On the Network
Aug 18, 2010 11:19 AM, By Cynthia Wisehart
Residential AV helps set the new bar for commercial AV.
Derek Joncas is Extron’s manager of product marketing for control systems hardware and software, and as such he does a lot of customer education and outreach. He describes how at training sessions, he has been amazed to see the comfort level so many people have with their handheld devices. He agrees that lifestyle devices are helping to drive the growth and maturation of IP-based control systems.
A bellwether for Extron, he says, has been the recent release of the Software Roadmap, available on the company’s website. This roadmap works in conjunction with Extron’s commitment to configurable control that lays out an increasingly transparent course for the future.
For Extron, a big part of the future discussion revolves around the potential for configurable control systems to expand into designs that were previously the domain of programming. This approach also draws inspiration from IT and residential trends; people expect the ability to update and reconfigure their simpler devices without having to call a software engineer. As a control programmer, Joncas is a keen advocate for this viewpoint, which does not make programming obsolete by any means but which issues an important challenge: How accessible can we make control, and how can we tie it into the technology and expectations people have now and will have in the future?
In dialogue with customers and colleagues, Joncas says Extron looks for the balance between giving customers both self-sufficiency and support. One example is the upcoming device driver configurator, which will allow customers to build their own drivers. “Up until now, we’ve used certified drivers,” he says. “If you had a piece of equipment that wasn’t in our database, you’d send it in, we’d write a driver. Well, come the turn of the year, we’re going to allow our customers to create their own drivers that can be configured. That was a major customer request. We understand that adding more features can inadvertently increase complexity. So feedback is key to determining people’s tolerance for risk and pain and whether a feature will empower them or not.”
Likewise, other top customer requests are driving the Extron’s Software Roadmap. “We’ve laid it out. These are the most requested capabilities, and here’s when we plan to introduce these items,” he says.
Among them: the upcoming Global Configurator 4 software due out at year end, which takes the kind of templates Extron has provided for the TouchLink systems and expands it to larger, more complex systems that encompass a wider range of Ethernet-controllable devices, including IP-linked control processors and matrix switchers. “The controller grouping capability will allow you to gang many IPLink controllers together and configure—not program—a larger control system,” Joncas says.
Out this month, GUI Configurator 1.1 supports Extron’s move into touchpanels with a software update to allow users to simplify the user interface and pick up on the popularity of the templates and themes the company has already provided on its website.
“We’ve taken a breadcrumb approach, like Amazon, so users can see what they did the last time they were in the program. They can build on what they’ve already made,” he says.
To Joncas, this is all a natural expansion of the now-ubiquitous Ethernet port and Extron’s longstanding web-browser-based control options.
“Eight years ago, it was a luxury to have an Ethernet network. It was a luxury to have the IT department’s cooperation to understand that it was OK for AV devices to live on the network and that there are productivity gains that can be achieved by having them there,” Joncas says. “Now it’s a convenience and luxury that has grown into a necessity.” Today, Extron’s server-based GlobalViewer Enterprise monitors thousands of devices on a network and interacts with Microsoft Exchange and CollegeNET R25 to support scheduling, monitoring, and reporting that reaches even beyond the AV department. “Anyone who has a business interest in how their facility is being used and operated will need the data,” Joncas says.
“We’re a building-blocks company. We’ve given people steps to grow and enable our control systems to be in situations that might not have been comfortable in the past,” he says. “Our industry is coming up against the expectation that everything is going to be connected and monitored, and that control will be able to reach across platforms. People want to look across their enterprise and see everything.” But, he says, embedded in that paradigm are many smaller problems and opportunities that can be tackled now with an eye to the future.
“AV is part of an environment now,” he says. “One of the things we try to educate about is making good choices, and part of making good choices means understanding that the longevity of a system is measured over a much longer period of time now. It has to be flexible and adaptable to move with the customer as the customer’s business evolves.”
How to get hooked into this future vision? “Call us. We have a team available to answer your questions,” Joncas says. He also points to the Training tab on the Extron website, where there are online courses that can lead to certification. Or not. “You might just take a course in networking,” he says. “Either way, every course you take via Extron at any location is aggregated under your user profile. So even if you are not yet certified, you can demonstrate your investment in training to your clients in one place.”
Extron has a certification path from AV associate up to newer certifications for control associates and the upcoming control specialist kicking off in January. Networking will also factor in the curriculum for the upcoming AV Streaming System Design School.
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