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AV/IT Integration Roundtable: The Human Element

Aug 13, 2012 2:33 PM, With Bennett Liles

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Much has been written about the AV/IT hardware convergence and we’re well into subsequent chapters on the melding of technical functions between networked AV control and the well-established use of networks for audio and video conveyance. However, the most interesting side of any equation is always the human element. In the integration of AV and IT, workers and their managers still face challenges as the overlap of AV/IT job functions, skill sets, and technical know-how widens by the day. Even now, the organizational plans for AV and IT management vary widely. In the company and on the campus, AV techs and IT network managers find themselves working together more and more directly and the marriage of their disciplines and work styles has had a wide range of results.

We have assembled a panel of experts from several professional areas involved in the merging of AV and IT hardware and workers. The fields represented are digital signage, AV installation/integration, university AV/IT, and AV network connectivity. As the lines between AV and IT have blurred, so have those between many of these professions and we sought the comments of the participants regarding its effect on the human side of their respective fields.

SVC: What do you see as the state of awareness and cooperation between AV and IT professionals (network managers/AV techs)? How well do they know each other’s hardware?

Fletes: AV and IT convergence was foreseen 20 years ago at my campus. The multimedia group (AV department) was moved under the “computing and communications” umbrella of services. Being members of the same division facilitated close collaboration as well as sharing the same visions and goals. Just like network operations, multimedia has become a specialized enterprise IT service. The AV industry has been migrating out of analog and into digital technologies. Today, most AV support staff has some background in IT … whether developed by professional training or personal interest. The AV tech title has disappeared and has been replaced by programmer/analyst classifications to better represent today’s responsibilities. Multimedia staff remotely monitors classroom technology devices, including webcams, via their mobile devices. Being a sister department with network operations allowed our multimedia group to design and execute smart classrooms with extensive remote management and support capabilities in a very short period of time. Our satellite campus directly benefited from this association when the design called for nine smart classrooms, each with videoconferencing capabilities.

This organizational relationship has also facilitated the creation of digital multimedia services with live webcasts and video podcasts. AV and network services have also been converging in the private industry with AV system integrators now supplying network services.

The multimedia group supports all classroom presentation technologies, including classroom computers. All classrooms have a “help” button, allowing faculty to alert the classroom technology helpdesk of an urgent problem. This comes in the form of an email and text message. Multimedia techs will respond to calls stemming from AV trouble, network problems, and academic computing services. They continue to provide first-line support and rely heavily on the help of network operations. Multimedia’s support staff has been cross-trained to complete basic checks and provide key information for network operations when classroom technology devices fail to communicate.

Boyce: There is definitely a closing gap in the understanding of AV and IT professionals’ equipment. Good cooperation is attained when both professions provide timely, detailed, and accurate information about each other’s equipment. The AV professional needs to provide information such as: number of data drops needed, bandwidth requirements, list of ports that need to be open, QOS and VLAN considerations, and multicast or unicast considerations. The IT professional needs to provide information such as: IP schemes and assignments, passwords for computer access, port numbers on switches to utilize, and timely configuration of the network. The lack of timely communication is typically the root of poor cooperation.

Cahoy: I feel the space has merged to the point that there isn’t much of a separation these days. Several years ago you had conflicts and turf wars, but today most universities and corporations have integrated the two groups. This, along with the great ongoing education programs put on by organizations like InfoComm and others, has helped properly set standards and share information.

Minich: Both are relatively unaware of each other’s equipment. IT has little interest in knowing the details of AV.

Wilson: Being an AV integrator we have to know a fair amount about IT networks. Most of today’s complex control systems require a solid network to communicate on. Often on larger commercial jobs we explain to the IT department exactly what we need and they help setup their network to accommodate our AV needs. With residential projects we often setup the network. We are well-versed in setting up residential and small business networks.

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