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Command and Control Boom Challenges Integrators

Apr 27, 2006 8:00 AM, By John McKeon

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The ongoing surge in new command and control centers, across almost every kind and size of enterprise, is creating an important business opportunity for AV systems integrators, especially those who can interact effectively with their clients’ information technology staffs.

The opportunity comes along with a dramatic expansion in the kinds of data clients want to display on their control room walls, and the proliferation of data sources they want to accommodate.

“These things are not plug-and-play,” says James Longstreth, director of East Coast sales, Command and Control Division, Clarity Visual Systems. “The key to all of it is the integrator.”

The need for a qualified integrator can be particularly acute if the client has already taken a few steps down the command and control path. “The client often will have several facilities online already,” Longstreth says. “The trend will be to standardize, and we are just starting to see it.”

Because the equipment and technology required by a control facility can be costly, clients will be challenged to settle on a strategy they can replicate throughout their organizations, offering uniformity of functions and ease of information sharing among facilities.

Supporting this need is the near-universal move to IP networks for command and control. Kevin Barlow, director of sales at Christie Digital, says the typical control room today handles “a lot of information sources,” many of which are sending data to the control room through an IP connection. “The sophistication of controllers and software today allows for automated functioning,” Barlow adds. “The room can react automatically to various scenarios.”

But thanks to the prevalence of IP networking, the control room today also falls more clearly into the IT domain than it once did. IT’s priority is often to make the control room part of an enterprise-wide technology strategy.

“People are looking for open, scalable systems,” Longstreth says, “especially in the corporate field because the IT group is heavily involved.”

With data arriving via IP and such common components as Cat-5 cable providing the basic connections, client and integrator need to focus on exactly how the control room display will function and what it must provide to decision makers. Often, these specifications come down to how the client wants to divide the greatly increased “pixel real estate” provided by today’s high-resolution displays.

“The video walls in these command and control facilities are gigantic, high-resolution desktops,” Barlow says. This allows many people to work with displayed data simultaneously. And it offers almost endless opportunities to create, resize, and reposition windows within the display, accommodating everything from spreadsheets to broadcast feeds from The Weather Channel.

Control software like Christie’s Wall Manager mimics the entire wall to a desktop computer, allowing one supervisor with appropriate clearance to control what’s displayed and track how the wall is being used.

An AV systems integrator can help corporate clients choose and use their displays most effectively, mix and match their signal inputs, and assure that everything functions smoothly with minimal operator involvement. For a growing number of business segments, the appeal of these control rooms are becoming very compelling.

Longstreth cites the financial industry as a major client group, along with any organization using SCADA tools (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) to manage far-flung assets. In short, he says, control rooms today appeal to anyone who wants “the ability to go into a single room and have an overview of all their operations.”

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