There has been a lot of discussion recently about the state of custom control system programming. Whether due to the issues of quality and reliability or the frustration of increased costs, time, and lack of perceived value, clients are opting for alternatives to custom programmed systems. It can be argued that many of these complaints are valid and need to be addressed in order for custom programming to shed this reputation. However, when planned and implemented effectively, custom-programmed systems can be one of the greatest assets to technology managers.
While out-of-the-box or easily configured solutions offer much appeal and may be a quick remedy for the aforementioned maladies of more sophisticated solutions, there are more needs to consider. Though on the surface these simplified solutions check many boxes to satisfy users’ needs, budgetary constraints, rapid deployment demands, and consistency requirements, one must question whether they are truly addressing the specific needs of those who must manage the systems.
As opposed to users of AV systems, technology managers are not only concerned with the usability, consistency, and reliability of systems for their users, they also face the demands for support, ongoing maintenance, upgradability, and the need to make functionality or equipment adjustments. Therefore, they either need the staff and bandwidth to support all of their users with a hands-on approach, while also managing configuration or programming for a small or large number of unique systems, or they need to be equipped with the tools to do more with less, be more efficient, minimize variables, and be more proactive in addressing challenges before they become a hindrance.
Here are some ways that a well-planned, custom-programmed solution can not only satisfy the users’ needs, but also address the pain points and specialized needs of technology managers who provide support.
Meeting Specific Needs
One of the biggest complaints voiced about custom programming is the lack of consistency and reliability from system to system. Although rooms may be designed similarly with the same desired operation, no two rooms programmed by different people truly work the same way. Through a custom-programmed, enterprise solution with field-adjustable options architected to account for variations, scalability, ease of maintenance, and plans for future upgradeability, technology managers can be armed with a solution that is specifically suited to support their day-to-day needs. This approach leverages custom configuration to select options, capabilities, and customizable features, and puts that power in the hands of technology managers to provide benefits that are unmatched in out-of-box or standard configurable systems.
Another reoccurring struggle associated with custom-programmed systems is the cost of engaging a programmer and paying what is perceived to be a hefty rate for making minor adjustments or modifications. Additionally, the need to change out a device from one model to another can be a costly venture depending on how the system was programmed or configured, and the specifics of which devices are being swapped.
However, only through custom-crafted solutions can the power of making adjustments to select system features, functions, automation, user interface elements, or system components be put directly in the hands of the technology manager without the need of a programmer. Examples of adjustable controls that can be provided to technology managers include button text, room names, presets, system shutdown timing, system power up or shutdown sequences, sensitivity of sensors, microphone level adjustment, or device addresses or IDs. Taking this a little further, a custom system could implement the ability to enable or disable features like additional displays, sources, or conferencing functionality as well as support for swapping out devices within a defined pool of supported equipment.
As more and more systems are deployed, and the daily responsibilities of technology managers continue to grow, supporting systems individually and responding to users' needs becomes tremendously time consuming. The availability of resources that technology managers can leverage for support becomes a must. Whether through customized alerts, a method for responding to help requests, or backend advanced functions for diagnosis built into a programmed system, custom control can arm tech managers with the tools they need to be more resourceful. Predictive maintenance is a key to resolving issues before they arise, and only with custom programming can tests be built for established criteria that indicate system faults, allowing a maintenance need to be identified before it is detected by the user. These functions and tools range from verification of device communication, direct access to device functions both basic and advanced, help buttons to trigger support requests, communication tools for live support via chat or voice, user experience satisfaction polling to maximize success and minimize frustration, and access to built-in test procedures that detect early-warning symptoms before problems arise.
While the opinion that custom programming and programmers are falling out of favor may be growing, there is a lot of significant value that can still be returned to technology managers who invest in working directly with control professionals to define, architect, and develop a custom programming solution that addresses their individual needs and pain points. These solutions provide an opportunity to truly demonstrate the value that custom control solutions and programmers can offer. When executed properly, the benefits that a custom-tailored solution can bring to technology managers can truly showcase that power of leveraging technology to increase efficiency, facilitate workflow, elevate effectiveness, and enhance the lives of all parties involved.
Steve Greenblatt, CTS, is president and founder of Control Concepts, a provider of specialized software and services for the audiovisual industry.