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Add an AV String to Your Bow

02 August 2011

Video conferencing, collaboration and communication tools have the potential to make organisations more efficient, productive and effective. Anna Mitchell, Assistant Editor of InAVate magazine, asks who is going to take responsibility to make this happen?

THE IMPORTANCE OF AUDIO VISUAL (AV) technologies is steadily growing for building managers as the implementation of video conferencing (VC) and room booking systems gathers pace. Furthermore the growing inclusion of AV assets as part of a building network is placing these components firmly in the domain of anyone who has responsibility for managing building systems.
There are huge advantages to be gained for facilities managers willing to take responsibility for these systems and incorporate them into overall building management. But in a lot of cases, AV falls into a responsibility gap between IT and facilities management.
Darren Pitt, head of business services of the Southern Region of Saville Audio Visual, believes VC and communications technologies in particular sit well within the responsibilities facilities managers are already familiar with.
“Facilities managers are generally responsible for travel and reducing travel. They’re generally responsible for an organisation being green. They’re responsible for the catering and the services around a meeting room space and how the rooms are booked and managed. They’re also normally client facing.
“Obviously AV is becoming a commodity solution that is end-user orientated. Anyone should be able to use the technology, it shouldn’t rely on an IT level of support. In the world of meeting rooms you want a facilities manager to advise and interface with the users.”
It does make sense for VC and telepresence systems to fall into the domain of an IT department. After all they operate over a network, have huge demands on bandwidth and often interact directly with desktop solutions on PCs and tablet devices. But, there can be a massive conflict of interest here.
Bob Romano, of telepresence and VC vendor Radvision, says: “You would think the IT manager would be integral [to implementation of VC]. But, in actual fact they tend to think ‘I don’t want anything to with this’. They have a list of applications that they need to support already and there’s security and a whole host of other challenges. The last thing they want to do is put another application up and have to support it, particularly an application that takes as much bandwidth as video.”
It’s important to have a management team that has its sights on the massive travel saving, productivity boosting and collaboration enhancing benefits these technologies can bring.
An IT department will undoubtedly need to accommodate the solution on a network, or even provide a dedicated network. But the instruction to implement the solution and oversee its deployment or use must come from a department that is already managing meeting room use, productivity, travel and employee well being.
Electrosonic, a global AV integration company with primary UK offices in Dartford, provides ongoing AV services to many large corporations within the UK. Paul Brown, general manager of service at Electrosonic, believes AV is becoming increasingly important in how companies work.
“AV used to be thought of as a projector in a meeting room,” he says. “Now we’re talking a lot more about how companies are utilising communication for results so VC and telepresence are becoming very important. But, the set up of a room needs to be taken into account to provide a quality experience.”
But when AV isn’t considered, or falls into that responsibility gap, room aesthetics are often thought of before anything else. And when implementing VC this can be disastrous and will completely waste any investment that is made in the technology.
“With an ill-thought out set-up you can’t carry out a good video conference,” illustrates Brown. “You’re only seeing half the room, the microphones are in the wrong place – it’s not effective.”
Installation of AV is only one part of the story. AV assets need to be managed, maintained and replaced. The growth of complete building management systems coupled with an awareness from AV vendors that their products need to sit on and talk to these systems means AV components are increasingly controlled and monitored as part of a complete system that includes HVAC, lighting and security. But problems will arise if AV components are not given the specialist attention they deserve.
Rob Learmouth, service delivery manager for EMEA at Electrosonic, says remote monitoring is gaining prevalence but warns: “It’s not just as easy as monitoring a room.
“An FM company can remote monitor through an IP address and check systems but when there’s a problem in a room how do they react? If your VC system is not connecting or there’s an issue with a product they won’t have that technical knowledge to fault-find and repair. Furthermore the whole point of remote monitoring is to be proactive and act before products fail. Take a projector for example, you can monitor temperature and lamp life and ensure they won’t fail.”
Resource management software and the products they are talking to are becoming more sophisticated and the information that can be gathered is increasingly in-depth. But, if you don’t understand or know what to do with that information it’s essentially useless.
Owen Ellis, vice president of multimedia at Morgan Stanley, heads up the AV User Group – a forum for AV and VC managers to discuss technology issues, exchange ideas and provide support to the AV support industry.
Morgan Stanley’s AV needs are well covered with its dedicated multimedia team that comes under the umbrella of IT. Ellis’ department remains distinct from facilities management but co-ordinates with the company’s corporate services division, largely through the use of online room booking and scheduling systems.
Ellis does see a future where AV technologies become more tightly integrated into building management systems and, in doing so, become increasingly important for facilities managers. “Facilities managers have been operating building management systems for years; looking at power, lighting, security and alarms etc,” he says. “I think that a lot of corporate companies don’t necessarily want to invest in an independent AV team of their own and they will look to facilities management companies to take on that role.”
Manufacturers such as AMX and Crestron have seen these trends emerging and are providing resource management tools that enable that complete building overview. The challenge now is for facilities managers to use them effectively.
The argument for AV to be considered as a serious and distinct part of building management is strong and it’s going to get stronger as utilisation of VC and collaboration tools grows throughout all sizes of business. And it’s vital to plug that responsibility gap that all too often these systems fall into.
There is a growing awareness among facilities managers that taking ownership of these systems and technologies can provide a better and more productive working environment for employees. Of course every corporation is different and, as expected, there are massive variations in the level of expertise that different managers have. So there are contrasting approaches.
“Seventy per cent of our work comes from facilities managers. They are predominantly
looking after AV equipment within companies,” says Pitt. “And, I think there is room for them to learn more about the technology. Some customers rely on external help to support them on deciding on AV technology but they don’t necessarily have the right skill set to understand what they’re trying to achieve.”
Electrosonic’s Learmouth says he wants to be able to work more closely with facilities
management companies. “We know that end clients rely on facilities managers to provide their mechanical engineering, their reception and basically all of their services. AV should be seen by the facilities companies as another string to their bow.
“But sometimes it’s really difficult to find someone within a facilities company that understands AV or can head up and take ownership of it.”
Brown agrees: “AV doesn’t seem to have a home. Facilities managers don’t know about it, a lot of IT departments don’t want to touch it. If you do try and access the network to get into the system a lot of IT departments don’t like it.
“There’s no ownership but there’s an opportunity here for facilities managers to draft
in the right people and work with the right people to help them understand AV more. This
will undoubtedly provide a better service for their end client.”

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