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Out of Office

Videoconferencing boosts productivity and av sales


Success in the videoconferencing segment comes with expanding beyond the meeting room end-point into designing and selling complete end-to-end solutions, including end-points, infrastructure, management tools, recording, and streaming technologies.

Videoconferencing technology has come on in leaps and bounds over the last decade, and systems are now found in a broad range of corporate, healthcare, education, and other market sectors. Going forward, what can system designers and integrators do to ensure continued growth in the videoconferencing market?

Those technological advances, coupled with an economy that is forcing many businesses to think twice before sending anyone across the country for a meeting, have certainly led to significant growth in the sector. “Business decision makers have acknowledged the value of these types of advanced communications to improve efficiencies, to have a competitive advantage in the marketplace,” confirmed Randy Riebe, director of AV integrator business development for Polycom.

“In the next few years video is going to be an integral part of communications strategy for most everybody,” predicted Joel Brazy, a sales rep for Pennsylvania-based integrator Advanced AV. The key, he said, is getting clients “over the hump into video.”

The corporate, healthcare, and education sectors have all jumped into videoconferencing in recent years. As Brazy observed, there are actually few differences in videoconferencing requirements between the sectors: “It’s not as much the content as it is the communications strategy.”

“It’s really becoming a business tool,” agreed Riebe, who has observed different requirements within each sector, ranging anywhere from conventional telepresence environments to mobile, personal solutions. “There’s a wide combination of utilization of the technology within each of these verticals.”

How then might integrators grow their business in the videoconferencing market? According to Riebe, those currently growing are very focused, and offer display capabilities and a knowledge level that are adding value to their customer relationships. “By that I mean they have a very specific focus on video communications. We’re seeing specialty video overlay teams investing in training as well as demonstration facilities for the technology. We’re also seeing that they’re expanding beyond the meeting room end-point and they’re designing and selling complete end-to-end solutions, including end-points but also containing infrastructure, management tools, recording, and streaming technologies.”

Integrators such as Advanced AV are indeed taking more of a holistic approach with clients. “It’s more selling the whole system rather than looking at videoconferencing as the only thing in the room,” Brazy said. “It’s looking at the company and at their communications needs. If they plan to use video as a core communications strategy, then you want to start looking at integrating the company and not just integrating the room.”

But, he noted, “As respectful integrators, we also want to talk [clients] down from a ledge. It’s important for us to be responsible and tell them no when we feel the return on investment is not going to be there. The main thing is identifying their pain points, and coming up with a solution that is cost effective and gives them a high ROI, and develop the relationship around that.”

The glitz and glamour of a high-end telepresence system is attractive, of course, but there is one simple truth with any videoconference setup, as Riebe pointed out. “Even on a video call a large portion of the communication is verbal. If you lose the audio and you still have the video the call is pretty well done. If you lose the video and have the audio you continue the call.”

Whatever the solution, the most important factor for the user is that it works—the details do not matter. That goes for the entire setup, Riebe said: “They don’t want to know the details of the technology. What they want is a consistent and reliable experience; they want it to be utilitarian. It’s changing the positioning from knowing about the technology and everything that goes in it to providing for the specific utilization that they’re looking for, and a user interface that’s very simple.”

Control systems can range from a custom analog interface, as simple as one or two buttons and a volume knob, to a complex Crestron or AMX control system, said Karl Winkler, director of business development at Lectrosonics. “And with the proliferation of iPad and other tablets as ways to control these systems, the flexibility is definitely there. It’s really up to what the client wants or needs or can afford in terms of how extensive the programming is, in how many places there are going to be interfaces, what do they look like, and so on.”

Steve Harvey (psnpost@nbmedia.com) has been west coast editor for Pro Sound News since 2000 and also contributes to TV Technology and Pro Audio Review. He has 30 years of hands-on experience with a wide range of audio production technologies.

Audio Matters

End users are beginning to understand the importance of audio DSP, reported Karl Winkler, director of business development at Lectrosonics, especially for mission-critical applications. “They need it to not just pass audio but to do a good job of passing audio, to knock down echo and things like that.”

Customers are willing to make the investment in DSP technology when they understand the importance of good audio and the consequences of bad audio, Polycom’s Randy Riebe said. “But so many times during the selling or explanation process that part of the conversation is never truly addressed.”

What is said, and how, is critical to any conversation, so distractions due to poor audio can be detrimental, commented Winkler. “People might misinterpret what gets said. There’s also fatigue; bad sound will wear you out very quickly. Your brain tries to interpret what it’s hearing and tries to subtract the noise and distractions. It’s much better if you can do that with electronics and DSP.”

“Audio is the most difficult to properly set up, because of the acoustics in the room, the surfaces, focal points, mic patterns, speaker patterns,” said Joel Brazy of Advanced AV. “There are so many things that go into an audio presentation that don’t go into a video installation.” But end users don’t care about the details, they just want to hear and be heard. “The audio has to be invisible.”

—S.H.