Your Conference Rooms Are So Trendy!

How Monitoring Your Conference Rooms Usage Can Help You Build Better Meeting Spaces In The Future

by Paul Konikowski, CTS-D

Imagine you are the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) at a pharmaceutical company, one that is growing rapidly, and you need dozens of new conference rooms and huddle spaces. It is your job to figure out how big the meeting rooms should be, and what sort of technology should be installed in them. Open areas promote collaboration, but there is also a need for privacy, and respect for others who are working nearby. Where should you begin?

You might start by looking at trends in the industry. For instance, sitting is trending down. Standing during meetings is becoming more common, so taller tables with stools should be considered for a portion of your rooms. This will also affect your display wall elevation and camera mounting height. Video collaboration is essential, whether it is a classic hardware codec from Cisco or Polycom, or a software codec like Zoom; you should plan to outfit at least 50% of your rooms with some form of video chat and/or or web conference capability. You can also budget to “scale into” these conference rooms.

The hard question is, how many small, how many medium, and how many large conference rooms do you need? No one wants a big boardroom that only gets used four or fives times a year. Divide/combine/divisible/dividable spaces look good on paper, but often fall short when it comes to day-to-day activities of various lines of business. Should you build two small conference rooms for every one larger conference room? That’s one approach, but…

Wouldn’t it be great to have real statistical data on your meeting rooms, and reports that showed exactly how often the rooms get used, and how much a given room’s technology was actually utilized? Wouldn’t that be great?

Like the Keystone commercials, “Bottled beer taste in a can, wouldn’t that be great!”

Well, just like Keystone utilizes a specially lined can, AV integration experts have the technology to provide these types of usage reports to clients. How they go about it can depend on the technology being installed, a discussion which I will save for future blog post; for this post, let’s keep the discussion to who, what, where, and why.

Who: Although one might think of monitoring and asset management in a corporate environment, there are other environments that can benefit. For instance, K-12 schools and higher education campuses can forecast projector bulb burnouts based on usage. Technology usage might vary from grade to grade, or from teacher to teacher.

What: Getting back to the corporate conference room example, the main piece of data you need to monitor is: when the rooms are occupied or not. This can be accomplished using motion detectors if other audiovisual technology is not available. If there is a touch panel in the room, it may have a motion detector built in, and you can harness that data through the control system using proprietary software.

You can also monitor how much the different components of the technology get used, but that is secondary to the rooms being occupied or not. If you base your room usage reports solely on the technology, your data will be incorrect from the start, because some groups use tech more than others. Its great to know what tech gets used and what does not, but its almost more important to know what rooms get used, and which do not. Then, compare the rooms’ technology, versus the size of the room, and the location.

Where: As you start to amass the data, you will notice trends in the conference rooms. Some of these trends will show up in the numbers, but it is also important to look at the location and physical characteristics of each meeting space. For example, you may have two equal 8-person conference rooms on the same floor, with the only difference between the rooms is that one has windows, the other is internal with no windows. You may notice that one of the two rooms gets used more often, and you might assume it is because of the sunlight. This is a good theory, but you should also consider acoustics. Or, one department may be utilizing the same conference room every day, while another department only meets once a week in the other conference room. So it is important to compare the numbers but also to look at the location within the building, the departments that are nearby, and then spend some time thinking about the why.

Why: You might notice that the smaller rooms are getting booked up for about 4 hours each day, while the larger conference room is booked all day, almost every day. This might suggest you need another large conference room. How you interpret the numbers depends on the situation, but it is always best to work with real data rather than verbal anecdotes like “that second video camera never gets used”. That is great feedback, but is that really true? What if the CTO uses it once a month? What if more training is needed? It is much easier to start the decision making process with real data, but like any metric, you need some time to establish a baseline, so for your first year, you might just collect the data, use it as a baseline, and then compare the following years to the first year.

In the end, you are looking for trends in your conference rooms. You might notice that the collaborative touch displays are getting used more this year than last year, and sub-sequentially, you might anticipate needing more touch displays next year. You will also see what is not so trendy, and you might be able to avoid buying things you don’t need. Over time, the monitoring of the rooms and technology will “pay for itself” because you will be more efficient and accurate in planning for your future meeting spaces.

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Music Media Matters

Last week, I dropped $30 on a vinyl record, which was probably the most I have ever paid for an album, without adjusting for inflation. Usually, my vinyl records come from garage sales or thrift stores, and much of my collection came from my Dad and friends. I’m not an avid record store guy like John Cusack’s customers in High Fidelity. In fact, I can probably count all the records I got “new” on one hand. So why did I buy this particular album for $30?

I was attending a concert in Sonoma county, and the $30 record was for sale in a merchandise booth. When I first heard the price, I hesitated. But then I thought about it: this was a compilation album, featuring songs from twelve reggae bands that had recently performed at the 2017 California Roots Music and Arts Festival at the Monterrey County Fairgrounds, the same location as the famous Monterrey International Pop Music Festival in 1967.

According to the back cover, all profits from the album sales will be donated to the Guitars Not Guns Music Program. Using music as a catalyst GNG encourages children and teens to use their creativity to foster personal development and to help divert them from the destructive influences of drugs, alcohol, and gang-related violence”. When I read that, the $30 price tag didn’t seem too steep; I considered it a donation to a good cause.

CA Roots Volume 1 inside cover

I also consider the album a souvenir, that will forever hold memories of that concert. The bands I saw at the concert were not on the album, but there is still a connection, between the live music I heard, the people I hung out with, and this vinyl record. If I didn’t buy it that night, would I get another chance? Would I have purchased the album if it were on CD or Spotify? Probably not. Why not? Of course, I could argue that the sound quality of a CD or digital track is not the same as the warmth of an analog record, which is true; but I will leave that blog post for the audiophiles.

I listen to records when I am relaxing at home, which is also the only place I can listen to them. When I have friends over (which is basically never, but let’s pretend I have friends for the sake of this blog post), I encourage them to pick out some albums to listen to while we catch up on life (and talk about other imaginary friends.) I sometimes hunt for a particular record in my collection, but more often, I randomly grab a few and put them on. And I usually listen to the entire album, or at least one side, all the way through. I respect the time the artist put into recording the album, and the order of the songs.

Most Millennials don’t get the concept of an album. They like their music to be on-demand, as they grew up with the ability to listen to any song with a click or two. They never had to rewind or fast forward a cassette tape, or heaven forbid, wait for an 8-track to repeat. To give them some credit, they certainly understand the value of a good playlist, but they don’t understand how Generation Xers spent hours making the perfect mix tape; how some DJ’s would sort their records by BPM (beats per minute) in preparation for a club set; or how alternative rock Compact Discs would often have a “hidden track” that would start 20 or 30 seconds after the last official track. I remember Ministry’s “Psalm 69” CD had a song hidden on track 69; I remember watching the track number go up each second, in silence, until the final track finally played! You think Spotify would allow a band to have 50 or 60 blank tracks, each one second long, before the final hidden track? Imagine what that playlist would look like on a phone!

My point here is that when you listen to music, the media matters. When I say media, I don’t mean the news or social media networks, I mean the plural of medium, whether it be a vinyl record, cassette tape, compact disc, MP3, satellite, or regular radio. How you listen to your music will affect what music you listen to. Let me give you a few examples of what I mean, using my own music collection, and how I listen to it:

When I listen to my LP’s, I typically listen classic rock, jazz, big band, show tunes, and classical music. I have a few exceptions like EDM records I landed at the Winter Music Conferences in Miami, and a handful of new albums I have been given as gifts from friends. But most of the time, the records I put on are from the 1950’s, 60’s, and 70’s.

When I listen to my cassettes, and I have a lot of them, it tends to be mostly 80’s music. Many of these I purchased at full price when I was younger. Some were from BMG memberships, some were hand-me-downs from older siblings, and some are live “bootlegs” of jam bands. I also have a lot of greatest hits compilations, and a lot of those Time Life compilations on cassette. Contemporary Country, anyone? I got the Time Life tapes free from a neighbor who put them on the curb when I lived in Fairfax, CA. Many of the tape series are “brand new”, and still in the original packaging. Score!

Timelife contemporary country cassettes

If I am driving around the Bay, I tend to listen to local radio stations. I especially like Oakland’s old-school rap, hip-hop and hyphy.  When I am in wine country, I hear a lot of Joni Mitchel and the Grateful Dead. If I am back in Connecticut visiting family and friends, I listen to the local radio stations there, where I can count on hearing some Rush, AC/DC, Staind, Metallica, and Ska music. The commercials on the radio are annoying, but they give me a reason to change the channel, and find another station, often with a different kind of music. I love the Sunday radio shows, not the Top 40, but the special jazz, gospel, bluegrass, and live music programs on independent radio stations.

If I am listening to my CD’s, it tends to be 90’s music, but there are plenty of other decades represented. I have done a lot of road trips, and my CD collection is a good way to pass the time while I am driving cross-country. Other times, I will hear an old song on the radio while I am driving, and when I get home, I will dig out the CD to hear the rest of the album. I also listen to my CD’s when I am cleaning.

I have a lot of MP3 files, but I only listen to them when I am working on my computer, and more often, I use Spotify to lookup newer bands. Social media gives me the ability to listen to what my online friends are listening to. I can also find new music on apps like Pandora, after I have searched for a particular band, the algorithm figures out the characteristics of music I enjoy, and gives me similar songs from artists I might like.

spotify home pageThe downside to this feature is I don’t usually hear the entire albums; instead I hear the big radio hits, or songs that are the most popular downloads. This is very different from listening to a record, CD, or cassette tape all the way through. If you listen to satellite radio like Sirius/XM, you almost never hear the deeper cuts from the albums, new or old.

Nowadays, people can purchase one song at a time, which is kind of like buying a 45 rpm record, or a “cassingle”, which was a cassette in a cardboard sleeve, featuring one song that was on the radio; but those still had B-sides: deeper album cuts, live, or alternative versions of the songs. This was a way for the artist and/or record label to get you to listen to a song you might not hear on the radio. Sometimes, the B-side turned out to be better than the A-side. I remember buying Gun’s and Roses’ “Patience” on cassette single and first listening to the B-side “Rocket Queen”, which was never a radio hit, but it is a sick song. I’m going to put it on right now! Yes, I still have all of my Cassingles; unfortunately, most of them are pretty beat.

Guns N Roses Patience Rocket Queen

Which brings us back to digital music. Today’s younger generation does not have to worry about tapes breaking, or record needles wearing out. They don’t need to worry about scratching a CD, or their hard drive crashing. Their music is usually stored in the cloud, with some songs stored locally on their phone or tablet. Live concerts can be streamed on-demand on your TV using set-top boxes. Just about any song can be found with a quick search on YouTube, just watch this short video advertisement first.

Instead of buying albums, Millennials pay for monthly subscriptions that give them unlimited access to literally thousands of albums.  People are happy paying money fees to listen to what they want, when they want, while avoiding the repeating commercials common on traditional terrestrial radio. Others choose to listen to streaming “stations” that are based on their favorite bands, or music genres. This gives them some access to new music, but the bands are still limited, and often chosen by big record labels.

Music is now a service, and people are lazy, so the convenience factor of streaming music is actually affecting what we listen to. If you flip through your old CDs, you will likely choose a different album than you would on Spotify or iTunes. If you listen to a record or cassette, you will likely listen to an entire side, and if you are not too busy, or lazy, you might actually flip it over and hear the B-side.

I encourage my readers to be more mindful of the media that stores their favorite music, and the devices that deliver the music to their ears. Break out your old CD collection, or flip through your parents records, and let the album covers bring back memories, and guide your choices. Listen to the entire albums, top to bottom. Buy a random CD at a truck stop, or from a local band, even if it is a risky because you don’t know most of the songs. Don’t be lame when it comes to music media. Take some risks!

In closing, I would like to get back to that California Roots, Volume 1 record that I purchased last week. When I took it out of the sleeve for the first time, I realized another reason they were charging 30 dollars for it: the vinyl is thick, and decorated with a psychedelic pattern that makes it unique, and memorable, just like the concert I attended. A digital download or YouTube video would never hold those memories like this physical record does. The tracks are great, and the bass from the analog media sounds awesome in my living room. $30 well spent.

California Roots Volume 1

Girl Inside California Roots Volume 1

The Anatomy of an AV Integration Project

Like most audio/video (AV) integrators, we have been quite busy this summer. My company is taking on more projects than ever before, and I explained to my Engineering team that this is analogous to eating a big Thanksgiving dinner: the more food you eat in a given meal, the more likely your stomach will be in pain as you process all of that food.

Let’s flesh out this analogy: the more we eat (Sales), the more likely our stomach (Engineering and CAD) will hurt, and it is difficult to speed up that process . The only thing we can do to increase our overall metabolism (or so called ‘bandwidth’) is to try and exercise more often; exercise = training. And just like exercising, integration engineers need to make/find the time for training, to keep the process moving at a good pace.

If your Sales department is the mouth of the process, and Engineering/CAD is the stomach, then the next step is the process is Purchasing, which would be the small intestine. Some products have long lead times, others may be more readily available, and will move more quickly through the intestines, like liquids. The point is, the purchasing and receiving process usually takes a while, and largely depends on the Engineering to have things ready to go. If the stomach stops working, then nothing gets to the intestines.

According the Wikipedia, “[the] large intestine, also known as the large bowel or colon, is the last part of the gastrointestinal tract and of the digestive system in vertebrates. Water is absorbed here and the remaining waste material is stored as feces before being removed by defecation”. In our AV project analogy, the large intestine represents the rack building and programming of the DSP (digital signal processor) and/or control systems. The rectum represents the testing that happens before the installation begins.

At this point in the analogy, I need to be very careful to not offend anyone. To put it simply, the field installation teams are by far the most important part of the process, because without them, the rest of the process would get backed up. The project managers and installers don’t determine what projects we take on (eat), and yet they are the ones that inevitably have to deal with the … well, you get me. When they are finished, the integration process is essentially done. If Sales goes after junk-food-type projects, or if the Engineering and Purchasing departments make mistakes, you can expect some flatulence. Although it may be too late to fix the current project, the rest of the body will learn to take on jobs that are more healthy, and cause less pain.

So, are we finished here? Not yet! Assuming the system has been fully tested, the client needs to be trained, and the as-built drawings and manuals need to be delivered. Skipping this part of the process would be analogous to not using any toilet paper. You need to clean up! Some audiovisual integration companies are very faster than others in completing this step, others may take longer because they are more thorough. But no matter how long it takes, don’t skip this step! If you do, your clients will likely think that you stink. :)