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.

AVaaS = Audio/Video as a Service

By now, most readers have heard the term SaaS, or Software as a Service, a new trend in the business of software.  Instead of investing large sums every time you upgrade, you pay as you go, by the month. Some common examples include Dropbox or Amazon Web Services (AWS). Some readers may have heard of XaaS, which stands for everything as a service.  So what about AVaaS? Audio/Video or Audiovisual as a Service, delivering software (DSP, videoconferencing, collaboration, and control code), professional services, monitoring, for a monthly fee. That’s right, I said a monthly fee for AV.

I am not the first blogger to write about AV as a Service.  My online colleague Nermina Miller attacked the subject way back in July 2015 when she worked for Infocomm, in her article Redefining AV as a Service.  More recently, rAVepubs blog squad writer Mark Coxon defined three areas to start selling AV as a Service: video conferencing, engineering, and digital signage.  Gary Kayye suggested audiovisual integrators start selling digital signage content years ago.  Some followed his advice, and the money, while others stuck with the traditional model, sell the equipment and installation, and then watched their flat panel margins shrink as the displays got thinner and thinner.

rAVepubs also recently interviewed the CEO of ZOOM, who has quietly snuck into the AV industry under the guise of videoconferencing Software as a Service.  But ZOOM is more than just SaaS, ZOOM has a professional services department, providing engineering and installation services.  If you are worried about ZOOM taking your business clients, Gary Kayye of rAVepubs asked the CEO directly about their policy:

If an AV integrator has an existing client relationship, all they need to do is register that client and ZOOM will not go or talk directly to the client without the integrator’s assistance. But, if ZOOM establishes the relationship directly, they will potentially sell the ZOOM system directly….But customers will purchase hardware by themselves […]

But customers will purchase hardware by themselves?  You heard right, the leading collaboration software company will sell them the AV system, but minus the hardware. The clients purchase the hardware directly from CDW,  or Amazon, and ZOOM does the installation, commissioning, training, and then charges a monthly fee for the ZOOM software.  Boom, ZOOM! That is how AVaaS is done, people.  Readers, take notes.

AVaaS is the OPPOSITE of what most AV companies call “Service”.  Say the word “service” to most integrators, and they will think “some old client called, they must have broke something, or they are otherwise unhappy, now someone has to drive over there and see what needs to be repaired, replaced, or just rebooted”

I try to explain AV as a Service using the cell phone model.  The average American cell phone user often spends a few hundred dollars on their phone, plus a monthly fee for service. Ok, I know, they mean cell service, aka coverage, but it’s the same model.

You need cell service or wifi to use your mobile devices, right?  You need the calling or chatting software, plus the other apps, to run on your phone, or it is worthless, right?  Some of those apps are free, some are a one time fee, others you might pay monthly.  Some SaaS sales models will offer the first month free, then a monthly fee, or a discount if you pay annually.  This is how you need to structure you AVaaS business.

OLD WAY: Integrator sells client conference room hardware, installation, and one time programming fee for the DSP and Control System.  Annual service plan is optional.

NEW WAY: Integrator sells the client the hardware once, or leases it to them. For the hardware to work, the client pays the integrator a monthly fee, which includes all service calls and software upgrades.  The client pay a monthly fee per room, just like you pay a monthly fee for your cell phone.  In return, they get free reports because you are now monitoring their AV systems for bulb life, energy usage, and downtime.

Savvy programmers will figure out a way to lock the AV systems if the client misses payment, just imagine the touchscreen and wall-mounted flat panel display saying…

PLEASE ENTER YOUR CREDIT CARD INFORMATION TO ENABLE AV SYSTEM

But most importantly, please remember that AV as a Service, is just that, a service! We are now in a service industry, not a sales industry. Customers can buy AV gear with a click of a mouse; what we offer our clients is our professional services. Keep that in mind the next time you get a “service call”. Instead of being annoyed, be glad your services are still needed. -pk

Like this post?  You also may enjoy “We Used To Be Heroes” by Paul Konikowski, CTS-D