SCN: What technology and/or verticals were most successful in 2014?
Dan Barton: The requirement for software based video conferencing has really taken off and become the standard design approach in most of, if not all, the projects we are working on. Just two years ago, 100 percent of the video conferencing equipment going in to our projects was hardware-based. In the last year or so, inexpensive bridging hardware has become available that allows the connection of standard computers over USB to installed AV equipment within a facility. Now, our clients can use their own computers to run software-based codecs such as Skype, Microsoft Lync, Jabber, and others to host a video conferencing call at about 1/20th the cost of the hardware-based solutions available.
Granted, there is a bit of a quality tradeoff, but when weighed against the cost difference, we’re seeing our clients abandon the hardware solutions unless there is a specific need to include them for inter-office or client compatibility. As a result of these significant cost savings, the percentage of hardware-based video conferencing requests we receive from my clients has dropped to less than 10 percent.
What customer or end-user demand surprised you the most and why?
We’ve had a number of clients recently request that we help connect them with control system manufacturers to obtain control programming training for their staff members that will be managing the AV systems. While obtaining this training or hiring staff with this skillset has always made perfect sense as a more cost-effective long-term management of AV systems (watching out for system warranty issues), the suggestion to do so would often be disregarded. Having staff with programming capabilities allows the end-user to become much more self-sufficient when it comes to maintaining and updating their AV system once the AV integrator has completed their scope of work on the project. More importantly, they can now fine-tune the control system as they use the facility, and create a GUI experience that is 100 percent tailored to their needs. This is something they would probably not achieve without spending an inordinate amount of time and money having a third party programmer performing those functions. It would be interesting to see if more end-users would implement this approach and acquire the appropriate training for their staff. I think the return on investment would manifest itself after that first programming change call they don’t have to make.
Which vertical markets are on the rise and which do you see declining?
We continue to see healthcare on the rise along with higher education, corporate work, hospitality, and multifamily residential. Vertical markets we've noticed on the decline are public and federally funded projects.
Dan Barton is a Senior Consultant at Shen Milsom & Wilke.