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Doing Business in Higher Education

It's a space race among the nation's higher-education institutions to lure prospective students with, among other things, cutting-edge technology. That could be good news for AV integrators.

UNIVERSITIES NEED CONTENT, TOO

Like most other market verticals that deploy signage, higher education increasingly realizes the importance of content necessary to fill those networks. WVU, for example, is comfortable with creating all its content itself, including templates that various departments can use for the signage in their particular building.

But if the signage needs to drive revenue, then the integrator might be able to provide advertising-related services, just as some do in verticals, such as healthcare. The advertising outlook also can affect whether a school can make a business case for deploying a centralized system with dozens or hundreds of displays in order to provide the reach that brands and agencies want.

"Universities can sell ad time on messaging systems to companies that want to reach the campus audience," says Greg Littlefield, vice president of sales and marketing at CCS Presentation Systems, a Scottsdale, Ariz.–based integrator. "This, coupled with the need for emergency alerts, is driving the demand for campuswide systems."

For some schools, particularly public universities, the decision whether to allow advertising on signage comes down to whether the state has slashed their budget, forcing them to look under every possible stone for money.

"There's increased interest in advertising, for sure," says X2O's Freedlander. "Personally, I think it's inevitable that advertising eventually will be embraced. Just the sheer number of students who have access to these screens creates a very relevant business case, but it's going to vary from school to school."

VIRTUAL EDUCATION

The ability to offer advertising services often depends on whether a school has a single, standardized, campuswide signage platform, rather than a hodgepodge of disparate systems that formed over time as departments deployed their own. And signage isn't the only AV application where standardization is in demand.

"We're seeing the need for standardized classroom control, which is the control system that manages the technology in the room: projectors, screens, audio systems, document cameras, and video sources," says CCS's Littlefield. "Many professors use multiple rooms, so there's a need for consistency and ease of use."

Littlefield says that not only is standardization a benefit to busy professors, it can also be an important part of a university's expansion plans. Common AV systems throughout old and new buildings make servicing the technology exponentially easier.

Standards also play a role in another growth area: videoconferencing, particularly for distance learning. "Our videoconferencing business is exploding," says SKC's Cheshier. "With desktop videoconferencing products from Cisco and Polycom that use standards that work with classroom systems, colleges and universities can reach out to a larger market without the expense of brick-and-mortar buildings."

Hauppauge, N.Y.–based integrator IVCi recently surveyed higher-education decision-makers and found that overbooked classes, limited faculty, and lost revenue are three of their biggest problems.

"Videoconferencing and distance learning are becoming the methods through which many are addressing these institutional challenges," says Adam Kaiser, IVCi director of marketing. "We are seeing a growing demand not only for desktop and room-based videoconferencing, but also a surge in demand for fully realized virtual classroom environments powered by immersive telepresence systems."

But perhaps the most important long-term trend—and one that spells good news for AV pros targeting the higher-education market—is that the people responsible for filling classrooms expect to use more technology, not less.

"There is generational shift in faculty," says Kaleidoscope's Christianson. "They expect more educational technology in the classroom. They have iPhones, iPads, flat screens, and don't understand why they have to put up with a crappy projector in the classroom. So there is a broader understanding that some level of classroom technology is required, and that it needs to be upgraded from time to time."



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