I recently sat down with two friends for lunch. We are all in the AV business and each of us has spent some time working in the corporate AV support function. As we ordered our food we exchanged updates of “what happened to him” or “where did they end up?”. The conversation would eventually become centered on our corporate AV experiences and some of the issues we encountered. Each of us has a horror story of sorts but I find it odd that through all these years some of these issues are still unsolved mysteries. Fact is some of the most challenging issues facing corporate AV support teams are not technology related or entirely AV related. As you read through this article you will noticed that these issues revolve around ownership of responsibilities, funding and how corporate silos hinder progress.
One of the issues that have remained a problem for as long as I can remember is Room Classifications. This may appear to be an easy topic but for those in the day to day support role this can be a nightmare. Let me try to explain. There are Conference Rooms with Technology, Conference Rooms without Technology, Standalone Video Conference Rooms, Integrated Video Conference rooms and Specialized Rooms such as divisible spaces and Auditoriums. Then there are the subcategories such as Private, Public or Special (More of those Later). The issue at hand is usually who owns the room. The simple answer would be the AV group since we provide the in room support & setup. Where it gets ugly is when something breaks, reaches end of life, renovations, relocations, and Upgrades. All of these issues will require an AV budget. Most AV budgets are centered on maintenance, supplies and consumables such as lamps and cables. When an item breaks this causes a strain on the budget unless you plan for emergencies by setting aside a percentage for those moments. Renovations and Relocations pose their own set of Problems since these mandates usually will come from a group outside of AV or IT. In these instances a groups such as Facilities or Engineering will lead the projects and with that you would assume that the technology would be funded by them. Not necessarily the case, as all three of us can attest. Both Facilities and Engineering will argue why they will not pay for technology. In most instances they may purchase the Mounts, Floor boxes, data and electrical. Again the AV group is asked to help. Like one of my lunch buddies said “After a couple renovations we are scrambling around the site to reset the projectors to a low setting and hope the bulbs last”.
As we continued on with our Lunch and Stories another infamous corporate AV struggle raises its ugly head. The exact quote was “So have any of you solved the Private vs. Public Room dilemma?” Private vs. Public sounds more like a legal battle on Capitol Hill rather than an AV support problem. AV Support team will provide a service regardless if it’s private or public. Where this gets really tangled is when Space Planning and Facilities ask for you to “attend a meeting”. As I previously stated public and private are not a problem from the support side. Where it can become an issue is when a private room “owner” wants an upgrade. The “private” title becomes a gray area of sorts. Since it is “private” the room owner in most companies will fund the upgrade. A side effect of Private room renovations can be non-standard technology entering the company which will cause unplanned issues for the support team. Imagine being the technician who needs to replace a bulb and you discover a new projector & lamp that you don’t have in your immediate supply stock.
By the time dessert comes around we are now knee deep in new Monitor and Projector talk and what the Latest digital connector is this month. As we ordered our coffee and our talk shifted towards “let’s do this again” someone blurts out Digital Signage like it’s a dirty curse word. Let me start by stating that we all love Digital signage and the benefits it can bring to companies. In our experience Digital Signage requires “Top Down buy in”. It starts with a high level request and quickly moves downhill faster than an Olympic skier on ice. Along the way the request flies by the various IT groups that should be part of the decision. Chances are Facilities will not see if until the final person in the chain receives the request to have Monitors installed in areas where there isn't any infrastructure i.e. outdoor signage.
In an ideal world a Group within IT would receive the request and prepare a team to handle the servers, connectivity and player units. While public/internal Communications would write, approve and develop the content with alongside a graphics group. AV support would assist with the Display maintenance and system display design and qualify the AV vendor’s installation work. But that’s an ideal situation. What we each have seen is various groups owning a piece of the pie but nothing is very clearly defined. User created material is posted, IT does not want to monitor the system, communications only gets involved for major announcements and no one has money for replacement parts or future expansion. So how does AV become the project lead? Simple AV vendors sell Digital signage but most of those sales happen without AV in the room. This is area where AV and IT do not converge. AV will now carry the responsibility to communicate to IT the project and IT will fight AV on Security issues and Bandwidth. Is there a Brightside to digital signage? I’m sure there is but it’s hard to see it during the initial rollout. If the company as a whole embraces the technology and makes a financial investment in the product then there is a very good chance of success.
So what’s the solution? Room Classifications are tough to solve. I guess accepting that there are many types of rooms is the first step and trying to find a single group to own the rooms and its technology would be a vast improvement. The group that makes the most sense would be Facilities but they have been down that road before with PCs and Telephones and those business machines are funded by IT. Maybe IT should own the technology in all Meeting spaces with or without technology since a projector could be used in a non tech room. This topic will continue to be debated for years to come. In Public vs. Private debate we feel it should be treated by corporation the same way a hotel treats its guest rooms. Essentially they are yours for the day, night, week, etc. You can sleep there but it is not your place of residence. It’s private since you own a key but you pay a price to have your bed made and the rooms vacuumed. If the TV does not work a maintenance person will come up to fix or replace the unit. The Hotel concept would also introduce a Hospitality software package and a Front desk to reserve spaces and better manage and control the rooms. The key is that rooms are the property of the corporation and Funding should come from them. The current situation would be like asking the hotel staff each fund a floor. Within months you would find differences just by taking the elevator and stopping on each floor. The best part is that software and solutions exist today that can help. It also helps that Hotels have been in business for years and the model works. Finally Digital Signage just needs a single owner who holds the budget and power to form a committee made up of various team members with the same goal in mind. That goal would be to maintain the existing and future deployments of the system, Develop fresh new content to engage the users, discover additional opportunities to increase the Return on Investment and keep an eye on the ever changing technology on the horizon.
In conclusion Lunch was great and we solved a few corporate issues along the way. I’ll save topics such as room scheduling issues, open space planning and how the “analog” sun is still at high noon instead of setting for some companies for another day.
Christopher Neto, CTS, is a consultant with AV Helpdesk Inc., a firm specializing in all aspects of AV design, engineering, project management, and programming. He is also an active member of InfoComm, its membership committee, and various councils. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on twitter at @Chris_neto.