AV Department – You Will Likely Be Working For IT, If You Aren’t Already by Christopher Maione

Believe it or not, most AV departments started in the mail room. That’s right – in the days of the overhead and 35mm slide projectors it was usually the “mailroom guy” that rolled the monster size “portable” TV around the office on casters or lugged the projector into the conference room after setting up the screen and hung around in the back of the room in case the equipment stopped working or a bulb blew out.

In the past, these services as well as the mail and copy room operations usually answered to the Facility Manager or the Facilities Department. But as AV technologies evolved to include multi image 35mm slide, ¾ UMatic video tape, video projectors and LCD panels – support for the equipment started to evolve into something more – enter “the AV guy”. Eventually, as the use of more and more AV technologies grew, companies started to require AV support from more than one person and somewhere along the line, the first “AV department” came into existence.

In the early days, AV support was viewed as just another conference room support function, just like room setup (furniture) and food service (breakfast & lunch for meetings). AV “techs” were dispatched prior to a meeting to setup equipment and get it running. Their services were considered a strictly people oriented support function.

In the last 20 years, these AV departments have grown and as more sophisticated AV systems were built – the complexity and support required increased. Supporting people now included supporting their technology and just about every medium / large corporation had the AV team on standby – or at least someone waiting in the dark, black control room operating the AV system for the monthly board meetings.

Enter the desktop computer and overnight the Information Technology (IT) department entered the picture and technology support needs grew exponentially. This group was about supporting technology, equipment, computers, routers switchers, PBX etc and typically reported to the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) or Chief Information Officer (CIO) – two people that probably never stepped foot in the mailroom. For the most part, IT departments wanted nothing to do with AV. I’m not sure if they thought it was beneath them (you know, coming from the mailroom) or that it involved supporting live people – not just hardware- but the division was clear.

However, in the last decade – AV has exploded and its technologies, facilities, products and equipment can be found just about everywhere – from flat panels and security cameras to training rooms, power points, teleconference centers and videoconferencing – AV’s multimedia presence has expanded far beyond the mailroom and boardroom.

And then we crossed the line – that’s right – the AV folks stepped over that sacred boundary and we decided to build equipment which utilized the Local Area Network and IT group popped a diode. We stepped onto their court with our ball and started playing all sorts of cool AV games on their network. We used their PBX for audio conferencing, we used their bandwidth for video conferencing.�� We started putting an IP port on just about every AV piece of equipment we deployed. We began remote controlling AV systems via IP. We monitored and controlled AV equipment using the network and built technologies to ride on their infrastructure. We streamed video from web cameras so we could “see” AV facilities. We designed software applications which allowed us to manage hundreds of conference rooms across the country and around the world – yup – all while riding on their IT network.

So it’s no surprise given all of this “unsupervised” AV activity on the IT playground that most corporations have or are in the process of migrating the responsibilities of AV to now fall under IT.

What does this all mean? Well, IT departments have very different thoughts, processes, procedures and protocols for running their groups and AV needs to understand these. This includes:

· The type of persons and their credentials they employ
· The way they design their networks & systems
· The way they procure equipment
· The way they support their “clients”

There will undoubtedly be changes.

First, any AV department or employee migrated from the facilities department to the IT department will need to learn to play by a new set of rules and guidelines that utilizes their skills for managing people with their ability to support communications and technology.

Next, IT departments are accustomed to purchasing equipment from firms such as Cisco, Dell, HP and on internet based sites such as CDW, with this change, AV equipment manufacturers are going to have to market and sell their products differently and follow more of the IT supply chain models.

Finally, AV Consultants and AV System Integrators are going to have to market themselves in new ways as their existing service models and integration services don’t necessarily “fit” into how IT departments design, procure and build their network systems. They are going to need to reconfigure their services, retool their skill set (IT concentric) and learn how to “design” and “integrate” AV systems more in the manner that server rooms and data centers are designed, built and implemented.

It’s going to be interesting to watch as the migration and integration of AV and IT departments continue. Supporting AV systems means supporting people and meetings, not just hardware. I’m not sure the IT folks know what they are getting themselves into.

So, if you’re the CIO, CTO or head of an IT department that just inherited the AV group and you need some help sorting out the AV world you now own – give me a call.