Risk Mitigation Strategies for Evaluating New AV Products During Supply Chain Issues, or Anytime

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Implementing new products is an important and healthy part of the role of all AV professionals. Whether they are innovative upgrades from legacy models, cost-effective alternatives, creative solutions, or offerings from a new vendor—new products represent opportunities for evolution, efficiency, and an enhanced experience.

The need to work with new and unfamiliar products is especially relevant while supply chain issues continue to impact manufacturing and logistics. Despite the promise of future provisions, clients with pressing requirements or scheduling restrictions must act to avoid facing indefinite wait times. When the default or backup option is not readily available, considering alternatives becomes absolutely critical. In doing so, however, it is important to remember that availability is far from the primary factor in satisfying needs and achieving successful outcomes.

Depending on what it is, how much it costs, and to what extent it will be used, it can be very intimidating to take on the risk of investing in a new product. While unique and creative solutions can be concerning due to cost, high visibility, or lack of familiarity with the equipment—often they represent one-off systems that have managed risk with tolerance for unforeseen outcomes built in. It is the routine solutions that are done in larger quantity and must have greater longevity that present a much greater concern. While trying out a new product in a single system can have negative implications and be costly, it can be mitigated with a replacement if it doesn't go well. When a bigger commitment is required, even with the cost per item being low, implementing new products becomes a significant decision that can't be easily undone.

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There are many criteria that factor into the successful adoption of a new product, some of which will vary between different clients, projects, and situations. Similarly, there are many strategies that can be employed to reduce the liability associated with selecting and deploying a new product. As is the case with business in general, the success of a manufacturer and its products can be directly tied to core values and behaviors such as transparency, communication, support, reliability, and integrity. Nowadays, especially in the AV industry, clients need to have confidence in the company and people behind a product before taking the plunge on a new purchase.

How to Limit Risk When Considering New Products

Here are some ways that technology managers and integrators can limit their risk when considering new products:

Establish Clear Criteria

Reliable results are a product of quality test procedures based on defined criteria. Understanding what is important in a product, as well as being able to document your requirements and the metrics that define success, is critical. These requirements can be very specific to individual organizations, and can vary based on need, priority, or case-by-case specifics. Included within the requirements may be a combination of objective and subjective qualifications such as meeting performance specifications, ease of use, control functionality, reliability, documentation, and support. Once the criteria are established, tests can be generated that will determine performance.

Setup a Test Lab

The value of a test setup that emulates a typical system can be difficult to measure, but it is ultimately one of the greatest assets that an organization can have. One of the biggest mistakes that can be made is to test drive an unfamiliar product with a client in a live system. Unless this is discussed ahead of time with the client and the terms of a shared risk approach having been agreed upon in advance, it's critically important to minimize the use of untested equipment in projects. Testing in a lab provides ample opportunity to ensure that the product meets expectations and is reliable. This test lab is not only a valuable tool for evaluating and proving the candidacy of a new product, it is also a great resource for testing product firmware updates before they are approved for production. Although there is value in testing a product at someone's desk, its performance may be different in a real-world scenario. Factors like size, temperature, light level, network connectivity, control processor requirements, load testing, and scalability could have a significant impact on performance. 

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How Manufacturers Can Help

Here are some ways that manufacturers can help clients become more comfortable with investing in new products:

Accuracy and Clarity of Capabilities and Requirements

One of the biggest challenges that integrators and technology managers face when considering a new product is discerning its true capabilities. Too often, the expectations set by sales and marketing cloud the understanding of what a product can do, what it takes to implement it, what features are currently available, and what is planned for the future. It is important that manufacturers be responsible in setting clear expectations so that the product is effectively specified and implemented. This could be the difference between a good and bad first impression for a client. A negative first experience could tarnish the perception of a brand and stand in the way of future opportunities to adopt this or other products. 

Making Control and Programming Easy

While a detailed API that encompasses all the product's functions and features is a great asset and addresses the requirements of supporting third-party control, it is important to realize that this does not necessarily offer the benefit that may be expected. While a skilled programmer can decipher an API and program a product to be controlled, it takes time, costs money, requires expertise, and presumes that the programmer understands how the device should operate to make it work properly. To overcome these obstacles, manufacturers can go one step further by offering pre-developed drivers, modules, or plugins that are tested, documented, minimize effort, and overcome frustration when it comes to control, programming, and integration.

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The success of a new product is a result of a variety of considerations and circumstances that may or may not be correlated to its design, performance, and functionality. When a product is not the correct fit for the need, is improperly implemented, or is ineffectively understood or supported, the chances of success and long-term adoption are dismal. Therefore, it is incumbent upon manufacturers, specifiers, integrators, technology managers, and end users alike to work together to understand how to effectively communicate, evaluate, and ease the burden of working with new products. Favorable or unfavorable outcomes may have a wide range of influences, some of which can be situational, go against popular belief, or be tied specifically to the players involved. It should be understood, however, that no matter the previous success or reputation of a product, proper evaluation based on unique needs and defined criteria is the only path to achieve predictable results.

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Steve Greenblatt

Steve Greenblatt, CTS, is president and founder of Control Concepts, a provider of specialized software and services for the audiovisual industry.