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Expert Viewpoint: Educators, Meet Integrators

Sep 1, 2008 12:00 PM, By Pat Thompson and Bill Cyree

Points to consider when picking systems integrators for educational installations.

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The studio at California State University San Marcos

The studio at California State University San Marcos—which was designed, installed, and implemented by TV Magic—is equipped with three Hitachi Z400W studio cameras, a Thomson Grass Valley Kayak production switcher, a Yamaha DM1000 audio mixer, and a Panasonic AJ-SD93 DVCPRO recorder.

Today, the education market is taking greater advantage of AV technology than ever before — using it as a training tool; as a means of analyzing and preserving students' work; and as a platform to make better use of multimedia in the classroom, lecture hall, or administrative meeting area. Whereas the benefits of working with state-of-the-art AV systems may be obvious, the design and implementation of new systems or facilities is less clear — requiring both experience and expertise. Fortunately, high schools, colleges, and universities aren't the only institutions recognizing that knowledge is power.

Systems integrators for broadcast and AV systems specialize in providing customers with solutions that offer the best fit for their operational and budgetary needs. In doing so, systems integrators perform research and conduct interviews with users, administrators, and purchasing personnel — subsequently using this knowledge to assess the organization's needs and limitations and design a system accordingly. With an in-depth understanding of the requirements of design and installation, the systems integrator can help an educational institution put smart, effective AV systems in place and also meet requirements unique to schools and universities such as student accessibility and the integration of assistive-listening systems.

The systems integrator typically performs end-to-end services from design through implementation, installation, commissioning, and testing — offering project-management services throughout and ongoing support after the sale and installation. In the education market, the systems integrator fulfills an important role early on by addressing the expectations of the many different groups involved in the project. Quite often, it's not the end user who selects the product, and a third staff member may oversee purchasing. It is also quite possible that none of the individuals involved have the technical knowledge to explain the solution they want. As a result, the systems integrator plays a key role in finding a viable solution for the user and the environment — as well as in maintaining communication about project goals with all parties throughout the planning, design, and installation phases. Working with the right systems integrator can make all the difference in the success or failure of an AV installation.


In seeking out a systems integrator, the first step is to learn about prospective companies' past successes. An integrator with a strong history of completing similar projects for similar clients likely will have gained the experience and expertise needed to perform another such job. Each type of AV installation has its own needs — whether in broadcast, postproduction, corporate, or education — and it's rarely desirable to be a first customer in any area or application. Although no two installations are the same, the systems integrator should be able to understand the fundamental drivers or objectives for the project and provide similar examples from past work. Consider not only the types of installation the company has completed, but also the scale and complexity of those installations. Is the integrator equipped with the staff and experience to take on a particular project?

Recommendations and references from past customers are one sure way to get an idea of the company's competency, ability to deal with challenges, responsiveness, and general approach to its clients and their projects. Go beyond the testimonial to learn about what working with the integrator on a daily basis would be like. It is important to find out about the system integrator's ability to work well not only with the customer, but also with other professionals typically involved in a project.

The earlier the integrator gets involved in an installation, whether it's a new build or a retrofit, the better. To ensure that AV needs are addressed properly from the start, the integrator should be comfortable working alongside architects and contractors even before ground is broken. The relationships that the integrator has developed with leading vendors of AV equipment are equally important as a project unfolds, and they also say a great deal about the company and its ability to deliver a suitable and lasting solution.

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