AV Groups in an IT World—How to Survive & Grow by Christopher Maione

9/6/2011 2:58:20 PM
By PSN Staff

This is a Part 3 follow-up of two previous articles which have created quite a bit of stir and lots of comments from both AV and IT professionals.

The previous articles are:
April: AV Department – You Will Likely Be Working For IT, If You Aren’t Already

May: IT Groups Want to “Own” the AV Departments – Good Luck

In any industry, the converging of two sets of responsibilities or two disciplines can sometimes be a painful growing process.

In the last few years, with tremendous economic changes, we have become no strangers to doing less with more and to wearing multiple hats.  But some changes are not just the result of economic times, downsizing or rightsizing – they are a result of technology advancing and moving towards a perceived more streamlined approach.  In this light, AV departments are being migrated or rolled into IT groups.

When considering AV and IT Integration, as I’ve said before, it isn’t coming, it is here.

Now our job is to position ourselves as AV professionals and as a market, to best handle the job “wars” when our two departments (AV & IT) converge.

So how do we best prepare ourselves to compete in this integration?  

Here is what you can do to keep / further your AV career while under an IT regime:
Continue to pursue your CTS accreditation.   Being accredited by InfoComm will provide you the knowledge, expertise and credentials to show that you are serious about your profession.
Wherever practical, look to complete any related IT certifications from Microsoft, Cisco, Avaya, HP, etc.  Push for your company to send you – and if that doesn’t work - take the courses on your own time and dime.  
To hone your skills and strengthen your own core services and skills, purchase  and read  applicable books, published through Infocomm.  There are books on CTS, AV Design, AV Systems Documentation, Setting up Meetings, AV Essentials, AV Installation Best Practices and more.  Check out InfoComm’s offering at: http://www.infocomm.org/cps/rde/xchg/infocomm/hs.xsl/7063.htm
If you are at the technical / technician level – learn the skills and get the certifications needed to “do more” at your job. 

Some examples:
• If your facility has lots of video projectors, learn how to properly change lamps.
• If your AV systems include CODEC’s – learn them inside and out.  
• Learn how to configure setup, operate and perform firmware updates.  
• Note that these are good fundamental skills to have and skills that will further demonstrate your value when you are able to perform them ( usually quicker, easier and less expensive) versus having to place a service call to have them done by others.

Know what technology is coming and what will be obsolete, upgraded or replaced.  To do this, maintain close communication with your suppliers, industry manufacturers, and other industry professionals to enable you to be “in the know” with regard to key information and trends.
Pursue classes / certifications in Green Technologies. Green is here and technology experts with credentials will continue to be in demand for any upcoming Green / LEED projects.
Get to know the key AV manufacturers and their product lines (AMX, Crestron, Extron, etc.)  and develop relationships with their local sales representatives.
Get to know your local AV System Integrators.  These folks can and will be your strongest allies when crunch time comes.

Develop your people skills.  This is one aspect where AV professionals already do a much better job than IT.  AV professionals must deal daily with top level executives and understand what it takes to provide support in a high pressure environment.  AV is about supporting PEOPLE, not just AV Systems.
When supporting the “higher ups” take the opportunity to demonstrate your communications skills and your technical talent.  I have found being courteous, supportive, direct and concise works well at the executive level.  Give them the short / brief facts and let them know you have their interests under control.   Don’t go “geek-speak” on them.  Display confidence in your role.
Support your users.  Whatever it takes.  Show them you are willing to pursue whatever channels are available to get them what they want / need to do their jobs.
Strive to grow.  Today you may be managing a conference room but in a few years you want to be managing the department.  Any good manager should respect a subordinates eagerness and right to develop their skills, grow in their positions and earn more money.
Understand the AV and IT installation process, how they are similar and how they are different.  IT may be used to building a network, switches, servers etc. but this is a lot different than making sure that conference rooms around the country / world are all designed & configured properly for reliable operation with easy to operate user interfaces. Both are important but the impact on the client is different.  Network issues are one thing, but screw up a companywide town hall meeting and heads will roll.
“Manage” the AV facilities / systems you support.  Show your boss what you are doing to keep the AV systems running and the business units you support happy.  Don’t just go about your daily routine without recording, logging and compiling data.  This could be anything including:
• Room Usage Reports
• Preventive Maintenance & Service  Plans
• Asset Management (bar code and organize all of the AV equipment!)
• Expendables Inventory
• Exposure!  Let’s do a better job of letting people know who we are and where they can find us and how we are intricately involved in AV projects and daily operations.  

PLEASE NOTE: AV specialists are a unique breed combining both technical and practical aspects and typically approach what they do with a passion.  We are overworked, undervalued and underpaid for what we do.  We are being forced to deal with some IT executives that JUST DON’T GET IT and who for one reason or another, don’t yet see AV as a driving force that can strongly impact a project’s ultimate success. The day will come when this thinking will cost them their job.  Going forward, it will be our job to make them understand.

Finally. If you are in one of those unique, dedicated AV specialists under the thumb of a naïve IT exec and being “ignored” and pigeon holed into a dead end, no light at the end of the tunnel job – here is my advice – LEAVE.  You are way too valuable to be underpaid and unappreciated.  Talented AV specialists will always be in high demand.  Know your worth.

We are going to go through some difficult times as AV and IT departments merge – but in the long run I strongly believe our talents and skills will prevail and we will one day get the respect we deserve and the pay to go along with it.

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, as well as a member of several standards committees, he promotes the betterment of the AV industry through his extensive involvement.  Reach him at cmaione@chrismaione.com

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