Rapidly advancing technology makes people more important than ever.AV technology continues to advance at a fast,
sometimes alarming pace. As government technology managers, we are faced with the task of applying new technologies to meet the needs of our agencies. We are also challenged by the need to make our existing technology investments last as long as possible. Advances in automation and remote management are making it possible to do more with less, and to establish centralized AV support models. In many agencies, on-site technicians have been replaced by AV network operation center engineers. Cables and gaffing tape have given way to databases and mouse clicks. Despite these changes, 80 percent of our time is still spent making the equipment work. We have made amazing progress, but the user experience with AV technology is still too frequently unreliable. How can this be possible? It is because we have not yet figured out how to deal with the people factor. People are at the root of the problems, as well as the solutions.
One people problem is the lack of understanding of end-user needs. As the advocates for the end-users in our agencies, it is imperative that we understand what they want, what they need, and what drives them nuts. We need to take the time to engage with our internal customers so we can translate their functional requirements into systems deliverables. At one of my previous employers, I took the time to interview every senior leader and many of the rank and file in my office. I was repeatedly told that no one had ever asked them what they thought or what they needed. I found this disappointing, but not unexpected. By incorporating their feedback, I was able to greatly improve conference facilities and training room designs. I was also able to gather additional important information to share with other departments. Gathering end-user requirements can be as simple as an email survey, or as complex as hiring a team of consultants to gather and analyze detailed data. No matter how it's done, the time spent underst ding end-user needs will pay off. It helps to develop trust and relationships with stakeholders. It also results in systems that are intelligently designed to provide the right experience for the users. As AV evolves from loosely connected equipment, past stovepipe solutions, and on to seamless services, the "people experience" will be paramount. Understanding the needs of customers will help us to design simple systems and intuitive control interfaces that will empower end-users to experience high-quality communications and collaboration.
The other people problem is that technology is more complex than ever, and few people understand AV. Without top-quality AV staff, we are destined to continue patching systems together and reacting to problems. Fortunately, there are a number of ways to get good AV staff. To find the best people, you have to look in the right places. Sites like InfoComm International's employment page and jobsav.com are a good start. Better yet, ask around. Develop your industry network by attending events, tradeshows, training, and meetings outside of your agency to build up your contacts.
If the right people still can't be found, develop the ones you have. The first step is to get them certified. Industry, manufacturer, and internal training are all available options. If you are the only person that has the knowledge that is needed, take the time to pass on your knowledge and skills. Schedule brownbag lunches or formal training sessions. It doesn't matter how you do it, but find ways to constantly improve yourself and your staff.Your systems will be better for it.
Many of us in the government rely on contractors for critical support. If you want to have the best contract support, make sure your contracts include training and development criteria. You may also want to consider looking at AV companies for contract support.
No matter where your people come from or how they are developed, it's essential that they work as part of a unified team. Developing and empowering your staff will lead to significant improvements in system performance. Don't forget that your contractors, integrators, and end-users are also a part of the team, so treat them as partners in your mutual success. Advances in AV technology have the potential to reinvent communications and to spark the next wave of progress. In order for that potential to be realized, we must do our parts to improve systems performance. Our manufacturing, design, and integration partners are doing their part to improve their products and services. It is also up to us as technology managers to keep up with the pace of AV innovation so we can use these products and services properly to meet the needs of our end-users.
Gary L. Hall, CTS-D, CTS-I, is a program management execution officer at the National-Geospatial Intelligence Agency (NGA) in Bethesda, MD. He is also an adjunct instructor at the InfoComm Academy and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and are in no way officially endorsed by NGA, and do not necessarily represent the views of the United States.