The Ponds Are Stocked In AV Land

When I was younger, I participated in a few fishing derbies. I remember one particular derby where I caught nine trout in one day, see photos. The derby was sponsored by the local K-Mart, thus the hat. My dad and I were overwhelmed by the luck I was having! The pond at YMCA Camp Sloper had been stocked with fish the week prior. We asked around and quickly figured out that the best bait to use was corn, because the hatchery-bred fish had not yet learned to eat pond food; they liked corn.

I was not the only one who had luck that day. The kid who took the trophy for the most fish caught like 23. I also did not take the trophy for the largest fish; but I was still a happy camper, and went back the next day and caught a few more on my own. I tried my luck again that summer, in the same spot, but I did not catch anything. The corn stopped working, so I went an bought some expensive fishing tackle, which looked great in my tackle box, but nothing was effective as the cheap corn was during that one spring day of the fishing derby.

“The difference is time” as they say. The climate changed as the pond got warmer, the fish retreated to the cooler bottom. The young hatch-lings that survived the fishing derby weekend had two options moving forward: they could adapt to their surroundings, and eat worms, bugs, and smaller fish in Sloper’s pond, or they could be eaten by bigger fish. I don’t think it was a conscious decision. Eventually, the pond life goes back to “normal”, there are less fish, and the ones who survived are larger and more healthy.

Now, let’ reel this back into AV land. I believe the ponds in AV Land are getting stocked this spring, largely due to the tax law changes. I think #AVtweeps are conscious of it; some are not making any decisions, while some are putting plans in place, to deal with the upcoming volume. Notice I said volume, not revenue, or profits, or tax shelters.

Assuming your customers are C-corps, you should see, and hear, a gradual crescendo in spending in 2018, ending with the busiest holiday season anyone has ever experienced in all of AV Land. Older, problematic digital signal processing, microphones, and touch panels will be updated. Corporate customers will start spending more money on large ticket items like immersive rooms and video walls. Ping pong tables will compete for space with VR and AR gaming setups. The more start-up type smaller businesses will finally start to outfit their huddle rooms with new video collaboration systems.

K-12 schools and community colleges will see more donations to support classroom technology as well as gaming lounges and black-box theaters. Sounds great, right? But take warning, according to the AV Land Farmer’s Almanac (you see what I did there?)…

Your service center calls could become unmanageable as the new gear mingles with old.  Bandwidth needs will spike as AV and IT converge, and go forth, and multiply, and higher resolution video traffic will bog down older switches. Fan noise will increase.   Credenza rack switches will begin to overheat. Meanwhile, sales and design teams will design more and more networked AV. Programmers will ask for more IP addresses. Lead technicians are going to make extra money working overtime, making it all work.

So, how do you, the AV integration expert, plan to catch the MOST fish, AND the largest, without wasting a bunch of time, and money on equipment you don’t really need?

  1. Start with corn: Standardize on no more than a dozen pre-designed systems that you can sell quickly with confidence.  Keep the prices down by keeping things very simple, but be sure to include an adequate materials budget and labor to cover the inevitable trips to Home Depot, Grainger, or Lowe’s. Give your AV installation crews credit cards or similar means to get small items ordered immediately. Get ‘er done.
  2. Bring plenty of worms: The big fish in the pond will want something more than corn.  They will want large format displays that make viewers say “Wow”. They will also want to upgrade projection systems with newer laser light source models. Worms are a little more tricky to put on the hook, but in the end, not complicated.
  3. Tackle your complicated designs using your most excellent people and engineering. Don’t let your best resources get bogged down with the “corn” projects.  Figure out a way to free up their time so they can focus on the larger custom spaces and bring your client’s dreams to life.  They are like the professional anglers on the television.
  4. Give everyone the tools they need to complete the projects, but be careful not to fill your tackle box with a bunch of expensive lures like I did when I was little.  Only buy the tools you need right now. Update your own conference rooms, but don’t over do it.  The same goes for hiring new people, look for the skills that you are going to need for your pipeline, and then hire the people who have those skill sets.
  5. Don’t mistake volume for market share. I thought I was going to win that derby.

The key to the next few years will be to anticipate the sales volume bump, and then scaling appropriately, by putting the right people and tools in place. By following the above suggestions, (and never, ever asking me for fishing advice,) AV integration firms should be able to realize the upcoming spike in revenue, without being caught off-guard.

Fish on!

fish

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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.

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. :)