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

Advertisements

Cybersecurity In Audiovisual Systems

You Should Consider Cybersecurity During All Phases Of An Audiovisual Installation

By Paul Konikowski, CTS-D

Earlier this month, the San Francisco Bay Area was graced with the presence of President Barack Obama, who was here to participate in a Cybersecurity Summit at Stanford University.  *Side note*, I am still unsure if it’s spelled as one word or two, cyber security, or with a dash, cyber-security, and the online jury seems to be rather undecided. So for the sake of brevity, I am sticking with the one-word-version, cybersecurity. *End side note*. At the aforementioned summit of cybersecurity experts, students, and information technology managers in Palo Alto, Mr. Obama signed an executive order encouraging the private sector to share cybersecurity threat information with other companies and the U.S. government.

Rising stock prices of cybersecurity software firms like Palo Alto Networks (PANW), FireEye (FEYE), and CyberArk (CYBR) have also reflected this increased level of awareness. Why? Because unlike guns or nuclear warfare, cyber hacking can happen right under our noses, for years and years, without anyone even noticing. Larger firms have realized that they need the best of the best to combat these criminals, and investors have taken notice to the growth potential of these new age software “heroes” who will do battle for a price, much like the Routiers, the early mercenary soldiers of the Middle Ages.

As audiovisual experts we also need to become IT cybersecurity experts, at least to some degree. At minimum, we have to know what risk we are adding to the network before, during, and after the AV installation. Here is a list of ways you can protect your audio, video, and control systems against theft and hackers, in no particular order:

  • Have a frank and honest discussion with the project team about cybersecurity. Find out who is in charge of the network, and who will need access to the systems.
  • Use motorized projection screens that are fitted into the ceilings to discourage theft.
  • Mount projectors using security boxes, or scissor lifts to hide them up inside the ceilings.
  • AV touch panels and camera controllers often have passwords, but are they updated?
  • Portable TVs and poorly mounted speakers are easy targets; don’t “tempt” thieves
  • Ping all projectors and flat-panel television type displays once every minute. If the display does not respond, assume it is being stolen and automatically email security
  • Interactive whiteboards, mice, and keyboards are generally trustworthy, but who is really checking that USB stick that automatically downloads this or that app to the laptops?
  • Don’t assume that the person in charge of your computer network is the best one to test the AV installation for bugs or security breach points. Hire an expert to test it.
  • Backup all files at least once a day to a secure offsite and/or cloud storage facility.
  • Microphones and tableboxes should be periodically checked for James Bond type “bugs” that can listen to private meetings. It’s not always the newest technology that you need to worry about!
  • Videochat and audio conferencing suites should never be left unlocked while not in use
  • Make sure that end users know when a camera is on or when microphones are open.
  • Digital signage and way-finding kiosks are updated via website; use unique passwords.
  • Unfortunately, most AV equipment racks are made by just a few manufacturers, and each uses one or two different key codes in their door locks. Once you have a set of the common AV rack keys, you can open almost any locked AV equipment rack in the U.S.
  • “Security screws” can also limit the amateur thefts, but any real crook will have tools.

These are just a portion of the areas that the AV Design Engineer and Project Manager need to address during a project. The real problems are the bugs and “holes” that are accidentally left in a program, that nobody catches, mainly because, no one is looking for them. That is why it is critical that today’s AV integration firms hire a well-trained, experienced QA (quality assurance) department who will double-check the engineer’s design, the programmer’s code, and the completed installation.

We all make mistakes, its human nature. And even when we don’t make mistakes, we certainly overlook things that others might catch. Having someone else check your AV design, bug test your code, or evaluate your network or website for cybersecurity threats will always uncover more than checking it yourself.  If you are not putting up “constant vigilance” against the hackers, and paying an expert to test your systems, then you are just living in denial, thinking that your systems are working properly and secure. If these hackers can break into insurance companies and Target, you have to assume that they are trying to hack into your systems as well, (or that they already have!)

constant vigilance

Moiré Patterns in Video Conferencing

Watch What You Wear When On Video

By Paul Konikowski, CTS-D

As I religiously watched Nightly Business Report with Tyler Mathisen and Susie Gharib last Friday, I could not help but notice the dapper suit coat that Tyler was wearing. Unfortunately, the reason I noticed his coat was because of the wavy moiré pattern his coat created in the YouTube video stream, see below. The moiré pattern is instantly recognizable when Tyler comes on about 40 seconds into the program:

I can not say if this pattern was detectable on high-definition or standard-definition television sets, because I recently “cut the cord” of cable television, and now watch NBR online. The YouTube video stream is decent, but not high definition, and it could be the down-sampling that caused the moiré pattern. Here is another YouTube video that illustrates the moiré effect when two similar sets of parallel lines intersect:

What happened in Friday’s NBR video was Tyler’s coat had vertical and horizontal lines that intersected with the horizontal scan lines of the video stream. Video is traditionally recorded as of horizontal lines of pixels, and each pixel is essentially a sample of the actual color or pattern being recorded. So when these sampling lines intersect with Tylers’ coat lines, a moiré pattern emerges in the video.

I was surprised to see this happen on such a long-running business news show on PBS and other stations, but maybe the pattern was not visible on the professional 1080p cameras and broadcast monitors? Maybe they did not notice until it was uploaded to YouTube? My guess is that Tyler only had one coat with him, so there was little they could do about it before they started airing. Hopefully, CNBC and Tyler learned a lesson, and he will try to avoid those patterns in the future, at least when on video.

This video lesson applies to all of us, not just television newscasters. For example, if you are working at or attending an online university, you certainly do not want moiré video patterns that distract from the teaching. Corporate video conference systems like GotoMeeting, Webex, Polycom and Cisco are also prone to moiré patterns, and many people use Skype, Facetime, or Google Hangouts to video conference with family and friends. So how can you avoid it? First, avoid wearing shirts or ties with small parallel lines. How small depends on the resolution of the camera, the sampling rate, and the distance. Since there are so many variables, just avoid parallel lines, or plaid or checkered outfits (like Tyler Mathisen in the first video).

In addition to avoiding moiré patterns, and watching what you wear, you should always think about two things whenever you video conference: sound and lighting. Is there any background noise from windows, televisions, or other people talking? You should reduce this background noise before you start any conference call by closing windows and doors. You should also close the blinds or shades and turn on all of the lights, as this will help with the room acoustics as well as the lighting. Sunlight is the enemy when it comes to indoor video, because the contrast is too much, so its best practice to use artificial lighting from above, ideally angled towards the faces.

If possible, you should always do a test video call beforehand, and ask the “far end” how you look and sound to them on video. Tell them exactly why you are asking, and ask them to be honest. It’s the video conference equivalent of asking a friend, “do I have anything stuck in my teeth?” after eating a big meal. In the end, everyone wins.

If you have any questions about moiré patterns, video conferencing, lighting, or room acoustics, please don’t hesitate to comment below, or write me directly at pkav.info @ gmail dot com.