Over the past four or five years, one word has been creeping into every tradeshow discussion, in the halls of every consulting firm, and in the trenches of every AV integration project: convergence. This term encapsulates the rapid merge between AV systems and networking technologies. This phenomenon has resulted in AV being predominantly administered by IT departments instead of the traditional approach of letting facilities handle the responsibility. It is a grand debate among many professionals: Should AV be the IT department's responsibility, should it be under the control of facilities, or should there be a separate AV department altogether? My experience and my gut instinct tell me that the time has come for an AV department at every company, but don't take my word for it yet, let's look at all sides to this argument.
If one were to argue in favor of IT being responsible for all things audiovisual, the argument would undoubtedly contain the following:
-AV systems are being designed to rely on a company's internal network for communication. Teleconferencing systems, videoconference codecs, VoIP phone systems, and countless other AV assets all require network bandwidth. This bandwidth needs to be budgeted and planned for.
-Projectors have network ports on them and can be accessed remotely. Thus they should be the responsibility of the IT department. -Control systems now generally operate on IP networks, and if they are going to reside on the network, they are the responsibility of IT.
-AV systems display computer images and connect to them, thus they should be the responsibility of IT. -AV signals are nowadays sent over standard communications cabling such as Cat-5, and if they run through the IDF closet, then they are the IT department's responsibility!
-The IT department already has a relative comfort level with high-tech gadgetry. This list could be virtually endless. But what about the facilities department?
-Facilities have historically been responsible for furniture, lighting, building features, photocopiers, coffee machines, and many other fixtures that we use every day. Why not projectors, switchers, or microphones
-Facilities personnel have ladders to change light bulbs, so they can also maintain ceiling-mounted projectors.
-When the company was started ten years ago, the facilities department was in charge of projectors and screens, while the one-person IT department had their hands full maintaining the server and the phone switch. Now that the company is 5,000 employees, facilities doesn't want to give up AV and its associated budget. Obviously there is a strong argument for either scheme, but lately there is an emerging trend. When I began AV consulting ten years and 210 projects ago, the only people that seemed to sit across the meeting table from me were from facilities. Today, about 90 percent of my clients are IT-specialized. What do they have to say about it?
-Bob King, IT Service Delivery manager at Barclays Global Investors, states, "If it plugs in and turns on, our users will call IT, not facilities."
-Michael D'Angelo, an IT project manager at Nike/Hurley, says, "AV systems are complicated for the end user. When something breaks or doesn't work as anticipated, nine times out of ten IT is contacted to resolve the issue."
- -Jason Medal-Katz of Autodesk mentions that, "The facilities group at Autodesk handles AV projects.
- However, the IT department is part of the project team and helps to coordinate, particularly on projects requiring
- more technology."
After speaking with several other Fortune 500 companies from the Silicon Valley, I began to see a recurring theme. Computers can be quite fickle, and as they have become a critical component of business,
supporting them has become a critical role of the IT department. In the last ten years IT departments have moved
from keeping the phone switch and a few servers running to managing hundreds (if not thousands) of desktop PCs, switches, routers, PDAs, phones, or applications. Inevitably, IT has had to evolve with business trends, scale, and perfect the art form of the ever-important "help desk." In all the companies I spoke with, I have yet to find a support infrastructure as deep and as advanced as those associated with computers and end-users. Logically, when one considers networkable devices and end-user support, it seems that IT should be the parent of AV. Interestingly enough, in the corporate world, few people ever asked the question: What about having a separate AV department? Here is why it might be a good idea:
-IT specialists come from a different background than AV enthusiasts. Most IT devices are PC-based or non-active components.
-There are specialized skills that are related to audio tuning and testing that can only be learned from years of
experience or specialized training. -Video signal distribution is quite different from network distribution.
Instead of the infamous 295-foot buffer for Ethernet communications, AV specialists have learned about video
distance limitations and how they relate to signal bandwidth.
-AV specialists are trained and used to dealing with optics, wave theory, lighting, acoustics, and even color.
-AV devices don't need occasional rebooting, but rather cleaning and testing.
-In general, AV specialists are a different breed from IT specialists. Many AV experts have a background in music, sound, acoustics, audio production, or video production.
There are other reasons, too. Some enlightened organizations like NASA, Sandia Labs, Cal Berkeley, UCSD, the Eisenhower Library, UCSF, Sun, Oracle, and others have realized the logic of a separate AV department. Why? It's because as the march of technology carries on, more and more things need to get displayed, more and more things need to be heard, and users need to be able to depend on these audio and video display technologies to work 100 percent of the time. We'll always need IT, we'll always need facilities, but soon we'll also always need AV.
Joey D'Angelo is a principal consultant with Charles M. Salter Associates in San Francisco, CA, and specializes in AV/telecommunication systems. Joey is also a musician in a punk rock band where he plays guitar and performs lead vocals. He can be reached email@example.com.