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Category Archives: Conferencing

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

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PCD Hires “@PKaudiovisual” As New Engineering Manager

The following press release was originally posted on the PCD blog http://www.pcdinc.net/blog/

SANTA ROSA, CA – PCD, Inc. (http://www.pcdinc.net) is pleased to announce that Paul Konikowski, CTS-D has joined the NorCal firm as the new Design Engineering Manager.  Paul brings a wealth of knowledge of the AV integration industry, as well as real world experience in live event production and information technology.

Paul’s career started in information technology with a co-op position at Critikon, a medical device manufacturing company owned by Johnson & Johnson. Performing a mix of help desk functions and network wide system upgrades, Paul learned the value of good customer experience (CX).  Paul supported about 200 users in everything from Microsoft Windows and Office migrations to printer maintenance to mainframe server data backups.

After graduating from Georgia Tech in 2001 with a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Engineering, Paul shelfed his computer skills for few years, and decided to become a “sound guy”.  Starting at the bottom, pushing brooms, driving trucks and stacking speakers, he quickly learned the technical ins and outs of live audio reinforcement from veteran sound engineers at Snow Sound and other live sound companies.

Since 2004, Paul has worked in audiovisual integration and unified communications. At North American Theatrix, he built equipment racks and installed loudspeakers, PTZ cameras, video projectors, flat panel displays, and other AV components for theaters, casinos, hotels, schools, aquariums, and museums.  He obtained his Infocomm CTS certification and went to work for HB Communications as an Associate Engineer, learning AutoCAD and AV system design, and then obtained his Infocomm CTS-D certification.

In 2007, Paul decided to relocate from Connecticut to California and became the Senior Consultant at Rosen Goldberg Der & Lewitz, a smaller consulting firm who specializes in architectural and environmental acoustics in addition to traditional AV design and engineering.  As the local market shifted from consultant-driven construction to design-builds in existing buildings, Paul decided to move from consulting back to integration, joining Snader as a Systems Design Engineer.

In 2011, Paul began freelancing, doing business as PK Audiovisual.  He continued to do AV design and engineering, but also moved into social media, technical marketing, blogging, advertorials, whitepapers for consumer electronics, wireless home theater speakers and mobile devices. By becoming a blogger and online content writer (oftentimes ghostwriting), Paul helped to bridge the gap between audiovisual technology providers, AV consultants, equipment distributors, systems integrators, and end-users.   Over the next 5 years, Paul took on a number of clients including Stichfix.com, Arcata High School, HDMI, MHL and WiSA, and then worked full time as a Technical Marketing Engineer with Starin, an AV distributor, hosting online training and visiting consultants and integrators.  It was during this time that Paul started working a lot of industry trade shows like CES, ISE, NAMM, and CEDIA.  In recent years, Paul has worked full time as a Multimedia Solutions Architect for Strategic Products and Services, and part time for RGD Acoustics, Zoom, and Creation Networks.

As the new leader of the PCD engineering department, Paul will work as a “player-manager”, delegating projects, while taking on his own large scale projects. By leveraging his engineering background with his consulting experience, he leads the PCD engineering team, implementing large scale audio-visual systems, initially awarded through the “Design-Bid” and “Design-Assist” processes. PCD is also a full service “Design-Build” integrator; recent projects include performing arts centers, universities, schools, sports stadiums, corporate telepresence, houses of worship and more. Paul’s main goal at PCD is to maximize efficiencies in the engineering department, delivering quality drawings and products, meeting all time commitments, and building long term relationships with audiovisual consultants and other business leaders in the San Francisco Bay area.

Bill Graham, PCD Director of Operations, is working with Paul to build up his team of engineers.  If you or someone you know is looking for work in wine country, please check out the Careers page on the PCD website (http://www.pcdinc.net/about/careers/) for more information about these exciting openings.

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