A Quandary for the AV Engineering Manager: Remote Versus On-Site Support

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When estimating a project that includes AV system programing, I am often asked my opinion on on-site support verses remote support. As an integrator, both solutions pose positive and negative effects on both the project and the business. The first and foremost question to ask: “What is the end user’s expectation?” This answer could eliminate the need for any debate and make the decision clear. However, most end users do not have an “expectation” when it comes to how their system is commissioned, as long as it works and is completed by the date promised. So let’s look at the driving factors behind such a decision.

For me, the major driving factor that I take into account is the complexity of the system. The more devices being controlled or the method of which we are controlling them can sometimes be very difficult to commission remotely. Room combining, controlling a DSP, multiple displays, multiple touch panels, multiple processors, and multiple user levels are all things that I take into account when defining the “complexity” of a system. If the system is getting to the point where a number of the factors come into play, then on-site support is usually the way to go.

The skill set of the on-site team is another factor to take into consideration. Can they work efficiently with a remote programmer? Do they have the skills and the vocabulary to load, test, and verbalize any issues to the programmer? It sounds pretty basic, but having a good understanding of how a control system works is not a skill all AV techs possess. If the on-site technicians do not know how to set IP IDs, Cresnet IDs, Axlink IDs, IP tables, or set up the control ports or network ports on the other devices being controlled, then on-site support may be the way to go. If the technicians on site can handle the setup and the system is not too complex, then remote support is a possibility.

The next two factors, schedule and proximity, are more about convenience. If the programmer is close enough to drive to the site and put in a good day’s work, then it makes sense to be on site. With more and more AV control systems being sold in to projects, the schedule does have to be managed. If a programmer goes on site for even a few hours of a day, the chances of starting or changing gears to work on another program are slim.

Another factor that could require an on-site programmer is the security status of a room. In military installs, some rooms may be classified and therefore will not allow any remote access from inside the room. These instances will require on-site support every time.

The final factor is the availability of technology. To support an installation remotely would require some sort of internet connection. There are many “remote desktop” programs available to choose from, a few examples being GoToMeeting, Team Viewer, and WebEx. Some manufacturers have licensed their own proprietary versions. These software programs allow for a programmer to take remotely access an on-site laptop and do most of the uploading, firmware upgrades, and setup. Even though you may be using remote software to control the local laptop, the local laptop will still need all the software that the devices require to set them up and transfer files. I have found it convenient to have two “deployable” laptops here at the office that can be shipped out to a job site when needed. I know that they have all the software updated and ready to go when the time comes as it can take hours sometime to update and install software that is needed remotely.

What factors do you consider when deciding when to send a programmer or engineer on site?

Mike Hutcherson is an engineering manager for Herman Integration Services and an InfoComm certified technology specialist.


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