AV Purchases: Are You Asking the Right Questions?

If you’ve worked in IT for a few decades, you know the old saying: Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM. Today, some replace “IBM” with “Cisco.” Either way, the point remains that IT historically has had an 800-pound gorilla whose products are a relatively safe bet.

No such safe harbor in pro AV. Sure, Cisco has become a major player in videoconferencing and digital signage, but it’s not seemingly everywhere in AV the way that it—and IBM—are in IT.

The next best thing is to take a gander at what your peers are asking vendors and integrators when they’ve vetting AV solutions and services. One opportunity is a new Biamp Systems whitepaper,“IT Insights for AV Professionals. Although it’s designed to help AV integrators sharpen their sales skills, it’s useful for technology managers, too, as a way to see how their questions and concerns line up with the ones that their peers typically ask.

For example, the paper breaks down the major IT titles, such as network administrators and CIOs. Network administrators typically ask:

·How will your solution impact my network (bandwidth requirements, QoS, security, latency, etc.)?

·How will your solution affect existing systems or applications?

·What are the technical requirements for your solution? Will I need a dedicated network?

·What future upgrades will be required, and how will that be facilitated?

·What level of support is included?

Another reason why sales primers such as Biamp’s are worth reading is because they provide insights into what the person on the other side of the RFP is thinking. For example, they know you’ll probably ask about ROI and TCO, so don’t disappoint. Plus, if your organization is typical, you’ll need those numbers anyway to sell the project to your CFO. That’s why Biamp’s paper cites a Gartner report that says, “We typically see the CFO having to authorize all major investment in IT projects.”

And that’s what AV projects increasingly are: IT projects. It’s not just because it’s often the IT department that’s responsible for spec'ing and supporting videoconferencing, digital signage, and AV systems. It’s also because those systems ofteny piggyback on the enterprise’s LAN and other infrastructure.

As the lines between AV and IT blur, it’s also important to ask IT-centric questions and then watch the body language of the vendor or integrator on the other side of the table. For example, if the proposed solution involves power over Ethernet, do they squirm when you ask about whether unmanaged switches will be used? Or do they look you straight in the eye and immediately rattle off how their architecture won’t create security holes?

Those are just a few examples. Ask away. After all, it could be your job on the line.

Since 1998, Tim Kridel has covered the tech and telecom industries for a variety of publications and websites, including AV Technology, Carrier Ethernet News, Digital Innovation Gazette, Pro AV, and InAVate. His coverage includes Carrier Ethernet, mobile apps, speech recognition, digital signage, FTTx, videoconferencing, Wi-Fi, and cellular. He can be reached at tim@timkridel.com.