AV is maturing. AVMI CEO Ed Cook explains how the booming sector is learning lessons from IT and how AVMI is leading the way with a standards-based, scalable service.

AVMI CEO Ed CookHistorically, institutions have considered AV to be a bespoke add-on, tending to utilise it on a limited project-by-project basis. But with recent spikes in demand for both collaborative solutions and more impactful staff/customer communications, pro AV is suddenly big news and the integrator sector is booming.

Many of today’s AV solutions include video conferencing or centrally served digital signage, and this has led comms or IT departments – and more recently IT vendors and their channels – to become involved and increasingly take control. This in turn puts pressure on AV businesses to accommodate IT mainstream practices such as standards, centralised support and volume procurement.

Traditional AV companies have a challenge: how to be taken seriously by these IT departments that are used to dealing with technology services businesses, having had many years of experience with working with IT vendors, integrators and service providers – and also how to dovetail effectively with the working practices of IT.

There are also challenges for facilities departments responsible both for the broader environment in which the technology resides as well as overall project delivery – since not all IT departments are familiar with facility requirements. This presents integrators with a major opportunity to help both parties work together efficiently with regard to AV.

Seismic Shift

This huge change in the way things are being done – with integrated AV solutions requiring support by IT – is largely as a result of an growing number of video conferencing (VC) systems being integrated into broader IP-based Unified Communications platforms, and being situated on the more mainstream IT networks.

In addition, the prevalence of digital signage within corporate businesses in particular has resulted in even more AV solutions being mounted on IT networks. Whilst at the same time, mainstream IT and telecoms vendors, such as Cisco, Microsoft, Avaya and most recently Mitel, have expanded their portfolio of solutions to address a broader range of meeting space requirements, mostly through acquisitions, again resulting in increased convergence of AV and IT.

Consequently, IT departments want and need to be involved, possibly taking ownership of the technology that is deployed by AV integrators within meeting and huddle spaces, or in digital signage and video wall projects.

Some commentators have predicted that this increased involvement will lead to the IT industry eventually swallowing up AV. Although this is unlikely as very few IT system integrators have genuine AV capabilities – and those IT vendors that have increased their AV tech solutions still only address a limited spectrum of applications – integrators need to be vigilant and up their game when it comes to being IT savvy.

Real Estate Support

The AV industry faces other challenges. Traditionally dominated by project-specific requirements, in many cases triggered by a building move or a significant refurbishment, the industry’s installation project managers tend to be facilities / real estate / operations teams who oversee a bespoke design process – usually with the support of internal AV specialists and / or AV consultants.

Few IT professionals fully understand the significant ongoing involvement of ‘Real Estate’ in the planning and delivery of AV technology. In reality the Real Estate and AV sectors are often bridged by IT firms’ partners (typically AV system integrators) and by internal AV teams and their AV consultants. In other words, whilst AV has to follow an IT ‘recipe’ it tends to be baked in a Real Estate ‘oven’.

This somewhat confused situation frequently causes friction between IT and Real Estate teams and ultimately the end-users that they both serve. Indeed, at a recent IT User Group, several of the global companies represented claimed that their global, standards-based, volume procurement-based vision for meeting spaces had been thwarted by their Real Estate colleagues who used local Real Estate operational budgets to implement whatever they liked at a local level!

This of course can and does lead to major issues with users who complain about the resulting lack of consistency, and hence usability – as well as disagreements regarding who should support the technology. At the same time, Real Estate executives have been known to complain that IT isn’t listening to its requirements, effectively forcing Real Estate to try to go it alone.

Taking Ownership

So which parties should ‘own’ AV technology design, delivery and support, particularly for meeting spaces and digital signage installations where there are clear benefits to following an IT-influenced standards-based and volume procurement approach?

There are arguments on both sides, but what’s clear is that without a model to meet the requirements of both camps the market will continue to struggle to find an ideal solution. IT led initiatives are likely to continue overlooking the bespoke nature of those spaces that the technology is being delivered into and the different requirements of the ecosystem of trades involved in delivery. While Real Estate initiatives will continue overlooking the needs of IT: security, regulatory, volume purchasing and centralised support.

But what an opportunity for AV! Solve this problem and AV technology vendors and their channels can ‘cross the chasm’, shifting from low volume and bespoke installations to mass, mainstream deployment – just as IT has been doing for decades.


Standardised Solutions

Scalability and reliability are crucial to IT departments, whether this is during the purchasing process or the operation of purchased technology, and this is typically where the AV sector comes unstuck. Most AV integrators are used to installing unique, one-off systems, whilst IT departments prefer to be able to purchase a standardised solution, in bulk, that they are confident will work with and be supported on their networks in exactly the same way as other existing elements – PCs and servers. AV needs to operate in similar ways to IT (standards, frameworks, IT network compatibility etc.), but should deliver on a more bespoke project basis to dovetail into the Real Estate world.

AV must offer standardised, scalable solutions; whilst at the same time adopting professional, mature purchasing and support processes. In other words, the same service levels that clients demand from their current IT or technology service providers. It helps that AV is currently following in the footsteps of IT, consolidating, changing from being lots of fragmented small companies into fewer, bigger players – but integrators must remain engaged with this ‘IT-ising’ process.

Evolving Workspaces

AVMI believes it has discovered a way of uniquely solving the problems inherent in the IT/RealEstate model, whilst also opening the door to huge growth for the AV industry – with AVMI leading the way in evolving and growing its offer. AVMI’s standard catalogues, such as its new catalogue for ‘Cisco Project Workplace’ are modular in their approach with standardisation at their core, and are built in-line with strict standards. They are applied into the Real Estate world using standardised services (AVMI’s new Streamline services).

The IT industry appreciates that technologies always follow an agreed standard – for example, to help meet security and regulatory requirements – and that tech can be procured in volume and supported through an efficient centralised model. And Real Estate understands that the standard is flexible enough to meet with local non-standard environments, and that this flexible and local design process is easy to work with and features the detailed outcomes that it requires – for example, cable schematics for mechanical and electrical systems (M&E).

Of course, this means that the design of technology standards is more challenging. Finding the right balance between simple and flexible is not easy, and being able to manage some flexibility, via modularity, in a global volume environment, demands sophisticated tools. But it is achievable if the appropriate investment is made, and AVMI is leading the way.

Full Service Framework

With the Streamline services, we have developed the processes and tool sets that allow it to create technology standards that balance simplicity, consistency and flexibility, whilst meeting volume roll out requirements. We offer customers a choice between standard, pre-built ‘catalogues’ (such as our catalogue for Cisco’s Project Workplace initiative) and building their own catalogue.

Streamline is an end-to-end service framework that takes those catalogues and applies them – with the help of a specially designed set of online tools – to specific project requirements, whether that is a single existing meeting room or a large new building project. The services cover ‘project preparation’, ‘build management’ and ‘system support’.

AVMI can bundle this in for a simple single supplier model (so-called “one throat to choke”), or we can help a client’s procurement team to run competitive tenders amongst local suppliers for the hardware and local engineering components of the overall solution.

And every system delivered through Streamline can be centrally supported, including and ideally with the option of managing the technology over the network (customer dependent). This over-the-network option maximises service agility and reduces cost significantly.

So, Streamline ensures that both Real Estate and IT requirements are met, cutting through the muddle. Either of these parties can take overall responsibility for owning the service, as it is designed to support collaboration between them. In this way we see that the winning space in the market is the AV/IT space that bridges Real Estate and IT.

Leading The Way

This approach also has significant benefits for the more traditional and bespoke applications that AV technology supports, such as auditoriums and reception areas. It adds options for our efficient on-line tool sets to aid collaboration and to give customers visibility of the overall process.

It’s evident that AV will be working even more closely with IT in the coming years to develop models that are standardised and more scalable, whilst also meeting real estate needs. AVMI is leading the way with Streamline. If other integrators are to thrive in this evolving market they must surely follow our lead, working closely with partners to develop innovative, global solutions, helping AV to emulate its more established IT cousin in hitting the mainstream.

To see how AVMI’s designs and services have been applied to Cisco’s Project Workplace, visit www.avmi-cpw.com.

No more articles
%d bloggers like this: