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AV/IT: Evolve or Die

Mar 5, 2014 2:09 PM, By David Danto, IMCCA director of emerging technology | Posted by Jessaca Gutierrez


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I recall coming home from the 2012 InfoComm 100 meeting in Reston, Va., and having, “Evolve or die,” resonate throughout my mind.

David Wilts of Arup made the impassioned plea at that meeting that technology and society are changing so rapidly that firms in the AV space have both a great opportunity and terrible burden. Firms clinging to their old ways of doing business simply won’t be around in the next five or 10 years without adapting to current needs and technologies—and changing their entire approach to the space.

I’ve experienced many perspectives—as an end-user, an AV manager, an IT manager responsible for AV/collaboration, and now as an IT consultant specializing in collaboration, multimedia, and AV systems. I was the guy arguing that you couldn’t buy AV rooms out of a catalog while down the hall from me the CIO was doing just that. I learned that technology executives generally don’t care if the dynamic range of the conference room speakers is 20 to 20, or if the standard ratio of screen size to viewing distance has been honored. They care about making sure that systems they ultimately manage are standard, repeatable, and serviceable within an ITSM framework and as part of an ITIL process.

Does that mean each conference room built within those parameters is the best one it could be? No. Is the car you drive the best one that you could own? Probably not. Does that mean that you made a bad decision buying it, or did you just analyze the options and settle on your own compromise between features and cost?

As an IT professional I did not have to flush my AV skills down the toilet. I can still solder cables, design and calibrate sound systems, set up multi-stacked video projectors, assemble a fast-fold screen, troubleshoot control systems, operate an MCU, etc. My knowledge base has simply grown. I can now perform a network analysis, develop a change-control process, understand the difference between incident management and event management, etc. I understand what my clients want today in AV systems: custom only where needed, off the shelf where not. I’ve evolved and will continue to do so.

However, many in the AV industry have not. There are integrators who still see each client’s needed room as an opportunity to perform custom designs (along with the engineering, programming, and G&A fees that go along with them). There are consultants that still want to charge tens of thousands to design a custom room, and expect that the client will just pay that fee all over again for the second “custom designed” room that is essentially just like the first. These are the clients that are coming to me and asking if it’s really necessary to customize everything.

Sometimes it is. Sometimes, however, customization isn’t necessary. There are a dozen off-the-shelf solutions to meet that need and more hitting the market every day. It just burns me up that my beloved AV industry still has firms and players that will try to tell the client that, for example, a standard Cisco Profile, MX, or Polycom media cart will not work unless the microphones are replaced, an outboard mixer/echo-canceller/matrix/DSP is used, and the provided control system is replaced with a third-party controller and touchpanel. Really? Is there any wonder why the AV industry has had a credibility problem with IT leaders?

So while my advice to clients is to create a standard, internal catalog of system types with as many off-the-shelf solutions as possible, my advice to the AV integrators and consultants is basically what David said at the InfoComm 100 meeting: Evolve or die. Use your unique skills to tell clients when those skills aren’t really needed. You’ll make up in volume what you don’t get doing unnecessary work. Develop custom solutions only where necessary and then offer to do additional, identical work without charging design fees and/or G&A again. Learn about IP networks, cloud services, unified communication systems, smart buildings, and become a trusted resource for your clients. Either that or get out of the way for the new leading firms that are changing the space by doing just that.

David Danto has more than three decades of experience providing problem solving leadership and innovation in media and unified communications technologies for various firms in the corporate, broadcasting and academic worlds including AT&T, Bloomberg LP, FNN, Morgan Stanley, NYU, Lehman Brothers, and JP Morgan Chase. He now works with Dimension Data as the principal consultant for the collaboration, multimedia, video, and AV disciplines. He is also the IMCCA’s director of emerging technology. He can be reached at david.danto@dimensiondata.com or ddanto@imcca.org. His full bio, other blogs, and articles can be seen at danto.info.

Reprinted with permission from IMCCA’s blog.



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