IT Groups Want to “Own” the AV Departments – Good Luck by Christopher Maione

5/12/2011 12:34:03 PM
By PSN Staff

My April article entitled “AV Department – You Will Likely Be Working For IT, If You Aren’t Already” triggered several interesting responses from people in IT which had or were in the process of taking over AV responsibilities as well as AV staff who feared for their jobs as the big Cisco-mentality machine moved into taking over their domain.

This made me start to think more about the actual logistics of an IT group taking over AV responsibilities and what a wakeup call this would be in terms of supporting AV operations.

So let’s take a look at what’s involved:

AV Equipment Support
AV equipment is VERY different from IT equipment.  While I expect many IT support people can and will adapt, there will be a large learning curve.  Sure, there are AV components such as matrix switchers which are similar to IT equipment or a CODEC which is, in part, an IT network device, or a video projector which is fairly straightforward (it’s a video monitor hanging from the ceiling) – and a savvy IT tech will be able to pick up the manual and read enough to get by.  However, the AV equipment world includes microphones, digital audio mixers, equalizers, amplifiers, speakers, cameras, video transcoders, PC interfaces and an entire host of equipment which not only need to work and interface together - but also need to “work” properly in the conference / classroom environment.  This means external factors such as room acoustics and lighting play a part in the operation of the equipment.  Just the concept of the room environment influencing the operation of equipment will present a challenge to IT. Lighting and Acoustics in a conference room are VERY different than controlling the environment of a server room.

The Network
The IT network, by design is a fairly straightforward network based on the internet protocol IP. That’s it, IT has essentially one transmission methodology, IP. It comes down to bandwidth and moving packets at Mega or Giga bits per second (through switches) from point A to point B.
 
But the AV world is not so simple, let’s look at the AV “network.”

For audio, we have mic levels, line level and speaker levels and each of these signal types are specific to the components which process their signals.
 
For video, we have composite, S-video, component (in two flavors), RGBS, DVI, SDI, and HDMI.  For each of these signals there are associated resolutions for video of 420p, 720p, 1080i and 1080p and for computer display VGA, SVGA, XGA, WXGA  etc. (this the IT folks will understand).  However, good luck connecting these signals together and getting a proper image without a working knowledge of video.
 
For control  and control programming we have a variety of protocols  and languages to support our AMX, Crestron and Extron control systems.  We have protocols which include IR (infra red), RS-232, RS-422, DMX, and dry contact relay closures.  We have more than just keyboards and mice.  Our systems include touch panels, button panels, lecterns, conference tables, and table hatches.

AV Daily Operations
Here is where IT will have the loudest wake up call.  AV operations are complex and include scheduling, juggling, and supporting meetings.  Let’s start with room scheduling – this by itself is a large part of AV operations and overseeing scheduling is a full time job.  As I have said many times before, AV is more about supporting people and meetings versus supporting hardware.  Yes, I realize IT must support (screaming) users as well – but it’s mostly level one user support (my K key is stuck on my keyboard).  AV operations means getting to work early, before the first meeting and making sure the room is setup properly, the equipment is functioning, the “far sites” are connected and can see/hear from all endpoints.  AV operations means proper attire and attitude to “meet & greet” the client, review their AV requirements, load their presentations and show them how to operate the AV system.
 
AV Room Checks
Not something typically implemented in the IT world but any well run AV department knows the importance of daily room checks and inspection / testing to see all AV systems are operational.   This means turning the system “on” and thoroughly checking to see AV functionality is working, placing test calls, pushing touch panel buttons etc.  The AV world cannot wait for a user to report a problem – by then it’s too late.

AV Project Support
Another area beyond the expertise of most IT persons – the proper design of AV facilities - knowing all the ins and outs of screen size, site lines, good viewing area, audio coverage uniformity,  room acoustics, lighting, camera angles, etc.  Who will be there to ensure the (new) AV facilities are properly designed?  The IT world has more of a mentality “do it in-house” when in reality an AV consultant is needed.  There is also overseeing the AV project including selection of an AV vendor and ensuring procurement, fabrication, installation and commissioning are all properly executed (this isn’t the same as calling CDW).

In all fairness – I know several large firms / institutions where AV is under IT and it is a very successful model.  In each successful case the CIO has been smart enough to realize AV is a world of its own and have retained, trained, supported and (most importantly) respected the expertise of the AV professionals in their organization.  Most importantly, these firms provided the AV team with what they needed to support the AV facilities and the clients which utilize the AV systems.  This meant encouraging their individual growth and keeping them up to date on the latest, greatest AV technologies and industry certifications.  These are the firms with AV staff at Infocomm, attending training seminars and with CTS designations after their name.

Well integrated AV departments typically maintain their autonomy within the IT umbrella.

So as AV continues to get swallowed by IT – this heads up goes out to all those IT managers who think taking charge of AV will be easy.  Let me start by saying – it’s not easy.  It’s also a thankless role and you are only as good as your last successful meeting and you can be fired on a dime if and when an important meeting crashes.  AV systems are complex and different than IT networks.  The end users who utilize AV systems are typically under extra pressure – so situations are tense and tempers can flare.  Keyboards don’t talk back – but AV system users certainly do.  If you have good AV support people  – listen to them.  Many of the stories and situations they tell you will be unbelievable – but that’s AV.

For all you AV staff – fear not – your job is not in jeopardy (at least not in the long run).  Once the IT folks get a real handle on what AV support is all about – our roles will become more recognized and in demand.  Relatively speaking, IT support can be viewed as commodity compared to AV support.  In most companies, good AV support is a needed luxury.  


Christopher Maione, CTS-D, is president of Christopher Maione Associates, a firm specializing in all aspects of AV business, technologies, emerging trends and marketing strategy. Serving as an Infocomm Adjunct Faculty member since as well as on several standards committees, he continues to promote the betterment of the AV industry through his extensive involvement.  Reach him at: cmaione@chrismaione.com.

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