Managed Services: Where AV Becomes IT

Managed Services: Where AV Becomes IT

When the AV design and integration firm HB Communications began expanding its managed services offerings beyond standard break/fix calls, the company worked with a third-party provider. Peter Charland, HB’s vice president of managed services, explained that this served several purposes: It allowed the organization the time to develop its own internal infrastructure that would eventually support its managed services division internally, and it also helped HB staff identify what specific services their clients actually required, and what managed service technologies would comply with their security needs.

For example, Charland explained, a remote monitoring and management system that utilizes the telnet protocol won’t meet the IT security requirements of a financial institution. “We wanted first to understand what the real benefits would be and where the limitations are in using remote monitoring and management in AV, and in parallel, build our framework for a scalable managed service,” he said. Today, he notes that approximately 100 HB employees provide clients with managed services from its own network operations center, as well as on site.

Charland said that one of the main challenges in offering managed services is managing the client’s expectations. They may require 99.999 percent availability for their audiovisual systems, but the technology that’s been installed may not be capable of living up to that. “You can have absolutely the best managed service solution that’s as proactive as possible and as rich in data as you can get out of an AV environment, but if you didn’t design your AV infrastructure for that level of high availability, and you didn’t develop your network for that level of availability, there are no services that could ever achieve that,” he said.

In information technology—a field in which Charland spent the majority of his career, at companies like AT&T and EMC, until he moved into AV—this is largely understood. “You cannot go and buy a Dell 1U server with a single power supply and expect to have five-to-nine availability. You’ve got to buy a high availability Dell server and power supplies that are in an active configuration with load balancing, so you can architect that solution to achieve the desired availability, and then you build the service framework around that to proactively monitor, isolate, and remediate incidents before they occur, and even when there are failures, the system runs. It’s a complete design and service model, and I find that concept completely foreign in the AV industry.”

Mike Brandes, an AV and IT professional who has held positions both as an end user/tech manager, as well as in AV manufacturing, notes that as videoconferencing technology becomes increasingly software-based, it opens the door for AV integrators to generate managed service revenues from licensing. “When you’re buying the software from one place and all you have is software—you don’t have to buy hardware from another place, and licensing from another place—it really puts the integrators in the driver’s seat, especially if they begin selling these licenses,” he said. “If an AV integration firm or an AV services provider is able to get in and sell you your Skype for Business licensing and set up your Skype for Business environment, and then, by the way, sell you the peripherals that you need for videoconferencing, for audioconferencing, [and] for DSP, that is an end-to-end ecosystem that they then have the ability to manage in a very effective way.” It’s a complete solution, but one that requires a focus on software, rather than hardware.

David Danto, principal consultant, collaboration, the Americas at Dimension Data, an IT solutions and services company, argues that one significant managed service opportunity for AV firms focuses on security. “Smart AV companies would start gearing up to understand this holistic approach that they’re going to be providing low-margin products, but they can say [to their client], ‘Look, we’re going to do all your patches for you. We’re going to come back [and] we’re going to do a security scan of your AV equipment quarterly, or annually,’” he said. “That’s where the money’s going to be made, because you know what? Companies are spending hand over fist to be secure because they can’t risk not being secure. They will risk not having a videoconferencing room and put in a speaker phone, but if you tell them that all the conference rooms they have right now might be vulnerable, they’ll want security, and they’ll pay for it.”

The issue here, Danto concedes, is the AV integrator firms aren’t going to be able to do this alone. “There is going to have to be a consortium of manufacturers that come out with the concept of: here’s how we’re going to do monthly patching, or annual patching, or emergency patching,” he said. It’s then that AV integrators will be able to offer managed services in this area. “AV companies will be able to say [to their clients], ‘We will look at the equipment you have, we’ll stay on top of what the patches are, we’ll give you this quarterly cycle if there aren’t any emergencies, and we will remotely, or in person, come in and take care of all this for you.’ Let’s change the attitude around: install it, and we’re done.”

Carolyn Heinze is a freelance writer/editor.

The Lure of All-in-One AV/IT

For tech managers charged with managing hundreds, and in some cases, thousands of conference rooms, all-in-one collaboration solutions like Cisco’s TelePresence MX Series or Polycom’s RealPresence Medialign are attractive. David Danto, principal consultant, collaboration at Dimension Data, argues that this poses a real challenge to both AV manufacturers and AV integration companies pitching multi-component systems.

“If I have 1,000 conference rooms around the world, and every one of them is a security risk in my mind... would I make the decision to wait for the AV industry to catch up to me, or would I start buying Cisco’s MX products, or Polycom’s Medialign products, or all-in-one off-the-shelf, complete, non-integrated systems that you drop into a room, that are the same everywhere across the world, and then the next security bug that comes out, all you do is get one patch from Cisco and then run it down my system over a weekend and I’m finished?” he asked. “[It’s a] very compelling argument that’s minimizing the need for AV integrators.”

“If you’re a manufacturer in the AV industry, you’re competing against that kit,” said Peter Charland, vice president of managed services at HB Communications. “So if you’re a manufacturer with a component solution that needs to be integrated, you really ought to be opening up to standards that allow for easier interoperability and easier and richer means to be able to remotely see what’s happening with your components. Because if you’re not doing that, it’s that much more of a challenge for the customer.”

Carolyn Heinze has covered everything from AV/IT and business to cowboys and cowgirls ... and the horses they love. She was the Paris contributing editor for the pan-European site Running in Heels, providing news and views on fashion, culture, and the arts for her column, “France in Your Pants.” She has also contributed critiques of foreign cinema and French politics for the politico-literary site, The New Vulgate.