2018 Best Practices

2018 Best Practices

We all strive to be better—or even the best—but how do we get there? Well, to steal a lyric from The Beatles, we get by with a little help from our friends. Some of SCN’s Top 50 integrators (and others) were willing to share their knowledge on the industry’s hottest topics—here’s what they had to say.

Being a Global Company

It’s easier than ever to work across the globe. If there wasn’t a different accent on the other end of the line, you probably wouldn’t notice your colleague in England was an eight-hour flight away. So how do you maintain your company culture across the miles?

“A strong internal infrastructure and buy-in is a requirement. Processes, collaboration tools, administrative and finance structure (such as a global ERP), people, partners, vendors, and—most importantly—workplace culture need to function literally across geographic borders,” said Theresa Hahn, vice president of marketing and business development, Verrex. “Your teams need to embrace your global model before your clients will.”

And that culture doesn’t just include your full-time employees—don’t forget about contractors. “Work with local talent wherever possible as you build your own presence in-country. But you have to vet them heavily—and plan to constantly manage/supervise them to maintain your quality and customer service standards,” said Matt D. Scott, president, OMEGA Audio Video.

Sometimes a partnership can come easily, as it does for those in the PSNI Global Alliance, according to several of its members. “Our affiliates in the PSNI Global Alliance enable us to support our customers’ needs across the globe…not subcontractors, but our partners taking care of our company and our customers’ remote locations as if they were their own,” said Robby Turner, executive vice president, sales and marketing, Data Projections.

One last tip on globalism? “Watch out for local codes and customs, always check them to ensure compliance,” concluded Scott.

Working with Experience Designers

It’s the buzz word you might be sick of: experience design. But there’s a reason AVIXA keeps pushing the design message—experience designers are moving into the fold quickly.

“Understand the intentions of the project and the workflow/experience of the people who will use it,” said Turner. “Work closely with experience designers to maintain the intended aesthetics and design, while ensuring the right technology is properly integrated.”

“When it comes to experience designers, although we tout it a lot in our industry, these designers actually create experiences,” added Scott. “They are the actual experts, we’re usually just there to provide the technology and offer the odd suggestion. Learn as much as you can!”

Using Big Data

There are two critical questions you need to ask yourself about big data, according to Verrex’s director of global managed services, Michael Shinn, “How well do you know your client and what better way to know them better than they know themselves?”

When you have access to your clients’ AV usage patterns, you’re gleaning information they might not even know. Travis Corgey, vice president of finance at Data Projections, says to use this to your advantage and help improve your future installs. “When integrating big data in AV service offerings, it is of utmost importance to begin with the right questions. Often, the most pertinent questions are those not obvious in planning phases. Ask the right questions on the front end so your technology does not fail to deliver anticipated customer results.”

Armed with a heap of new knowledge, integrators need to ensure they’re looking at the big picture and stay on track. “Big data is a double-edged sword…beware of paralysis by analysis,” warned Troi Helmer, CTS, process and resource leader, Spinitar. “Although harvesting and interpreting real data can validate or inspire your company’s initiatives for success, it’s important to stay focused on what data the company really needs, not what data looks flashy.”

Last and certainly not least, remember that big data hits the bottom line. “Real estate and building costs are at an all-time high—requiring organizations to constantly reconsider and justify costs of technology systems,” said Victor Valliere, general manager, CCS Presentation Systems. “Collecting, analyzing, and interpreting big data as it relates to the effectiveness and utilization of technology-enriched spaces versus traditional boardrooms is a critical factor in the initial design and implementation of AV systems.”

Selling AV-as-a-Service (AVaaS)

AVaaS is another topic we frequently speak about, but one that seems to still puzzle some integration firms and sales reps. Before you even walk in the door, you should think about whether or not AVaaS makes sense for your customer, said Helmer. “If eliminating the traditional capital hardware and labor costs of an AV deployment is important to your customer, then leveraging the operational cost model of AVaaS could be very beneficial.”

Helmer also emphasized the need to train your AV integration salesforce—otherwise, she says, it could lead to a misunderstanding with the customer.

Verrex’s Shinn recommended that integration firms not only sell (and train their staff on AVaaS), but all the non-project specific services a company offers. Doing so, in addition to partnering with other non-competitive service providers, will be mutually beneficial and can broaden a company’s network and company base.

Finally, Turner advises avoiding any kind of misunderstandings by ensuring you’re working with the correct person. “Understand your client’s role in the decision-making process. More than ever, it’s critical the CFO is involved in the process to fully understand the AVaaS value proposition,” he concluded.

Creating the Ultimate Huddle Room

Huddle rooms are popping up everywhere—real estate is at a premium and clients want to maximize space with open floor plans. This is a prime opportunity for integrators to push collaboration spaces.

“We have just designed a 10-story office building and incorporated 72 huddle rooms—ranging from small to medium to large,” said Joseph Yost, director of integration, CCS Presentation Systems. “They only have one executive boardroom and one executive conference room. It is all about collaboration, cloud access, and the ability to turn any discussion into a working meeting on the fly.”

The need for a private meeting space is obvious, but the struggle is real—especially in terms of making the technology easy to use.

“A huddle space is designed to accommodate small, private working groups of four to six employees. Its purpose is to provide a spontaneous meet-up and brainstorming space with no distractions,” explained Helmer. “Note that these rooms must be simple to use in order to achieve the full benefit of the space…come in, share, and go.”

Hahn seconded that notion: “Huddle rooms shouldn’t require dedicated support. Ad hoc collaboration happens when there aren’t barriers to using the technology—try proactively adding cheat sheets to your huddle rooms with step-by-step instructions. What we take for granted as a simple huddle room system may not be so simple for all users.”

Enterprise Deployments

Enterprise deployments require preparation and planning; they’re not something that should happen on the fly. “Promote economies of scale for clients on enterprise deployments,” Hahn said. “Having the big-picture AV archetype in place in terms of design, engineering, solution types, and support models means not having to do the groundwork over and over for every office.”

Your firm isn’t the only one who will benefit—clients will benefit when they walk into a room and have a sense of familiarity and understanding, said Turner. “They [end users] need to know how the technology works whether they are in the room next door, across campus, or around the world.”

Once you have your plan in place, communicate that plan—and the financial information—to the client, advised Helmer. “Enterprise deployment is a company’s technology and service best practices that result in a highly resilient, lower cost infrastructure. The organization needs to set goals and find ways to reinforce the rationale of the enterprise investment. Execution is only a prerequisite; adoption, consumption, and ROI is the ultimate goal.”

Creating a Secure AV Network

AV and IT, AV and cyber security, we hear it all the time. But are integrators taking the proper precautions to ensure client data is safe?

“Now, more than ever, we are dependent on the manufacturers to stay up to date with security protocols for their equipment,” Yost said. “Devices need to be put on Active Directory. They should log into your network, and if they are not logged in through SSL, then they are just not going to work.”

In the simplest terms, Scott said, “Your AV network must be as secure, if not more secure, as your IT network.” He believes truly secure AV equipment is the exception, and not the rule. As a result, integrators need to know a lot about the products and its digital vulnerabilities. At the end of the day, he advised, “Make sure you’re locking it down.”

“Cybersecurity concerns have been increasing AV network requirements at an exponential rate. Ideally, AV equipment manufacturers should share their product’s security attributes, but in many cases this isn’t feasible,” concluded Corgey. “The onus is on AV integrators to create and maintain an AV network security posture that is in line with client goals.”

Megan A. Dutta

Megan A. Dutta is a pro AV industry journalist, and the former content director for Systems Contractor News (SCN) and Digital Signage Magazine, both Future U.S. publications. Dutta previously served as the marketing communications manager at Peerless-AV, where she led the company’s marketing and communications department. Dutta is the recipient of AVIXA's 2017 Young AV Professional Award and Women in Consumer Technology's 2018 Woman to Watch Award. Dutta is co-founder of Women of Digital Signage, an organization designed to provide a pathway to promote networking, mentoring, and personal growth.