Systems contractors can provide real value in helping enterprises to reduce complexity, and truly unify their communications. Acano’s platform achieves this by delivering one user experience across every screen. With enterprises large and small realizing how unified communications can have a positive impact on operations, supply chain management, workflow and collaboration, UC as a concept is not necessarily a tough sell. Deployment, however, is another issue, and systems contractors can present themselves as trusted partners in helping their clients navigate through the challenges associated with taking advantage of everything this technology offers.
Larry Satterfield, global vice president of sales at UC platform developer Acano, noted that today, a typical organization uses one tool for audio conferencing, another for video, and yet another for the web. “We see it trending toward simplicity: meshing all of that info in one platform so that they all work well together,” he said, “because they struggle with getting their users to adopt these tools at a high rate when they’re all different.”
While IT departments in large organizations may oversee UC deployment in-house, Satterfield said that systems contractors are sought out for their specialized knowledge. “They’re using AV integrators because they have a level of expertise that’s higher than theirs in the deployment of these tools, and an understanding of how to position these tools within the enterprise to drive the rate of adoption,” he said, noting that systems contractors play a significant role in ensuring that UC, once deployed, is actually used within the organization.
Systems contractors can help enterprise customers understand how UC can be adopted into their workflow to achieve things like improved productivity, faster to-market timelines and more efficient troubleshooting in the supply chain. Because UC deployment is generally driven by IT departments, systems contractors must be in possession of the skills required to speak the tech manager’s language. “The word ‘unified’ to me means ‘integrated,’ so you need to have the competency and skills,” said John Poole, senior director of business development in the Global Cloud and Service Provider Solutions Group at Polycom. What systems contractors need to decide, he said, is whether they will develop these skills in-house, or partner with IT integration firms. “AV integrators will always have a role integrating the componentry—that business is a healthy business, and there will always be a need to integrate these rooms. Where the new business opportunity is, is not just taking boxes and plugging them in, but integrating them into systems where those rooms become more integrated into the business.”
But John Greene, vice president of sales and marketing at Advanced AV, a systems contractor based in West Chester, Pennsylvania, argues that the conversation about AV/IT convergence is over—or should be. “It’s a topic that’s greater than 10 years old; the only difference is that now it’s actually happening,” he said. “If you do not have certain skillsets—and in some cases, it’s not just IT skillsets [that are required], but telecom [skillsets] as well—then there is something wrong.” However, he also believes that AV integrators have acquired these skills and hired the right personnel in order to be able to deliver on these projects—at least those who wish to continue growing.
For Satterfield, the issue isn’t that systems contractors cannot find the expertise required for IT-heavy projects, it’s capturing the margins necessary to support that expertise. “The margins that they get on AV integration are substantial, compared to the margins they get for desktop deployments and infrastructure, which don’t look as strong,” he said.
Asmund Fodstad, executive vice president at Pexip, believes that one thing UC offers systems contractors is “a fantastic opportunity to sell more services,” he said, which, in turn, can be transformed into recurring revenue. But before jumping in to UC, he urges systems contractors to think about their business model carefully. “They need to think about volume, scalability, if they need to offer more technical support and where they want to play.” For example, you may consider becoming a Microsoft partner, but you need to decide if the investment is going to bring in a reasonable return.
Poole points out that one of the biggest issues with UC deployment is technology amortization. For organizations with a multitude of locations around the world, standardizing a deployment becomes a challenge, because each location has its own contracts for video, telephony, messaging, and presence, with varying durations and end dates. “It takes a great deal of time before all those things line up and you can begin consolidating them, and eventually realizing what the promise of unified communications is,” he said. That’s not to say organizations aren’t motivated to cash in on the benefits of UC: “We’ve never really had a truly unified communications environment. We’re all moving in that direction, but those companies [that] get there first and can imbed them in their workflow and culture, I think, are in the best position to be competitively differentiated within their own industries.”
Carolyn Heinze is a freelance writer/editor.
UC in the Cloud
Today, a fully equipped Crestron RL system is about half of what Adventist paid just a year ago for a videoconferencing setup. While not all organizations are moving toward cloud adoption, Larry Satterfield, global vice president of sales at Acano, notes that all businesses are at least considering it on some level. “If I’m an AV integrator, I need to go into the discussion with the ability to take deployment off the table—meaning, I can talk to the customer about on-prem deployment or a cloud deployment,” he said. Or, he adds, a hybrid solution. This doesn’t mean that systems contractors need to set up their own cloud, but they do require access to a cloud solution. “There are some AV integrators that are trying to set up their own cloud, which is a tough market right now, and I don’t know if I would encourage them to make an investment there. But there are certainly enough cloud providers right now that you can partner with one effectively.”
Adventist Health Adds Room-to-Room Videoconferencing to Microsoft Lync
Crestron RL, together with Microsoft Lync, is changing room-to-room video conferencing at Adventist Health System.
Adventist, a non-profit, faith-based healthcare organization that operates facilities within the Southern and Midwestern regions of the United States, has been running nearly all of its communications on the Lync platform, using it for instant messaging, file sharing, screen sharing, telephone, and peer-to-peer audio and video conferencing. Now, with the addition of Crestron RL, they can carry group-to-group videoconferences on Lync as well, dramatically improving collaboration and simplifying meeting setup.
“We have almost 45,000 people actively using Microsoft Lync, so we’re really excited to be implementing Crestron RL,” said Chris Stone, Adventist’s Telepresence and AV Manager.
The organization’s mission requires close communications between physicians, managers, technicians and staff at Adventist, so they have long employed video conferencing to bring people from different locations together for meetings. Today, Adventist has about 100 video conferencing rooms, plus plans to add as many as 50 more this year. Stone said they expect to continue to use the existing Cisco platform, but they have also wanted to add Lync-based video because Lync carries virtually all of their other communications.
It’s a good time to add these rooms, because the price of videoconferencing solutions has dropped dramatically. Today, a fully equipped Crestron RL system is about half of what Adventist paid just a year ago for a videoconferencing setup. According to Stone, the Crestron RL system offers more capabilities, is easier to use and has the same or better video quality.
Smart Grid ‘Quarterback’
PG&E Selects Jupiter Systems Canvas for CA Power-Grid Command Center
PG&E installed a Jupiter Systems Canvas to maintain visibility over the electrical grid. The new Fresno Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) control center is the first of three new control centers that will manage PG&E’s more than the 140,000 miles of electric distribution. It will be responsible for monitoring and managing the electrical distribution grid for more than 16 million power customers from Stockton to Bakersfield.
The heart of the facility is a high-security control room, the “quarterback for the system,” where operators at computer stations will keep an eye on power demand and circuit problems in real time, enabled through smart grid technology.
Employing Jupiter Systems’ Canvas collaborative visualization solution, PG&E’s operations team can maintain total visibility into the trends and power demands affecting California’s electrical grid while also delivering enhanced features to quickly process and analyze data in the event of outages, for a more secure, efficient and responsive smart grid.
The Canvas solution gives PG&E an unprecedented level of visibility for its control room operators while time-sharing that visibility with its remote field teams.
PG&E’s service crews travel in vehicles equipped with GPS systems, which communicate with the operators back at the command center, enabling PG&E to get visibility into which service crews’ area are available and closest to outage areas at any given time. PG&E’s service crews will also be able to access and interact with the same visual information and data that is available to operators in the control center, making for more efficient and collaborative efforts to maintain the power grid and deliver reliable service.