Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The Vision of Unified Collaboration and Communications

 – Better than Being There – Three Keys to AV Delivering UC&C

I want to preface this by stating an important point.  Nothing will ever replace the value of face-to-face meetings.  A firm handshake to close a deal or the ability to spend time with people building strong relationships is incredibly important.  This article is about building on top of the personal relationships and handshakes by using technology, processes and space planning.  The emphasis has to be on the building and adding and not trying to replace.

I can’t help but get incredibly excited about where we are heading with Unified Communications and Collaboration (UC&C).  This is really directed at the AV/IT players in the industry.  When we look at UC&C and what AV/IT can do with this space the impact is fascinating.  AV already masters the physical space with lighting, acoustics, displays, sound and control options, but when you add in the full offerings of UC&C the usage model changes in unbelievable ways.  Let’s explore some examples together and then we can break them down into a few categories to see what really makes this work for us.

I feel I have to re-emphasize that when I refer the UC&C, I am referring to a system that includes all that telephony, IT and audiovisual has to offer.  In this article I am going out of my way to emphasize the audiovisual part. 

These are Just Three of the Many Advantages of AV/IT Delivering UC&C:
  1. The Environment - These advantages include a more natural environment for videoconferencing with proper audiovisual integration that includes proper lighting, acoustics, camera, microphone, loudspeaker placement and display sizing and placement.  All of these things can give the users the feeling that the remote participants are in the room. 
  2. Collaboration - Another advantage is the ability to use audiovisual integration by placing document cameras in the ceiling and using processors that can support the ability to literally slide a document across the table to remote participants and have them edit and collaborate on these documents using the network. 
  3. Escalation - One more advantage is having the systems fully converged so that when the users are on a VOIP call and they need to move it to a videoconference they can just shoot an Instant Message to invitees and open a video call on the fly.  The user should even be able to book resources on the fly as needed for adhoc meetings and escalate a meeting from a call to a full-fledged collaborative videoconference with just a few clicks.

One thing that is mind-blowing to me is this thought; what if we actually put cameras, displays, loudspeakers and microphones in the chairs of “remote participants”?  Some UC&C integrators (AV Systems integrators) are doing just that to give participants the feeling that remote participants are “in the room”.  Schools do this for kids that can’t attend school because of illness.  As a product there are robots that travel the halls and attend classes via videoconferencing for students and allow the students to be a part of their regular school environment while they recover from a medical procedure or medical treatment.  Why can’t we do this for business remote collaborators as well?  See.  Told you.  Mind blown.
Picture Attributed to VGO Communications, Inc.

When looking at how UC&C will evolve in the near future, we see how UC&C meetings will actually be better than being there (remember I said that it will never replace the handshake, but at times when added to face-to-face it can be better).  How can I say that?  I say that because there are times when these meetings take place that participants will need access to resources that are only in their home office locations.  Having a UC&C meeting means that participants can be in two places at once.  This means that they can have access to all of their recourses that are in their home location and be in a remote location at the same time.  To me, at times, that can be better than being there.

So what is really driving this evolution for UC&C?  I believe three major categories is driving the changes; the advancements in technology, the way companies are changing their process and policies and lastly the way we are doing space planning to support true collaboration.  In my next article I will discuss how AV/IT integrators can leverage these trends by applying what they do in the technology realm, with supporting process and policies and physical space with lighting, acoustics, audio, video and converged technologies that no other industry can deliver the way AV/IT can.

The author:
Max Kopsho, CTS-D/I, PMP, CQT, CCNA R&S and Security, CompTIA Network+ and CTT+

Max has worked in the AV industry for over 17 years in various management and technical roles.  Over the last 28 years Max has acquired an extensive background in supporting AV and IT systems, computer networks, telecom, and VTC systems.  Max developed one of the industry’s first networked AV solutions and that product is now deployed in a single network with over 15,000 network attached AV devices.  Max has made considerable contributions to the InfoComm Education area in AV/IT and CTS preparations.  He was awarded the 2010 Educator of the Year for InfoComm and has prepared over 1000 candidates for their CTS exam.  

The views in this article are strictly the views of Max and do not necessarily reflect the views of his employer or business partners.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

5 Ways AV Can Become More IT

When we discuss the ways that AV can become more IT, It is important to emphasize that the transition to becoming more IT is not one that should take AV away from their core competencies. I have had a lot of discussions lately with some of the best minds in AV and we seem to all agree that we (AV) need to continue to promote our value.  This is to say that we all agreed that AV can do many things that no other industry can do.  AV rules the physical space.  Nothing happens in the physical space (sight or sound) without AV working some form of magic (that magic being the mixture of art and science).  When AV adds IT for the purpose of monitoring, managing, sending content, collaborating, conferencing, controlling and much more, the business opportunity is huge and the problem solving we can do for the customer is immense.  That is where the focus should be – ADDING IT to AV.

  1. Partnering and Connecting - During my training sessions that last two or more days, I also teach juggling.  I do this especially when I am teaching an AV/IT class.  I tie in the analogy that in an AV/IT class there are three topics being covered; Audio, Video and IT.  In the analogy those topics represent the three juggling balls.  I then have these students partner up in twos.  When one partner throws a ball, the other catches.  The pairs can easily jump to two juggling balls.  This does two things.  This allows the thrower the ability to focus on their throw without worrying about catching and this allows the catching partner to catch without worrying about making an accurate throw.  The teamwork being used in this exercise helps me to illustrate the value in partnering in AV/IT.  The exercise also illustrates that when you are partnering you can focus on your core competency and trust that your partner can focus on theirs (one is throwing and the other is catching).  We also discuss that partnering mitigates risks.  While there is shared risk of course there is shared return so the major goal should be to seek out more customers together than either partner had alone to make sure the partnership yields new business.  The biggest lesson I use the juggling analogy to teach is that when you are an expert in AV (two of the three) and you can juggle those two really well, but you pick up that third juggling ball and you drop them – you have failed at juggling (in our case AV/IT integration).  Even if the AV part of the job is perfect, if you picked up the third ball and dropped it, you failed at all three in the customer’s eyes.  Partnering helps with allowing you to juggle in front of the customer with low risk.  A good partnership will have a way for both parties to continue to grow throughout the relationship and not feel threatened by the other’s ability to grow.  Connecting is also important – joining industry associations and social groups in IT will help an AV company stay informed of technologies and trends.  This will also help with networking (people networking) and possible sources for candidates, contractors and technical resources. 
  2. Physician Heal Thyself - It is nearly impossible to sell, support and promote something you don’t believe in.  If you believe in something you need to implement it.  As AV/IT integrators our networks need to be solid and they need to be able to support UC&C.  There is a saying that states the Cobbler’s kids go barefoot.  Our industry is not an exception to this saying.  I often find that our demo facilities are lacking in capabilities or esthetics.  In the case of AV/IT the demo facilities need to be solid.  IT people expect an integrator to be able to prove that they can do for themselves what they propose to do for the customer.  Make sure your IT system supports what you expect to sell, support and promote.
  3. Set a Plan and Take it Step-By-Step - AV adding IT is something that needs to have methodical and planned approach.  I have seen several companies add IT to their business model and the ones that do it well do it with a business plan and work that plan.  It sounds so simple, but you would be amazed at how often I have seen the opposite approach.  I have seen AV companies that add IT as a second thought.  They simply add a few products to their mix and throw some additional responsibilities on their internal IT guy to support some customers and wonder why they are not growing their IT business.  Adding IT requires adding appropriate resources and deploying those resources.  Those resources may come from a partnership, but there is need for additional resources nonetheless.  The other point I would like to make here is that it is just as important to communicate the plan to everyone involved as it is to have a plan.  Everyone involved should have a good understanding of what the plan is and what every step of the plan looks like.  Over communication is better than none here.
  4. Hire the Right Employees and Customers - One of the biggest challenges in adding IT to AV is ensuring you have a team that is capable and supportive of this new endeavor.  At times, getting this team assembled requires hiring new employees.  In AV we tend to “fill vacant positions” rather than looking at where our business will be in a year or three years down the road and determining what our needs will be then.  We tend to try to hire replacements with the same skillsets as previous employees.  When adding IT to AV we need new skillsets and with that we need to look in new directions.  Start your job descriptions from scratch.  Write the job description as if you were doing a needs analysis on your company.  You will often find if you start from scratch rather than using an existing job description you will come up with something completely different.  Sometimes change is good. What about your customers?  Are you customers asking for IT in their AV?  If not, you may need to hire some new customers.  Your customers may be the ones who are stagnant and if that is the case you may be missing out on a lot of new business.  Sometimes you need to look at business trends and wonder why your customers are not following them and you may need to hire some new customers.  Someday you may even find that you will have to fire some customers.
  5. Training and Certifications - You are not always going to hire new employees to embark on new endeavors (or new customers for that matter).  You will also need to grow the ones you have.  Training is the best way to do this.  I completely believe in this.  I have trained people most of my career.  It is the best way to get loyal team members to grow and stay happy.  If you have people with the aptitude and attitude, you will find that they are often worth their weight in gold and making a training investment in them is well worth it.  These types of employees are willing to grow with you and they will take your organization to new heights.  The risk of not training your people is far greater than training them and having them leave.  It is not worth the risk.  Certifications in IT will gain your organization a foot in the door.  A lot of the certifications do not hold much weight in the IT industry, but they do meet a litmus test and allow your people to get in the door to start a discussion.  From there, your people need to sell the value of AV and IT combined or they will fall in the trap of competing with every other IT integrator at their game.  So, change the game.

- - -
The bottom line is that AV is the true value-add in AV/IT.  IT will bring the business, but AV will prove that your company can do things that no other player can.  So again I say, CHANGE THE GAME – AND WIN!

Monday, November 23, 2015

5 Reasons AV Needs to Become More IT

Last week I read a very good article titled The 5 Reasons Why AV is Not IT by Ernie Beck (  The article discussed in a very compelling way how AV has considerable value in systems integration and will continued to for a long time to come.  One of the great points in this article is that for the integrators and systems design engineers that embrace their true value add there is plenty of value in their contribution and still plenty of business to be had.  There was a theme of “don’t sell yourself short”.  In the article/blog I am writing here I intend on building on that necessary message for all AV systems integrators to maintain the message that they own the physical space and no IT integrator or reseller can match the user experience they can bring.  What I intend to add is the need-to-know 5 reasons that AV integrators should consider transitioning their business to include an IT integration element along with maintaining the value (the core competency) in acoustics, lighting, control and space planning.

Firstly, I would like to emphasize the importance of what Ernie said in his article.  There is incredible value in the core offerings AV integrators already have.  Yes, I am championing for AV integrators to embrace IT in bigger ways than just adding endpoints and getting a list of IP addresses from the IT guy.  I am even asking AV integrators to move beyond traversing firewalls for videoconferencing and to embrace an enterprise IT integration mindset and to learn and deploy IT in much deeper ways than many of them ever have.  There is a lot more to this transition than some will have you believe.  This requires employing and/or partnering with a whole new set of skill, experience and knowledge.  There is no halfhearted effort here.  The major caution I will add is that systems integrators should not try to use their internal IT guy as the crux of their entry into this market space.  Providing the level of expertise that is required to fully consult and integrate these solutions is far beyond what the typical internal IT support team can muster.  This must be a focused and concerted effort by the integrator and should not be taken on as a side project.
Another point I will make before getting into the meat of this article is that AV integrators should not downplay the value IT brings to the table as well.  While I thoroughly enjoyed the article about the 5 ways AV is not IT, I will say that there was a bit of downplay when it came to the role of IT.  The statement that Ernie attributes to an AV pro where “IT typically establishes and dictates” is a little broad and quite frankly wrong.  IT, as does any other design/build integration or solutions provider does, goes through a complete needs analysis.  There is no doubt that IT is 100% driven by user needs and business needs.  IT has the added challenge of having a highly regulated industry and a well standardize technology and infinitely wide marketspace.  IT spends nearly 100% of their time focusing on the business needs and how they can help their end users support those needs.  IT is under high scrutiny to maintain uptime.  So, yes some of the implementation is dictated, but the solution is user driven.  AV integrators need to let go of the IT Ivory Tower mindset – that is old school and counterproductive.  I was an IT director 18 years ago and my favorite phrase was “not on my network.”, but that was then.  Today I have two kids who are in IT.  I have learned that today it is much different.  Today when a user asks, “can I put this on the network”, (about iPAD, tablet, smartphone, etc.) the IT person will respond, “Yes, of course, how can you be productive without it?”  IT deals with needs that are driven by end user just as AV does.  Both markets must spend time and take on the challenge of determining the difference between wants and needs.
So, why should AV make this transition to be more IT?  Below you will find the 5 reasons that AV integrators should making the transition into becoming more IT:
  1. Products and Solutions are Being Driven to IT – AVB, Dante, VOIP, H.264, H.265 and many other standards are driving technology development.  This development is leading the AV industry down the path of being incredibly more IT centric.  The challenge lies in that knowledge of streaming protocols, multicast implementation, layer 2 and layer 3 switching requirements and many other standards and implementation requirements are often unknown to standard IT people.  The ways AV leverages IT are different than IT is used to and the value an AV integrator can bring can be considerable if they bring this specialization.  It has been said recently that we are not in the AV business, we are in the technology business.  It is time to grow into the IT side, this is where AV can shine and add a lot of value in IT.
  2. End Users and Buyers Expectations are Evolving – Many times a connection between what an end users sees at home or out in the market in many other segments lets them see what should or could be done for them in their baordroom or conference rooms and meetings spaces.  The mentality becomes “if they can do this (insert technical feat accomplished in home) why can’t they do that (insert technical feat done in office)” or “if this works and that works then why can’t they make this plus that?”.  The knowledge and complexity of the end user and their expectations drive us as a market to deliver on a higher level.  An additional challenge is that with these increased expectiations is that AV has hit somewhat of a critical mass.  AV can’t deliver much more than they already are without leveraging the network or the use of some new technology.
  3. IT is Looking Outwardly for Expertise - in 2015 there was a considerable shift in IT where the IT Generalist was the top growing level of certification and the top job position being filled/sought by recruiters.  IT departments, strategist and hiring managers have recently realized that they need people with a broader understanding of IT and that they could then later deploy specialized skills only when needed.  This shows us that IT now has a better understanding of when to bring in outside resources to solve unique problems.  AV/IT integration is still a very unique problem that AV integrators can be that specialized force that IT is looking for. 
  4. IT is Lower Cost and IT is a Different Funding Source – I will write an entirely different article on the details of this in the near future, but suffice it to say that AV ports tend to run about $350 per port for switching and a Gigabit Ethernet ports run $25 to $30 for switching. Traditionally AV has found its funding through facilities.  The beauty of IT is that IT has a completely separate budget and as long as you can prove the business need and the increase in profitability and productivity then that budget is easily and justifiably invested into AV/IT.
  5.  Increased Functionality – Simply by adding AV over IT one can route their video from anywhere to anywhere using the network infrastructure.  Control and full integration is seamless.  This is far beyond seeing every device and controlling it over the network.  This is fully converged where data, AV and control all reside on the same network (segmented via VLANs or whatnot) and when the customer needs they can have AV and data (say a video call with customer information on the same screen).  This can be deployed in unbelievable ways to bring a whole new world of AV/IT solutions.  In addition to the freedom in routing one can add functionalities such as video wall processing, windowing, control, and recording and much more simply by adding AV/IT appliances to the network.
I agree with the mention in other articles that we are far from a doom and gloom “change or die” message, but I will say change or miss the biggest opportunity in business in a very long time.  Businesses live and die on one simple truth, “do the customers need what you have?”  This is one of the times in AV history that our customers absolutely need what we have if we combine our skills in AV and IT.
The last thought I will leave you with is that in every “convergence war” IT has engaged they have won.  This is true for nurse call systems, security systems, telephony to VOIP and many others.  That is not to say that IT does nothing but throw their weight around and force implementation on users whether it has value or not.  IT has won every convergence war because it has always proven to be more cost effective, provide more features and has a higher level of supportability.  The IT watchwords are security, reliability, scalability, flexibility and affordability.  IT has proven that all of these watchwords hold true when you combine AV and IT.  To me that says the war is well underway.  Where do you want to be on the battlefield?  I for one want to be a peacemaker and provide win-win scenarios for my company and moreover my customers.
Next week I will try to address the top ways to make the AV to AV/IT transition.  As a teaser I have included a link to an article where this discussion started and from which I would like to pick up and take much further (
About the Author:  Maxwell Kopsho, CTS-D/I, PMP, CQT, CCNA R&S and Security, CompTIA Network+ and CTT+
Max has worked in the AV industry for over 18 years in various management and technical roles.  Over the last 28 years Max has acquired an extensive background in supporting AV and IT systems, computer networks, telecom, and VTC systems.  Max developed one of the industry’s first networked AV solutions and that product is now deployed in a single network with over 15,000 network attached AV devices.  Max has made considerable contributions to the InfoComm Education area in AV/IT and CTS preparations.  He was awarded the 2010 Educator of the Year for InfoComm and has prepared over 1000 candidates for their CTS exam.  Max has recently joined Thorburn Associates as a Principal Consultant focused on Unified Communications & Collaboration. By combining his knowledge and skill in AV and IT with his decades of experience, Max will be responsible for driving Thorburn Associates' Unified Communications and Collaboration Division (UC&C). Max will be instrumental in the anticipated “exponential growth” of Thorburn Associates' UC&C Division by solving the toughest of customer AV/IT problems with his technical prowess and keen insight into their business needs.
The views in this article are strictly the views of Max and do not necessarily reflect the views of his employer or business partners.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

The Collaboration Conundrum Part II (Considerations for Collaborative Systems)

A great collaboration space allows the people to interact freely and share ideas openly as if they would whether they were using technology or not.  The purpose of the technology is to SUPPORT the message and to ENHANCE communication.  In my earlier blog about this subject I mentioned that part of the needs analysis should include a study of the users in the meeting or proposed space prior to any new systems are in place.  I also noted that this study (observation) would be done without the subjects knowing they are being studied.  Perhaps hosting a different meeting for different reasons and using that meeting to not only have that meeting, but to also study how the meeting takes place.  Once the information is gathered this will allows the consultant or designer to better determine how communication currently takes place and how to plan a space and include the use of technology to support and enhance collaboration and communication.

Once the usage information is made available and analyzed to help the consultant or designer to determine what the true needs are, then they look at three major factors.  These major factors are the environment, interactivity/network and social aspects.  I will go into a little detail on each of these major points.  But, it is worth noting that there are many more things consultants and designers take into account and this should only serve as a small dose for the reader to get a feel for the complexity that goes behind space and technology planning for collaborative systems.

The first major point I will discuss is the technology and how it applies to the environment.  A design engineer or consultant may take several measurements of an existing space to measure ambient light and ambient sound as well as physical volume and acoustics of the space and many other measurements.  These help the designer or consultant determine where lighting, loudspeakers, microphones and other technology will be placed.  But, I have jumped the gun.  The designer or consultant may start to consider technology now, but it is an iterative process and very dynamic.  Other considerations are still being taken as well.  The designer or consultant is still taking in the data to determine where viewer and listeners will be physically located and how they will interact with all other users of the space.  In truly collaborative spaces the concept of presenter and audience or board members and a chair of the board are gone.  Most collaborative spaces have to make a strong consideration for all participants having equal standing.  This is a considerable design challenge.  How do you design a “presentation space” with no presenter position?  If you create a space that has a single location for a “speaker” to connect and present from it losses some of its collaborative feel.  Yet when the system includes an element of remote connectivity through video conferencing, you have to have cameras and add an element of a “stage”.  The major point here is that this is a considerable undertaking that requires a COLLABORATION with the client to have them give input and get a feel for where the system is heading.  Some may call this “scope creep” others call this consulting.

The next point I would like make is about the interactivity and network aspects.  I mentioned a little of this above when I mentioned the fact that this space may include a level of video conferencing with remote users.  What about adding a level of voting or data sharing for these remote participants.  A considerable amount of design and consulting has to be done with the network people at this point.  This requires a level of knowledge, skill and attitude about networking and unified communications and collaboration that many in the AV industry simply do not have.  Without the proper configuration and network service level these systems fall way short of the users expectations and come nowhere near the user experience that they should have had.  If you do not have the expertise in networking, unified communications and collaboration and network provisioning then partner with someone who does.  This is critical to a truly collaborative system done right.  As I mentioned in my last blog, these off the shelf systems are far from plug-and-play and they require a strong network person to get the full capabilities out of them.

The last, but certainly not the least, important point I will make is about the social aspect of adding collaborative systems to a customer’s solution.  The key is to have executive buy-in.  Well, duh Max!  Let me expand.  Sure, you have executive buy-in, you got the P.O. or you were commissioned to do the design work, but do you have buy-in from a usage policy support aspect?  Will the executives use the system religiously and will they write and enforce policy that will make the company feel free to collaborate openly and collaborate with full reciprocity?  The key is to make sure that executives and management do all they can to remove the barriers to collaboration. All too often those barriers have little to nothing to do with technology and more to do with company culture.  When designing a collaborative system business processes often have to change as well.

I am a LEAN Six Sigma Green Belt.  I learned a lot about process improvement in the program I took at Georgia State University.  I am also a Certified Professional Project Manager and a Certified Technology Specialist for Design and Install for InfoComm in audiovisual.  I have certifications from Cisco in network routing, switching and security.  I have certifications from CompTIA and for general networking and technology training.  I have worked in networked AV, unified communications and collaboration for 28 years now.  Why do I tell you all of this?  Because all of these certifications and experience are all related and without them all combined, I could not come close to providing anywhere near the solutions in collaboration that our customers need.  All of our customers need their technology, environment, network infrastructure, design, engineering and business process needs met.  Heck, If I can do it, I know any of you can.

About the Author:  Max has joined Thorburn Associates as a Principal Consultant focused on Unified Communications & Collaboration. By combining his knowledge and skill in AV and IT with his decades of experience, Max will be responsible for driving Thorburn Associates' Unified Communications and Collaboration Division (UC&C). Max will be instrumental in the anticipated “exponential growth” of Thorburn Associates' UC&C Division by solving the toughest of customer AV/IT problems with his technical prowess and keen insight into their business needs.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The Collaboration Conundrum

 – Why/When to Use Consultants/Designers

With so many products available out there for collaboration and huddle spaces that could be considered “off the shelf” one would have to ask themselves why a consultant and/or design engineer needs to be in the mix at all.  In this blog I will discuss some of the considerations a design engineer and consultant take when working together so solve the collaboration conundrum for their customers.

When looking at a potential collaborative communications space a designer must understand first how the space is intended to be used and how it is currently used.  This is sometimes best done with a covert study (watching the user when they don’t know they are being watched.)  Since we know about the Hawthorne Effect (anything studied changes its behavior) it is best to do the study when the subject does not know it is being studied so as to not affect the outcome.  The next step is to gather data and provide analysis on how the space is intended to be used.  This includes facilitated discussions and stakeholder meetings.  It also includes a complete understanding of the business.  AV/IT design consultants need to be a hybrid of business professionals and technologists.  A lot of times it is best to have these types of specification and analysis done by a third party who can delineate between what is needed and what is wanted.

So what does this have to do with using an AV/IT design consultant?  Well, an AV/IT design consultant knows more about Human Factors than a standard IT integrator. Having an IT integrator simply hang an interactive display on the wall and running wires is already taking them outside their comfort zone and it is not all there is to creating a collaborative environment.  A consultant and design engineer look at the usage models and determine the proper viewing angles to make sure every participants will see the screen from every seat.  With a proper design, the least favorable seat in the room and the closest seat in the room will be able to view the content in a comfortable way without creating viewer fatigue. 

There are many considerations taken when designing a full collaborative space when human factors are accounted for.  True AV and Technology consultants look at the type of content and the way it is used to determine closest and farthest viewer, the resolution and the type of display.  Display size and mounting location are also determined based on these factors as well as whether or not the display is interactive or not and whether or not the one user or all of the meeting participants are standing or seated (how many meetings have you been in where you are forced to look at the presenters butt because of poor space design?).  Consultants and design engineers work together to look at the entire usage model and match the usage to the space considerations.  They then look at the physical attributes of the human body and its capabilities and limitations to help design the system, but you must read next week’s blog to get even a slight glimpse into the other considerations that are taken into collaborative space design.   

Next week’s blog will start down the path of what is included in the details of how an AV Collaborative System comes together.  We will discuss the steps that an AV/IT Designer uses to build a complete Collaborative and Unified Communications System.

AV/IT Design Consultant Considerations in Collaborative Systems:
As the technology/environment
·         Ambient Light and Sound
·         Shared Content Viewing Angles
·         Sound System Coverage and Pick-Up
·         Cameras and Stage Presence
·         Lighting
·         Physical Environment
·         Communication
·         Visualization
Acknowledgement / Voting / Interactivity
·         Network Collaboration and Network Architecture
·         Remote Connectivity
·         Videoconferencing
·         Data Sharing
Social Aspect of Collaboration
·         Social / Executive /Policy Support
·         Barriers
·         Key Advantages

Hope to “see you” next week.


About the Author:  Max has joined Thorburn Associates as a Principal Consultant focused on Unified Communications & Collaboration. By combining his knowledge and skill in AV and IT with his decades of experience, Max will be responsible for driving Thorburn Associates' Unified Communications and Collaboration Division (UCC) on a global scale. Max will be instrumental in the anticipated “exponential growth” of Thorburn Associates' UCC Division by solving the toughest of customer AV/IT problems with his technical prowess and keen insight into their business needs.

Saturday, October 3, 2015


Does your business have Moral Compass?  How much does it guide you as an individual?  Are you able to contribute to your Business’ Moral Compass?

This week I was reminded a very important about loyalty and tough business decisions.  The lesson I was reminded about was both on a business level and on an individual level.  The really tough part was when the business side was in direct conflict with the individual side.  This is when your individual Moral Compass tells you one thing and your Business Moral Compass may say something else is acceptable.  This begs the question: can there be times when you can believe one way as an individual and your business self can believe another?  I personally don’t think you can.  The phrase “it’s just business” comes to mind.  For me, it is never just business.  I am too passionate and insert too much of my personal life and personality into my business relationships to have the “it is just business” attitude.  I guess my question is, am I wrong to be this personally invested in my business dealings?

Below is an illustration as to why I believe why it is important to combine the SPIRIT and HEART into the ORGANIZATIONAL CHARACTER.  When you have a company with a single ORGANIZATIONAL CHARACTER that is driven by a BUSINESS MORAL COMPASS that is a collective of the people’s moral compasses.  You end up with people who are fulfilling the company vision with extreme passion and that are living up to a single outwardly visible ORGANIZATIONAL CHARACTER that is clearly recognizable and known by all.

Avoiding the “it’s just business” mindset will pay off in ways that free the people within the organization to live up to set of BUSINESS MORALS that allow them to stay proud of where they work and serve a cause and believe in what they do.  Or am I just Naive?   

Tell me what you think.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Why Is Collaboration So Disconnected?

It seems that every time I hear about collaboration in our industry lately it is referring to AirMedia™, ClickShare™, Brio™, Via™, Enzo™ or similar “Mirror Op” technologies and the emphasis is almost always on wireless and BYOD.  These examples are great success stories and they have a great place in today’s marketplace.  But I fear that with the message, we (AV) are missing such a huge market and better message around the fit for collaboration in existing infrastructure and enterprise environments.  I know that some of these solutions have their enterprise versions but the overarching message from the manufacturers and channels seem to be BYOD and wireless “in room” content sharing.

How do we (as an industry) change the way we approach the customers with a new message to help them understand that there is so much more value to what the collaboration solutions have to offer their organizations?  True collaboration is an enterprise application and can allow for content from anywhere on the network to be used anywhere on the network.  The focus of the technological enhanced collaboration and communications industry message (of course) is around the increase in profit and productivity for our customers. Then how do we promote that message beyond the conference room and meeting space and make sure we are making it clear that these are solutions for the entire enterprise?

Here are my 5 steps for helping to transition your message from BYOD and wireless in a local space to make the message an enterprise solution to increase profit and productivity for the entire organization:
  1. Talk the Talk - Change your references to “BYOD” to “all your networked devices”.  Make sure you are always referring to all of the   devices as networked devices and continue to emphasize the fact that you are talking about ALL networked devices (wired and wireless).  These simple changes and “turns of phrases” make a difference.  Your IT customer may focus on what you don’t say.  They may wonder why you do not mention wired devices when you talk about collaboration.  That will leave them wondering if they can connect PC and MAC.  When you do not mention “all your networked devices”, your customer may assume you can only connect to mobile devices.  
  2.  Ensure Interoperation - The emphasis should be that you can network your devices the way the customer wants to.  There is no set way this must be done.  Make sure you emphasize that these solutions can join an enterprise network, be set up on a separate physical network dedicated to networked AV or be separated using a logically segmented network for AV.  Whatever way your customer needs to network, you can help them.  All too often we go with an approach where these solutions must be implemented in one prescribed way (typically on a separate AV network – even in the wireless world and usually this is prescribed by the manufacturer) and that doesn’t have to be the case.  Be open to working with the customer and doing it the way they say it needs to be done.  You can, in-turn, find the right product from the right manufacturer that will fit the application rather than “force-the-fit.”
  3.  Address Security - Security is important.  Make sure you match and/or exceed the customer’s expectations on security.  The keys to address security are “CIA” – Confidentiality, Integrity and Availability.  You need to be able to confidentiality by preventing unauthorized use, integrity by safeguarding information and availability by making sure that only authorize users have access according to the customer’s prescribed requirements.  Of course, all of that is at a minimum and there can be a lot more to address but it helps to know the basics and then when to bring in the experts.
  4. Be Flexible – Don’t lock yourself into one manufacturer.  There are many options out there and each manufacturer has implemented their own set of unique values and options to their solutions.  Seek out the balance of features, security, interpretability and standards that best fit your customer’s needs.  Don’t be afraid to shop and to include your manufacturers in the pre-sales process.  Many manufacturers have incredible resources on the presales engineering side and many have now hired a lot of network engineers to assist in this area.
  5. Validate Support – Get comfortable with your ability to design, integrate and support your customers. Learn to leverage the support system that your vendors have.  This support structure includes the design validation, presales, integration support and (of course) after installation support.  Warranties are nice but the support programs and people (skills, knowledge, and experience) are what really matters.  Do your manufacturer and channel partners (distribution partners and manufacturer representatives) have the expertise to support the products you are installing?  If so, use them.

Collaboration offers a sexy solution for the customer and is a really fun sell.  The overarching message here is to think big.  As I said in a recent blog: “solve big problems, make big money” but more importantly solve big problems and sleep well at night knowing you served your customers well.

AirMedia™ is a registered Trademark of Crestron, ClickShare™ is a registered Trademark of Barco, Brio™ is a registered Trademark of Christie, Via™ is a registered Trademark of Kramer and Enzo is a registered Trademark of AMX.

The author:
Max Kopsho, CTS-D/I, PMP, CQT, CCNA R&S and Security, CompTIA Network+ and CTT+

Max has worked in the AV industry for over 17 years in various management and technical roles.  Over the last 28 years Max has acquired an extensive background in supporting AV and IT systems, computer networks, telecom, and VTC systems.  Max developed one of the industry’s first networked AV solutions and that product is now deployed in a single network with over 15,000 network attached AV devices.  Max has made considerable contributions to the InfoComm Education area in AV/IT and CTS preparations.  He was awarded the 2010 Educator of the Year for InfoComm and has prepared over 1000 candidates for their CTS exam.  The views in this article are strictly the views of Max and do not necessarily reflect the views of his employer or business partners.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Adding to Your Winning Team

Who is the best person on your integration team?  Where are you getting the highest value?  Is it the engineer who can design a flawless system and bring it life through a detailed program report and drawing package?  Is it the project manager who manages time, scope, and cost with incredible resource management skills and business acumen?  Can your key player be the sales person who went through the entire needs analysis processes and gathered all of the site survey information needed to execute a perfect proposal and win the project?  How about the installers, services team and support people who act as the glue to hold everything together and truly keep your customers happy?  Can you pick which of these is your most important player on your integration team?  Well, I say it is none of them.  The most important person on your team is your customer.  If you can engage your customer on a level where they “join your team” and are considered one of the resources that you can utilize and manage then you have truly found (or created) a winning situation.    

The best example I have of this scenario is when I was a younger sales person and I was working closely with a customer on a very large project. Before we won the project, I was preparing to give a presentation with our customer to some of his management team.  He had invited me in to help present to his bosses to assist him in getting approval for budget and scope for the proposed project.  In this situation he embedded himself into our team and invited us to present to his bosses so in turn we became embedded into his team.  The result of this relationship was quite the learning process for me.  In one instance I was talking to him about certain features and benefits to our solution.  I was giving him a great presentation in rehearsal for the presentation that we would eventually give his bosses together.  I was really on it, presentation-wise, and even though I was covering every piece of information marketing had given me about the products and solutions, he stopped me in the middle of my presentation.  When he stopped me he said, “You’re solving a problem I don’t have.”  I was blown away that this customer took time to teach (or remind) me about uncovering pains and value mapping.  The customer took the time to teach me because he was on my team.  Had this been a different type of sales relationship, instead of one where the sales person and the customer are on the same team, I do not believe the customer would have been in a place where they would have been willing and able to help the sales person (me) learn and grow.

Another illustration I have for this is when I was working in videoconferencing sales.  I was working late at night (or early in the AM) on a project with a customer.  This particular customer was assisting with the install.  To get this assistance we included it in the contract and we added him as a team member for the install.  We even had an agreement where he formally agreed to follow the direction of the PM while working on the job.  I have done this in other instances when non-profits such as churches, need to reduce the cost of a project by providing their own labor.  This is a difficult thing to manage but when it is well documented and has a strong agreement behind it, it can be a great solution.  Getting back to my story…we were up in the rafters together, under the conference table and staging equipment in the warehouse.  In this situation, I was able to have the customer act as a tech on the job and he had a lot of skin in the game.  When we ran into issues with IP addresses or other contractors, it really helped to have this champion embedded in our team.  As a side note, this particular customer is now one of my best lifelong friends.  This is another great example of how business and personal relationships are built.  Once you become a trusted advisor and prove your sincerity in what you do, you build a personal and professional preference above many others..

By having your customer on your team, you are illustrating one of the most useful tools in sales.  The acronym for this very useful too is: RADAR - Reading Accounts and Deploying Appropriate Resources. I learned RADAR from a very good book, Hope is Not a Strategy – The Six Keys to Winning the Complex Sale from Rick Paige.

When you use RADAR, you are maximizing all of your resources to include using the customer as a resources (when appropriate).  I have a saying, “when a sales person is at the top of their game, they are doing the least amount of work.”  Jokingly, I would say that the best sales people are the laziest people.  Now that is a joke, but what I do mean is that the most effective sales people sales are the ones that utilize ALL of the resources that are available to them and manage those resources accordingly.  This allows the sales person to focus on managing their sales instead of design, support, project management or many of the other things that can bog down a sales person.  When you use RADAR you are deploying a team of experts and a wide range of resources that are best suited for each aspect of the project.  Sometimes the customer is one or many of those experts and can be invaluable resources.  The customer knows more about their application, situation and usage model than anyone else on your team.  Use them and learn from them.

Customers want your project to succeed.  In many situations their job depends on it.  If you have the chance and the situation is right, have the customer on your team is a great resource and can result in a lifetime friendship.

The author:
Max Kopsho, CTS-D/I, PMP, CQT, CCNA R&S and Security, CompTIA Network+ and CTT+

Max has worked in the AV industry for over 17 years in various management and technical roles.  Over the last 28 years Max has acquired an extensive background in supporting AV and IT  systems, computer networks, telecom, and VTC systems.  Max developed one of the industry’s first networked AV solutions and that product is now deployed in a single network with over 15,000 network attached AV devices.  Max has made considerable contributions to the InfoComm Education area in AV/IT and CTS preparations.  He was awarded the 2010 Educator of the Year for InfoComm and has prepared over 1000 candidates for their CTS exam.  The views in this article are strickly the views of Max and do not necessarily reflect the views of his eployer or business partners.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Sympathy - Is it a Sign of Weakness in Sales?

(an exerpt from the book - Da Vinci Sales - The 7 Keys to Selling Like Leonardo -

Sales is a dog eat dog world.  In sales you don't have time to care and you can’t be weak…or can you?  Should you?  Does sympathy pay off in sales?  If so, which should you be, sympathetic or empethetic?

While many say it is more important to be able to empathize with people than to sympathize.  There is such beauty in sympathy.  When you are sympathetic you are willing to try to see through someone else’s eyes even when you have not experienced the same experience they are currently in.  In the case of sympathy, you are trying your best to understand and connect as closely as you possibly can even if the situation does not concern you personally.

The need to be able to be sympathetic in your daily life is somewhat self-evident.  When you are driving home from work and someone cuts you off a little sympathy can change your whole reaction. You have a couple of options:

Option 1:  You can remind that person that you have just as much right to the road that they do and they have no right to endanger your life by cutting you off in traffic.  You are even within your social rights to use an expletive or gesture. 
Option 2:   This option not only requires the use of sympathy, but also the use of a paradigm shift.  This paradigm shift allows your sympathetic approach to change the way you think and believe about the situation and in turn the way you react.  In using this paradigm shift and sympathetic approach you can decide that this person may have just come off or of a double shift that they were working to earn extra money for their family after recently losing their spouse a few days ago.  You decide that you too would be a bit distracted if you lost your closest loved one a few days before this incident. You also decide to believe that they are in need of extra money to raise the four children this person is now left to raise alone.  You further develop your paradigm and sympathy scenario to see that one of these children has special needs.  Your cut off offender is in a bit of a hurry to get home and relieve the nurse that cares for this child while they are away and this nurse charges extra if they show up late.  You are now able to let that cut off go and better yet, you hope that the person who cut you off gets home quickly, safely and has better days to come. This is because you have this ability to create a scenario and in turn sympathize and change your paradigm. 

There is beauty in sympathy, even if you have to create the need for it so that it can change your paradigm.  The concept in option 2 is paraphrased from Zig Ziggler – I expanded on it a little to help make my point and I can’t give a direct quote or reference the exact source, because I am getting old and don’t remember where I heard or read it.

Is this important is technology sales?  Is there beauty in sympathy in sales?  That seems like a no brainer.  Of course it is important in technology sales and when it is used there is beauty in the sympathetic sales process.  But, all too often we talk about ‘side of the table’ and the ‘games we are playing’ in negotiations and even in needs analysis.  A passionate sales person who is convicted in what they sell (because they believe in the products and solutions they offer) does not have to view the world of sales as sides and games.  For people of conviction and passion the sales world is full of opportunities to solve problems and this can best be done when seeing the world through the customer’s eyes.  If a sales person can use sympathy to see the things they have never experienced and do their best to understand how these things make their customer feel even when there is no personal impact to the sales person, they gain insight and the ability to see the whole problem (including explicit needs and implied needs – read SPIN Selling by Neil Rackham for some great information on explicit and implied needs).  Another beautiful side effect of this approach is that the sales person can use their ability to create scenarios and a situation to sympathize with even the most difficult customers.  This can help a sales person change their paradigm and connect with people who often don’t get connected with.  Sometimes customers can be difficult because they have a lot of tragic things going on elsewhere in their lives, why not just create that scenario for all of the difficult customers and have a new paradigm for them all.  Who knows, this approach may actually build a relationship that goes far beyond the sales cycle and gets into a partnership and trusted advisor status for decades to come.
Here are some useful hints on how to focus your observations about your customers and business partners to become more sympathetic to their situation.  Using the Acronym RIVER, you can determine some of the key elements to focus your efforts toward in order for you to be better in tune with your customers.  The RIVER acronym and concept comes from the book Delivering Knock Your Socks Off Service from Performance Research Associates.  RIVER = Roles, Interests, Values, Expectations and Requirements.  Each of the terms in RIVER is self-explanatory and by using these categories you can make sure that you look at many angles of the person, business or group of people to help gain more perspective to be more sympathetic.  By adding some key questions and key points and taking time to get these questions and points answered and understood you can better put yourself in a place where you can be truly sympathetic:

  • R – Roles = what are this person’s roles in the organization, home, church and other areas of life?  Are they a leader, follower or somewhere in between?  Can you help them with their roles and can you play a role in their life beyond the typical business role.  In business development I find this an easy place for me to be actively engaged because I can use my role as an educator to help develop other people’s roles at work and in life in general.
  •  I – Interests = understanding what this person is interested in will help you frame your discussions around their interests.  You will engage them on new levels if your analogies and references have to do with things that they are interested in.
  • V – Values = if you can understand someone’s value system and RESPECT it (not necessarily agree with it) then you will be well on your way to earning the mutual respect.  That respect becomes trust.
  • E – Expectations = knowing what people need and want from you up front will go a long way.  This will keep “the dance” short and the work productive.
  • R – Requirements = the bottom line, can you provide this person what they need.  If we refer another book that I love (the Complex Sell by Rick Paige) there is a key reference to the Shark Chart of Pain where the requirements (Pains) are identified in a hierarchy of Strategic, Political, Financial, Cultural Organizational and Technical.  Can you meet these requirements and can you hit them high in the hierarchy?
I have the luxury of traveling around a lot and doing a lot of teaching.  One thing that I have learned during all of this traveling and training is that I know that I am at my best when teaching when I am in tune with my students and when I am truly sympathetic.  I train my best when I view my own training from the student’s perspective.  I believe that sales is exactly the same.  We sell well when we connect and understand (sympathize) with our customers.  We sell better and solve problems better when we truly look at these problems from our customer’s perspective and then apply our available resources to solve those problems with the customer.  We do better yet when we engage the customer and use a lot of their resources along with ours.  That is what I will talk about next week is engaging the customer at a level where they become part of the solution you provide.  You almost get to sell them back their own expertise when you project manage their team properly and sell the stakeholder engagement aspect and entire process.  So stay tuned…

The author:
Max Kopsho, CTS-D/I, PMP, CQT, CCNA R&S and Security, CompTIA Network+ and CTT+ 

Max has worked in the AV industry for over 17 years in various management and technical roles.  Over the last 28 years Max has acquired an extensive background in supporting AV and IT  systems, computer networks, telecom, and VTC systems.  Max developed one of the industry’s first networked AV solutions and that product is now deployed in a single network with over 15,000 network attached AV devices.  Max has made considerable contributions to the InfoComm Education area in AV/IT and CTS preparations.  He was awarded the 2010 Educator of the Year for InfoComm and has prepared over 1000 candidates for their CTS exam.  The views in this article are strickly the views of Max and do not necessarily reflect the views of his eployer or business partners.

Friday, July 10, 2015

What is in the VALUE SWEET SPOT in converged AV and IT?

What is really the return when you combine AV and IT?  To answer this question you have to better define what AV and IT convergence is.  AV and IT convergence is when AV and IT can be deployed where collaboration, control (ease of use), connectivity, conferencing and sending content can all be enhanced by integrating both leveraging the features and benefits of both AV and IT.  The convergence part of the definition is key.  The convergence means that these technologies coexist and enhance one another.  In my definition convergence is not when AV is taken to the IT side, but is running on a separate physical network.  At that point, you are merely having AV leverage the value of IT.  In a truly converged application the two completely coexist and are fully integrated.  As I stated a couple of weeks ago, using HDBaseT as the last mile for extension is one thing, but further integrating it to leverage the IP capabilities to control devices and use all that HDBaseT has to offer to fully integrate AV and IT is true convergence. If you are using HDBaseT and IP Based video and audio together all the better.  It can be done with some engineering prowess and forethought.

The results of completely converged AV and IT systems address the pains that every customer has. These pains are addressed through an incredible series of interrelated key points. The major interrelated points really have little to do with AV or IT:
·        The first two points are when the MESSAGE and the MISSION are completely aligned.
·        The next two points are where the intersection of importance of the MESSAGE is shared between PEOPLE who have the message and the people they want to share it with.
The following points show how AV/IT converged systems can take the major interrelated points and drive them forward:
·        The next two points are when the TECHNOLOGY can enhance the PHYSICAL SPACE to increase the productivity of the user to best match the application and usage needs .
·        The technologically enhanced PHYSICAL SPACE can enhance and impact how MESSAGE is shared and relayed.
At which point the TECHNOLOGY enhances the PHYSICAL SPACE to drive the MESSAGE, MISSION and PEOPLE.  (Check out the Infographic at to get a better understanding of the 5 equations that show the complete interrelationships in converged AV and IT solutions.)

The overall message is that as an integrator or anyone working in the AV/IT industry we are in a unique position.  For the first time in a long time, there is an industry that there is a solution that transcends all of these:
·        MESSAGE
·        PEOPLE
·        MISSION

In working in converged AV/IT we have an opportunity to improve and drive our customer’s organizational character by helping to propel their mission.  Converged AV/IT helps people to better get their message across and to truly connect on many levels.  When we converge AV and IT, we can impact the heart and spirit of an organization.  We can help our customers to be more productive, more profitable and to help people better connect and collaborate.  It’s simple math.  You have to love AV/IT.  I know I do.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Why So Many Certifications? - It’s all about the Bas(s) - The (BAS)ICS) that is!

I often refer to myself as a certification junkie. The truth of the matter is I am an education and learning junkie. I love to learn and all of the certifications are a side effect of that wonderful disease. That addiction to lifelong learning is probably why I teach. In teaching, I learn more than I could ever teach. Yes, I said it, teaching is a selfish business for me. When I teach I get much more than I give. When I am in the front of a class and when I am facilitating the class properly, I learn so much more than I could ever teach. Look at it this way, if I have a room of 25 students and the average experience of the student is 10 years then the collective student experience is 250 years. Compared to my 27 years of experience, I am the weak link in the class. My job is to draw out the unique experience from each of these students and make their experience, knowledge and skill part of the collective. During this process, I can’t help but learn. Of course, I develop an follow curriculum that works toward a learning and/or performance goal and share information that I have gathered from classes and experience that I have, but I can guarantee that the information transfer goes both ways. This is definitely a win-win situation.

So, the question are, why do I have so many certification? Is there value to these certifications? Can there be value in such a broad range of such certifications? To answer these questions I would put together some rules for certifications and education goals for technologist and sales engineers in AV/IT:
  • Begin with the end in mind - (one of my favorite quotes and based on seven habits of highly effective people – Stephen Covey) – What is the end game? Is there a promotion, target job, target company, target degree or similar goal that a certification or education path will lead you to.
  • Determine the disciplines that you want to follow – Technical, Project Management, Design, etc – or do you want to head towards multiple disciplines and be a renaissance man (or woman) –this was my goal and why I took so many certifications, my goal was to be multi-disciplined and be as much like Leonardo Da Vinci as possible (read more about this at my site for my book (
  • Set a plan – The concept here is to ask yourself, how do you eat an elephant?...One bite at a time. Don’t try to do it all at once. If someone told me I had to have all of these certifications, I would have said that would be impossible, but I took it all in small bites.
  • Use all of the resources available to you and barter where you can - you have some skills and knowledge you can trade. Do it. Someone out there needs to know what you know and they have what you need. Share. I have lived my educational life based on that core belief and that is why I teach and learn to this day. The number one reason that I am by any means successful at what I do (teaching wise) is because I believe in what I do. It is about sharing. Do it!
  • Stop Procrastinating - Take the test or class– so what if you fail? Failing is learning. I will not say if or how many times I have failed certification test…YES I WILL. I HAVE! And I still have my certifications. Failing can be a study method. If you take and fail a test, you have then seen the test and can better study for the test to take it again and pass.
  • Enjoy your win – celebrate and brag and help others win to – that is part of sharing too.
  • Keep going – don’t lose your certs. It doesn’t say much when you put on a resume’ r discuss how you used to have a CTS or whatever certification. As a hiring manager, I put very little weight in expired certifications. Keep them renewed. Some of the certifications I have are just to keep other certifications renewed. Sometimes it is a vicious circle, but it is a fun one.
I know I talk a lot about certifications in the blog, but in this blog if you replace the word certification with classes or education or other synonym for learning, it would all hold true. The certifications I currently have could not have been achieved without learning and that is what it is all about. That is why I believe certifications is all about the BASS. ALL ABOUT THE BASICS that is. EDUCATION and LEARNING is the most basic aspect of certifications and I have never encountered an instance where education and learning is not a good thing.

By the way, I guess I should actually answer those original questions about why I went and got so many certifications:
  • Q. Why do I have so many certification? 
  • A. With the goal of lifelong learning I can’t help but constantly set my own goals for some form of a metrics to make sure that I can prove to myself that I am constantly learning. My certifications are confirmation to myself that I am constantly learning.
  • Q. Is there value to these certifications? 
  • A. Absolutely – I have received promotions and new jobs that relate directly to some of my certifications. They also help with credibility with some of the customers I deal with.
  •  Q. Can there be value in such a broad range of such certifications? 
  •  A. This was one of my goals. I wanted to target having a very broad range of technical and business certifications. This also helps with dealing with customers in business and with helping to relate the technology and the business needs.

In business, in home life and in life in general, education is one of the greatest freedoms one can have and this weekend most of all we can celebrate the freedom of education.

Max Kopsho
CTS-I/D, CCENT, CCNA R&S and Security, PMP, CQT, CompTIA Network+ and CTT+
Lean Six Sigma Green Belt
and a few more, but they stopped fitting on the business card...