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AV/IT Integration Roundtable: The Human Element

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

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Do you see distinctly different personality traits between AV technicians and IT network people? Do they require different management techniques?

Fletes: The years have brought a better understanding of AV and network group equipment and support services. Multimedia staff has access to a network administrative interface, allowing them to readdress network supported AV devices. There are no distinct personality traits between multimedia and network operations. Both are specialized IT services utilizing programmer and engineer level professionals. Today, there is a general understanding of each other’s hardware, but more importantly, there is a clear understanding of each other’s challenges.

Boyce: Years ago, the IT professional was stereotyped as the president of the computer club at school and the AV professional was stereotyped as the lead guitar player in the local cover band. You wouldn’t typically find the two hanging out together after work. Today, the character traits of the AV and IT professional are much more aligned. You typically see the AV and IT professional exchanging contact information and comparing the latest apps on their matching iPhones. Most professional AV equipment now resides on a network. Therefore, the AV professional has to be IP savvy to remain in demand.

Cahoy: Speaking from a digital signage perspective, I don’t notice much of a difference. As display devices are getting smarter by having the controllers built into the technology, the lines have blurred to where the AV side has to be more network savvy as the displays are ultimately network appliances. I think the bigger personality differences come with how the content will be controlled. While IT/AV are great for creating a foundation and infrastructure, the content ultimately comes from marketing and communications. This is where we notice personality conflicts because IT/AV will look to “lockdown” a system, while marketing wants to leverage things like the web and social media.

Wilson: I see IT professionals similar to the way I see AV programmers; they are definitely unique, but critical to a successful project. The best in the industry are the professionals who can provide the complex “uber geek” support but then can also break down the information/explanation into layman’s terms.

How can IT and AV staff better integrate and cooperate?

Fletes: In designing new AV facilities, network requirements are shared with network operations. Technology updates or last-minute redesigns result in changes to the network infrastructure requirements. Having both groups work closely together has allowed them to focus on creative solutions as opposed to what can’t be achieved, especially in last-minute situations.

Boyce: AV and IT staff can better integrate by establishing a common goal of sharing information and knowledge in a timely fashion. AV and IT professionals are typically working in stressful environments under tight deadlines. Providing accurate information in a timely manner will help develop a positive rapport by eliminating the last-minute requests so often experienced by both parties. Providing education along with information is also important. Generally, AV and IT professionals like to know the technical aspects of equipment and configurations. Helping each other learn typically creates a better working relationship.

Cahoy: I think a lot of progress has been made over the last five years and the line is already blurry. The key is education; making sure IT understands how AV equipment works and coexists with a network, and for AV to recognize the backbone of the system is the IT infrastructure.

Minich: Cross education: IT learning about AV and certainly AV learning about networking infrastructure. Basics like a glossary of terms and acronyms can go a long way, just to even be speaking the same language.

Wilson: We haven’t had any projects where the IT and AV teams haven’t gotten along. It’s important for both sides to appreciate each other’s skills and to realize that each side is critical for successful project implementation.

What do you see as the best organizational approach to user assistance by IT and AV people?

Fletes: Our best approach to customer service has been the alignment of multimedia and network operations under central IT. Multimedia staff provides immediate support to faculty making use of central IT services in the classroom. All IT problems are solved in a timely manner.

Boyce: I think from an organizational standpoint, it is better to have staff that is cross-trained in both AV and IT. Oftentimes, reported problems from end-users are vague or are misinterpreted. Having segregated support staff can extend the lead times of providing a resolution. For example, an end-user may report that a projector is not turning on in a classroom. An AV tech is then deployed to the classroom to find out that the projector is functioning fine, but the link light on the touchpanel controlling the projector is not active. At that point, an IT manager may have to get involved. Staff that is cross-trained in both AV and IT usually can resolve problems much faster.

Cahoy: I feel they should be merged under the same umbrella so that organizationally they can cooperate versus having competing goals. If you try to divide responsibilities, you end up with a poor user experience as it leaves room for finger pointing. The equipment user ultimately wants to be assured it is working properly and that when there is a problem it can be resolved with one phone call. Wilson: IT and AV are really different types of systems. I think on small systems the same professional can assist with both. On larger systems the client needs to be educated on who can assist with each type of potential issue.

Do you consider installation and operation of videoconferencing facilities to be an IT or AV function?

Fletes: Videoconference design and installations require close collaboration between AV and network groups. Traditional AV groups support videoconferencing services to the public, while network operations ensures video network traffic is flowing. Network operations also support the local gatekeeper. With the support of IT network operations the multimedia group has overseen the deployment of a dozen AV rooms with videoconference capabilities.

Boyce: Installation and operation of videoconferencing systems require both IT and AV skill sets. We design and install the latest in videoconferencing technology. Our office is also equipped with a video conferencing suite that we rent out to the public. Even our technical facilitator who manages the conference suite is skilled in both IT and AV. He joined our team with a background in IT management, but has learned the ins and outs of AV equipment through in-house training. Having staff with this skill set keeps our overhead down and has proven to be successful. We are able to resolve problems more quickly.

Cahoy: I think it is a cooperative effort and ultimately for a project to be successful it needs to have one champion/owner. That individual may leverage other expertise to set things up, but dual ownership of something is usually a recipe for disaster.

Minich: Installation: AV. Operation: IT

Wilson: Videoconferencing is handled by both [teams]. AV techs setup the audio/video portion and IT setups the network and Internet access portion.

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