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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My Do’s And Don’ts Of LinkedIn Profile Photos

If you are between the ages of 25 and 55, then chances are, you probably already have a LinkedIn Profile.  And chances are, you probably don’t think about it very often, unless you are job hunting (in which case, you may be updating your profile almost daily.)

Most people only update their work experience or skills when they revise their LinkedIn profile. More savvy B2B folks find ways to optimize their LinkedIn profile so that they rank higher in the LinkedIn Search results.  Others may ask for recommendations from former coworkers or clients.  But how much time and thought did they put into their LinkedIn profile photo?  My guess is most people have not thought about their photo since the day they uploaded it. How many times have you changed your photo?

LinkedIn has published guidelines for profile photos, but unless you are posting your company logo, your tagline, your favorite animal, or landscape, they will pretty much accept any photo as long as you are in it. If you break their easy-to-meet guidelines three times, they supposedly will not let you upload any more profile photos. However, I have seen some profiles of people who somehow got around this rule, and have a pet as their profile photo.  My guess is they uploaded the photo before the rules were created or enforced, and now they are essentially ‘grandfathered in’ (or would it be, ‘grandfather-Linked-In’?)

Remember that the FIRST thing someone sees when you show up in a LinkedIn search, or “People You May Know”, is your photo, and those first impressions count!  Yet for most people, the profile photo is the LAST thing they worry about!  So what kind of photo makes a good LinkedIn profile photo?  What makes for a bad one?

Here is my short list of Do’s and Don’ts of LinkedIn profile photos:

1. DON’T use your wedding photo, or a photo someone took of you while you were attending someone else’s wedding.  These are far too common and very easy to spot. Will you be wearing that tuxedo or strapless dress to your next interview?  Dapper!

Black and white professional headshot
My professional headshot in black and white

2. DO yourself a favor and get a professional headshot taken at least once every 5 years. No one likes meeting an older version of you after they saw the younger you online. Request a full color headshot and a black and white version of the same photo.  Beyond your LinkedIn profile, its good to have “your best face” on hand for other reasons like company newsletters, bylined articles, online dating sites, obituaries … “you never know when you are going to go” is my motto.  Might as well be ready for it.

3. DON’T use a photo that is obviously a cropped photo of you and someone else.  This is just as common as the wedding photos and drives me berserk!  Just because you were wearing a tie that day does not mean you look professional.  You look sweaty! And if you are going to crop out other people, you should also crop out that drink in your hand.

Example of cropped photo taken at a wedding
Cropped photo taken at a wedding

4. DO make sure to smile in your LinkedIn profile photo. Just like dating sites, people on LinkedIn want to work with happy people. Save your Resting Bitch Face for after you get the gig.

#LMRBFO = Laughing My Resting Bitch Face Off
#LMRBFO = Laughing My Resting Bitch Face Off

5. DON’T keep your profile photo blank.  If you don’t have a profile photo yet, then you probably should not have a public profile yet either.  No one wants to work with a ghost.  Plus, without a photo, how can the people you have previously worked with know that its actually you, and not someone pretending to be you?

6. DO include other items in your profile photo that are relevant to your career.  For example, if you are an audio engineer who typically works at concerts, then a photo of you standing next to a huge audio mixing console certainly adds value to your online resume.  It says “yes, I have done this before, so I am qualified”.  Or if you are a bowling coach, its okay to have bowling ball in hand.

7. DON’T wear sunglasses. Hey, I understand where you are coming from: I think I look better in sunglasses too, but its not appropriate on a professional networking site. Your eyes are the window to your soul, and by wearing sunglasses, you just closed the shades. The one exception to this would be if the person was visually impaired, or if they wear prescription glasses that transition to sunglasses in sunlight.  Also, if you use a photo taken outdoors, make sure your face is clearly visible.  Oftentimes, outdoor photos have too much contrast between the sunlight and shadows.

Sunglasses and Dreadlocks
Would you hire this shady dude?  I sure wouldn’t.

8. DO wear something that resembles what you would typically wear to your job on a day to day basis.  No wedding dresses, no hats, no tie-dyed shirts, no sports attire.  I don’t care how much you love your team; there are people on LinkedIn who do not.  Why jeopardize your career just because you are still bitter that the Hartford Whalers moved to North Carolina in 1997, and left Connecticut without any major sports team?  Not cool, Whalers!

9. DON’T have a coworker, friend, or family member take a photo of you using their mobile phone camera, standing in front of a wall or a tree.  Unless you are the photogenic type, these types of photos will never be as good as a professional headshot.  AND NO SELFIES. NO EXCEPTIONS.

Photo taken on Easter
Photo taken by my friend on Easter

10. DO make yourself stand out, but be careful: this can be a double-edged sword.  You may be wearing a t-shirt that says something funny in your photo, but others may not get the joke.  Better to use a photo from that time you went sky diving, or snorkeling.  These types of “adventure photos” will create instant conversation when you connect with someone new on LinkedIn. Photos of you receiving an award also show you are valuable.

Hopefully by now, you ‘get the picture’.  By putting a little extra time, effort, and yes, a little money into your LinkedIn profile, you will be sure to be putting your best business face forward, and your online resume will be much more professional. First impressions are everything, and online, that impression is limited to your profile photos.

Additional advice on LinkedIn:

https://pkaudiovisual.com/2014/02/05/social-media-networking/

If we are not yet connected on LinkedIn, here is my profile:
http://www.linkedin.com/in/pkaudiovisual/

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