Stretching AV Budgets
May 11, 2011 8:35 AM, by Bennett Liles
How to help clients make the most of tight funding.
For several years, higher education budgets have seen a relentless downhill slide; whether the AV operation has been organized under library, IT, or facilities management, the impact has been profound.
Recent AV upgrades have come about largely as a result of new construction that was planned and funded some time ago. With most of these big construction projects complete, campus technology planners are at a critical juncture and now face even steeper cuts to university system infrastructure funding.
Of even more concern is a new development: a prime source of revenue for higher education is under increased scrutiny by state legislative budget analysts. Enrollment has always driven revenue, and an offsetting effect of the recession has been the influx of unemployed nontraditional students seeking to upgrade their job qualifications. To a significant degree, that wave was funded through popular state sponsored scholarship programs, but as state budgets continue to tighten, those scholarship programs and the enrollment they support will flatten.
As a result of these forces, university budgets—including those for classroom technology—are entering a new phase of compression, requiring every aspect of AV planning and expenditure to be reevaluated. Here are some suggestions for efficiency and effectiveness.
Across most campuses, individual classrooms or buildings have varying levels of technology available. It is necessary to have a good account of who is using the rooms, and when, and what specific resources are actually needed. Without coordination between classroom scheduling and AV resource providers, it’s difficult to know which AV assets are being used and which should be upgraded. The technology needs of core full-time faculty are generally known but the growing ranks of part-time instructors make it more challenging to efficiently match AV gear to classes and teaching styles. Plan to get a complete classroom schedule with instructor and course names, class periods, and days—the sooner the better. Close interaction between deans, department heads, and the AV team can best target the gear deployment and upgrades.
As in the corporate world, universities are more willing to invest in depreciable assets than additions to staff. To keep minimize obsolescence, it pays to develop a modular hardware strategy; with rapidly evolving media technology, this can be a primary challenge. IP networks have become an enormously effective tool in control and monitoring with minimum staff, and manufacturers have made it very easy to get started with IP-connected projectors and free basic asset management software. For institutions with a large fleet of same-make classroom projectors, this is a very low-cost solution with little or no hardware to phase out other than the projectors themselves. While they typically offer remote control and monitoring of display devices, IP-to-serial/IR converters offer a more generic and versatile solution and free or very low-cost software for them is widely available. These can be the first wave of networked control devices in previously bare classrooms. When the rooms are upgraded with local AV controllers, the protocol converters can be moved into other basic rooms to begin the upgrade process there.
Use Data and Warranties
Another very useful tool for extending maintenance cycles of AV gear (including document cameras and visualizers) is button statistics. By showing which source selections are being made in the classrooms, devices producing lesser-quality pictures toward the end of their maintenance cycle can be allocated to classrooms where they are needed less frequently and get less wear and tear. Under the current fiscal climate on campus, accurate warranty records are more important than ever, so any gear that needs periodic repair or replacement can get serviced while the cost is minimal. Warranty expiration dates can be entered in Outlook and other applications to provide pop-up reminders to check the condition of specific hardware items.
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