Strategic Technology Planning

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Information overload alert! Like many technologists, government AV technology managers are constantly sorting through and trying to comprehend vast amounts of information. We do this to leverage the latest innovations that will improve the efficiency and productivity of our agencies. We must also apply new processes to the emerging needs of our stakeholders. But how can we find the time to do this when our days are spent putting out fires and making sure that events go smoothly? It may seem a radical idea, but we should consider taking a step back from the day to day and allow ourselves to think strategically. By addressing the underlying issues that cause problems during events we can focus more of our attention on applying technology solutions rather than on tactical operations. To work smarter (instead of harder), technology managers need to understand the technologies that we are working with and the trends that will impact these technologies in the future.

In order to understand technologies, government AV technology managers must be on the front of the innovation curve. We can do this by sharpening our IT knowledge base and by developing technology forecasting techniques that help us to scale our systems for flexibility and rapid technology deployment. AV technology managers can keep up on innovation through tradeshows, industry publications, electronic journals, blogs, websites, and social interactions with our industry peers. Broad-based knowledge gathered through these methods can be applied to technology forecasting efforts that predict the future needs of our agencies.

Combining IT and process improvement results in agile business practices. Agility means streamlined, flexible operations. This can be elusive in government bureaucracies, but can be developed through thoughtful management practices combined with hard work. Once achieved, agility allows our agencies to be more proactive and responsive to changing requirements.

That sounds great, but how do AV technology managers use information technology, process improvements, and innovations to improve our agencies' operations? One place to start is the implementation of enterprise management systems (EM systems). EM systems are Network Management Systems (NMSs) capable of managing devices, independent of vendors and protocols, in Internet Protocol (IP)-based enterprise networks. Just like IT systems, AV systems also need to be actively managed for maximum value. To effectively manage AV systems at the enterprise level, we need to increase automation, analyze systems performance metrics, and incorporate remote management tools. EM systems can accomplish these goals.

THE POWER OF AUTOMATION
Many agencies have found that automating business practices through electronic processes reduces costs and improves efficiency. This has been widely accepted for IT and the capabilities are now emerging for AV. Netcentric AV equipment and operations allow us to manage our AV resources at the enterprise level. Netcentric EM systems can reduce or eliminate the need for regional operational support staff while increasing the efficiency of AV engineers and operators working in AV network operations centers. Now that AV systems can be managed, monitored, and even operated remotely, AV technology managers can improve organizational efficiency and the end users' experiences by applying IT management techniques such as centralized help desk support and trouble ticket tracking. Process standardization and automation go hand in hand. Automation has been proven to be effective in improving processes and workflow. When jointly deployed, automation and process standardization can greatly improve speed and performance. Control, scheduling, monitoring, and metrics are some of the netcentric AV elements that can be standardized and automated. Even areas that cannot be fully automated can greatly benefit from standardization and IT resources.

For example, an effective document management system can serve as an organizational knowledge base and can control things such as document version control and prompt the users when updates are needed. Organizational knowledge bases are important to AV technology managers because they can maintain institutional knowledge even when key employees leave the agency. They can also help to clearly organize the policies and procedures required for business operations. Some standards that may be useful to AV technology managers include operational procedures, contract documentation, quality control processes, and engineering packages.

Examples of operational procedures include repeatable equipment setup processes and help desk support troubleshooting scripts. Contract documentation may include requests for proposal (RFPs), statements of work (SOWs), service level agreements (SLAs), and memoranda of agreement (MOAs). Quality control processes can be formed into checklists that include the steps required to
complete a quality review. Engineering packages can be reused for multiple projects, saving time and money. Some engineering package elements may include baseline room design requirements, modular upgrade options, CAD drawings, AV signal and control flow diagrams, RFP terms, equipment lists, and statements of work.

THE MORE YOU KNOW
I realize that some government AV technology managers would regard many of these elements as being the responsibility of their design or integration contractors. While that may be true in some cases, I believe that the more a technology manager knows about his systems and the more he is involved in planning and design, the better he will be able to meet the functional requirements of his agency. After all, once the integrator completes the job, it is up to the technology manager to manage the operations of the systems and meet the needs of the end user. Technology managers are the ones who will be judged on a system's performance, and it is their job to ensure that the performance is optimal. If they fail this task, they are back to putting out fires and monitoring events.

Even when they get past the firefighter stage, technology managers are challenged by other aspects of operational support, including scheduling and system setup. By integrating AV systems with software tools like email servers, IM, unified messaging, scheduling, and social networking portals, end users become empowered to use AV and communication systems without the need for scheduling and operator support.

All of these process improvements and automated features seem to point toward a reduction in force of government AV practitioners, but I don't believe this will be the case. Perhaps there will be a reduction in scheduling and operational support requirements, but these reductions will be offset by the steadily increasing need for AV engineering and management specialists that are required to support sophisticated and complex netcentric communications infrastructures.

AV technology managers are responsible for leveraging our agencies' technology investments to meet the needs of our stakeholders. We must also act as technology information resources for our agencies. By establishing technology forecasting techniques, being as involved as possible in the planning and operation of our agencies' AV systems, and becoming subject matter experts in diverse technologies that are valuable to our agencies, we can accomplish these tasks. By automating our systems, improving our processes, and establishing netcentric enterprise management systems, we can make the time to become subject matter experts and to focus our efforts on strategic planning.

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 atgarylhall@gmail.com. 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.

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