everything was operational - including AV. Great value, great service.

Is the AV vendor part of the design team? If so can you explain the importance of them as part of the design team?

CM: Best practices would say that they should be. It is not as if AV equipment is just dropped in place after the fact, it is integrated into the actual architectural and engineering design - small things like detailing how a flat-screen is going to be mounted in a reception area or how the Extron boxes are going to work in the table tops of a boardroom. You can tell when a project was integrated at the right stage and when it wasn't. The details make a big difference with making the equipment look like it has always been there and as invisible in the space as possible.

When during the life cycle of a project do you bring in the AV contractor?

CM: I think our teams have become smarter about bringing them in early, and AV vendors are better about pushing that philosophy in educating people as to why it is going to ultimately save them money. I would say it is 50-50, as much as you try to focus on it when you are forming your project team - so you may have an architect, engineer and project manager on board and then you are talking about bringing on a lighting designer, or a kitchen vendor, or some of the other specialty vendors - AV should be at the top of that list.

Honestly, during the design phase when refining your constructional budget, you really need someone at the table who is an AV expert. What some people get nervous about is that they are not going to get the best prices if they partner with someone up front. There are a couple of ways to manage that, but to have that expert at the table from the beginning insures equipment and infrastructure integration that saves money later in the process.

Are there advantages to using one firm for both the design and installation? - Or are there advantages to hiring an A/V consultant for design and another firm for installation?

CM: I would recommend a consistent resource - so they own it from beginning to end. As long as you are confident that you are getting from the resource a commitment, and the best price for the equipment. The equipment is only a part of it and it is an easier thing to bid out (because it is straight forward) but as long as you are comfortable that the vendor you are using has a good rate for the labor and installation, I think it is a good idea to have a consistent resource from beginning to end. They are really vested in the whole process and you really are avoiding the finger pointing when something doesn't quite go as planned

Do you have a particular selection process or criteria for bringing on an A/V vendor for the projects you do?

CM: I always recommend someone I've used and trust. Although, I shouldn't say someone I've always used, because the first time I used Single Source - I had never used them before. But, I really had a confidence level in their technical ability. Quite honestly, I liked the fact that they are strictly a technology company.

There are other competitors of theirs that offer more than technology and AV. They are full fleet services and they are much bigger companies. I prefer a group that specializes in what I am looking for and isn't incredibly large. I feel that at Single Source, every client is equally as important and that they are going to give a high level of service. When I recommend a vendor it reflects on my reputation, as well. My company isn't very large either, so I appreciate the fact that when I call and ask for Shawn on the next project, they are not going to have a problem giving him to me - I know what I can expect, I know it's a team effort. Generally for specialty vendors like that - I trust, I've used, I know we are going to have their attention.

What do you look for when selecting an AV firm for the design and project team?

CM: I think if we just had to bullet it out, it would be the size and the expertise in the specific field. The ability to have some influence over who is going to work on your project. You recognize the same people over and over again. In other groups, when they get too busy they hire temporary freelancers - and they then send people you have never met or seen before. So, for me it is important to have the consistent resources that you know and trust.

In your opinion what are the three most important factors in the owner representative/contractor relationship during the project phase?

CM: It would be the team's ability to provide accurate cost and schedule information to the client. Again, you are helping them to make better decisions. I think another would be our ability to make good recommendations on whom to put on the resource list because we have worked with so many partners. So, I think relying on your team's recommendations is a key factor in the relationship with the owner.

Pertaining to AV and AV projects, any suggestions that you may have for those that are in your role at other companies?

CM: I think the single biggest recommendation is to pick out (the AV provider) just like any other member of the team, and get them in early in the planning stage. The integration of their systems is equally as important as designing your voice and data systems. Inviting them to the table in the same time frame insures success. In the case of athenahealth, we brought them in late and it still turned out really well. This is a testament to Single Source and their committed team.

"I feel that at Single Source, every client is equally as important and that they are going to give a high level of service."

- Christine M. Mosholder

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