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Understanding AV&IT Convergence to Deliver Superior Solutions in Your Facility

Ready or not, today’s communications technology has converged once disparate AV and IT technologies. This is evident in conferencing and communications applications such as immersive telepresence, integrated conference rooms, and portable video now found on nearly every device in a hand or in a pocket. While this convergence has been a natural and predicable outcome, are there synergies to be gained in this convergence, and are the underlying technical disciplines also converging?

As an executive, technology sponsor, or engineer it is important to have a clear answer to this question both as an individual, as well as organizationally. This understanding will ensure that your design and deployment strategy correctly accommodates the changing dynamics of AV and IT to ensure successful implementations. Evaluating objectives and key considerations within this converged space against the three phases of project fulfillment; design, implementation, and ongoing lifecycle support will provide an answer to this question as well as enable an understanding of what in fact has changed and what has remained the same.

DESIGN PHASE

A successful technology deployment project, as with any journey, requires a defined outcome in order to reach the desired end state. Design with a clear understanding of the requirements and remember that business is not truly looking for “conference rooms” or even “audio” or “video” conferencing, rather to enable an enterprise communications strategy that improves profitability and productivity through seamless and effortless communication. Simplicity in seamless, effortless communication, while easy to say, is anything but simple to implement; with ever advancing technology and increasing options this has become a formidable challenge.

AV Design Considerations

The AV expert is accommodating for many physical and environmental conditions—room acoustics, lighting, and HVAC, just to name a few. A quiet, low reverberance environment with appropriate accommodations for any room noise that cannot be physically mitigated, such as ventilation, will need to be addressed.

IT Design Considerations

As opposed to the AV expert addressing physical space issues, the IT expert is designing transport, defining access control, and accommodating endpoint and infrastructure challenges with Interoperability, firewall traversal, gatekeepers, and media gateways.

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IMPLEMENTATION PHASE

With the design completed and all stakeholders aligned, it is now time to move forward and implement the solution. Physical installations and various provisioning and programming activities are now completed and validated. AV resources ensure the room remediation such as conduit, millwork, and ceiling prep have been properly completed. IT resources work through device connectivity and programming, which will vary based upon the broader video estate.

Coexistent factors such as telepresence interoperability with H.323 endpoints or the presence of UC applications such as Lync or Jabber will necessitate accommodations such as TIP-enabled MCU’s and potential SIP trunking. It is important to understand that advancements in video and collaboration across the last 12-18 months, while standards based, have limited native Interop capability. Positive strides have been made recently on this front to better unify the environment. The industry is in a state of transition at present, however, and this means that additional accommodations are necessary for a fully collaborative environment.

AV Implementation Considerations

The AV experts’ focus during implementation consists primarily of physical installation, commissioning codecs, DSP’s, control devices, and performance testing. Once completed, system training will occur to ensure feature and functionality match expectations and users are familiar with how to use the system.

IT Implementation Considerations

The IT focus during implementation consists primarily of device administration and the configuration of any applicable intra-company and inter-company call routing and dialing plans. The presence of border controllers and gatekeepers will dictate inbound and outbound calling access and restrictions.

LIFECYCLE SUPPORT PHASE

The enduring success of a project is achieved or lost within the lifecycle support phase. This is not simply because it is the longest phase, but rather because it is the state in which users form their positions and opinions of the technology. Most perceptions will be made very early by the user community, typically within two uses of the system. Adoption of technology requires ease of use and stability, without both factors confidence will never be achieved and use will suffer.

AV Lifecycle Support Considerations

Sustainability is found through a disciplined design standards and an advocated product approach. All documentation as to the final design and control code need to be in hand to ensure and future room requirements cam be properly addressed.

IT Lifecycle Support Considerations

In order to successfully support moving forward from deployment, determinations need to be made regarding how the system/ room is scheduled, how users receive assistance when they have questions or experience problems, and how maintenance issues are addressed and future enhancements and software upgrades are implemented.

WORKING TOGETHER TO ENSURE A SUCCESSFUL PROJECT

Although there are certainly many areas of technological overlap between AV and IT, there remain substantial differences that continue to support the historical skill-set separation between the “AV person” and the “IT person.” While the AV focus tends to bias towards in-room elements that capture and enhance a conversation, the IT bias is towards transporting the content of the conversation to a remote site or sites and the protocols and security required to do so.

Acknowledging differences in specializations is not a declaration of inability for a subject matter expert (SME) to learn another specialization, rather recognition that they are separate disciplines and require separate training and experience. A discipline only converges after such time that the tools, knowledge, and underlying technologies also merge. In time there is a possibility that a full convergence will occur, however, due to the nature of the differences this is by no means a foregone conclusion. With the foundation of AV resting within the unchanging analog world of human speech, and the IT boundary extending only to the point at which analog is converted to digital, there will remain ample reasons for these disciplines to remain disparate and cooperatively coexist.

THE BOTTOM LINE

With implementation requirements vastly different, the success of your organizational AV/IT projects require acceptance that cooperation between multiple disciplines will be needed. Added complexity only further solidifies the need for specialists. Too often organizations try to solve knowledge problems with effort. This short-sighted approach will not only strain projects and deadlines, but often will adversely impact other areas of the business in the process. The convergence of technologies should not be confused with the convergence of disciplines.

A successful implementation is measured by the reliability and ease-of-use of the system. From the users perspective, there will be no disseminating between the interwoven technologies, it will simply fill a need. At the user level, through the seamless interoperability of all components, there is full technology convergence. We’ve all seen the lengthy credit roll at the end of a film, similar to the production of a movie technology implementations require the convergence of multiple disciplines to produce a final product. Therefore to ensure success, engage the appropriate experts then sit back, relax, and enjoy the show.

Bill Thompson is the Global Head of Technical Services at BT Conferencing in Westminster, Colorado. Bill has spoken at InfoComm on multiple occasions on behalf of the IMCCA to assist in further strengthening the collaborations industry. Reach him at b.thompson@bt.com or follow him on twitter at @bthompson_

DESIGN: PRIMARY AREAS OF FOCUS

AV

ROOM ACOUSTICS: Quiet, low reverberance environment with minimal surface reflectance.
LIGHTING: Fixture placement, contrast ratios, color and temperature.
PHYSICAL ENVIRONMENT: Hard point mounting and structural reinforcements.

IT

NETWORK & BANDWIDTH: Converged or overlay, Security Policy, WAN bandwidth access and control, QoS policy.
VIDEO INTEROPERABILITY: Native or via TIP enabled MCU and legacy endpoints.
CALL CONTROL AND ACCESS REQUIREMENTS: Firewall traversal, gatekeepers, media gateways (H.323 to H.320 and/or H.323 to SIP)

IMPLEMENTATION: PRIMARY AREAS OF FOCUS

AV

PHYSICAL INSTALLATION: Displays, microphones, racks, speakers.
COMMISSIONING: Alignment of physical devices, DSP, CODEC and Control devices. PERFORMANCE TESTING to ensure all code is performing correctly and sound quality is optimized.

IT

LAN NETWORK: IP addressing (Static or DHCP), VLAN creation to isolate video and mitigate broadcast traffic from within a converged environment.
REMOTE SITE CONNECTION METHOD & DIAL PLAN: Implement connectivity plan for outbound and inbound calling. Dial by IP, Alias, SIP URI.
INFRASTRUCTURE PROVISIONING: Access control (LDAP, etc.) and external database management (SQL, etc.) when appropriate.

LIFECYCLE SUPPORT: PRIMARY AREAS OF FOCUS

AV

DOCUMENTATION: Up to date as-built documentation and control code is essential to future serviceability.
CHANGE MANAGEMENT: A disciplined and structured approach to system changes is key to stability. Always know what was done, when, why, and by whom.
PARTNER RELATIONSHIP: To guarantee in-life issues are quickly addressed ensure you have a vendor relationship with a qualified AV servicer. This often is the installer of the room, however, as long as the proper documentation is available this can be any organization with the requisite skills.

IT

ROOM & SYSTEM SCHEDULING: The bi-product of a successful deployment is broad and consistent usage. This will require a web based scheduling system for both the room and the sites to be connected.
MAINTENANCE & ADMINISTRATION: Like any other technology these tasks must be performed regularly to ensure the ongoing functionality of the system. This included areas such as maintenance RMA for failed hardware or ongoing configuration administration and software upgrades inside of a quality program.
REAL-TIME USER SUPPORT: Users will have questions or encounter problems when using the system. Their ability to get support immediately, locally or remote, will be crucial and will the foundation of their confidence in the technology.

THE 3 KEYS FOR YOUR ORGANIZATION’S AV/IT PROJECT DEPLOYMENT

1. Ensure that for all projects there is a fully qualified Statement of Requirements that is aligned and agreed upon by all project stakeholders. There must be a defined agreement as to what the system will do once complete.

2. Leading edge can be fun, but it’s often referred to as “bleeding edge” for a reason. If your requirements demand the latest in technology and features, venture boldly in this direction so long as you have set expectations properly, both for yourself and for your organizations leadership. It should be anticipated that there will be challenges; this is the price paid for pioneering.

3. Engage the appropriate subject matter experts and project stakeholders to ensure all requirements are properly designed and implemented. This includes, but is not limited to the following; AV, IT, project management, procurement, and users.

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