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.