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Audiovisual systems need more efficient integration and management

What happened to the days of overhead projectors and clambering under desks for VGA (video graphics array) cables to connect to a screen? They may still be around in places, but anyone visiting ISE2019 in Amsterdam will immediately realise that audiovisual (AV) systems have evolved.

They have become highly sophisticated and network aware, and driven by the demands of enterprise conferencing, collaboration and communications. Their use, in a variety of workplace and especially remote locations, has soared.

What was once something that could have been looked after as office facilities, has become an IT issue. The need to be able to manage an entire AV estate effectively, from an IT perspective, has increased in importance.

It would once have been enough to occasionally send someone round a few meeting rooms, and have them on call for the odd important video conference. Now, not only is usage higher, but so too are expectations of consistent and seamless ease of use.

In theory, that would require more staff to maintain and support, but the reality is that few organisations can afford dedicated AV specialists. They face two major challenges – the multiplicity of locations of AV equipment and the diversity of equipment therein, many still based on proprietary systems and technologies.

AV sprawl

The peppering of AV technology into so many locations is a positive endorsement of the sector’s importance. Videoconferencing is more widespread and accepted as a mechanism of regular communication – it goes beyond the boardroom’s dedicated systems and into any reserved meeting space or ad hoc huddle room.

Wireless connection means almost any projector or display screen can readily be connected to a passing device wanting to share content. Visual and collaborative applications and technology for conferencing are widely accessible outside the workplace, in public places, at home or on the move, onto the palms of tablet and smartphone users.

The multiplicity of systems, applications and devices increases the complexity and demands on the skillsets of those deploying, integrating and managing the AV estate. This is not helped by the low cost and availability of AV systems, so that lines of business and individual users can buy their own systems beyond the gaze of facilities or IT management. This “shadow AV”, which mirrors the familiar IT challenge of shadow IT, could inadvertently open up its own security and management challenges.

AV systems integration

The range and number of locations of AV systems means it is impossible to support them all in person. Systems need to be set up so that routine daily issues can be self-supported by individual users, and core policies, control and management need to be administered centrally and remotely.

This has long been a networking and IT systems challenge, but tools and standards have evolved to simplify the management of complex systems. Heterogeneous AV systems integration is still at an earlier stage and although standards adoption is growing, there is more to do.

Some companies have the resources and drive to want to do this for themselves, but others will look to external integration. However, everyone benefits from some level of simplification and streamlining, which can be addressed in a number of ways:

Single pane of glass

The common approach to many IT problems is to use some universal platform to integrate several different packages into a single unified experience. This fixes the problem of spinning up a plethora of applications to look after logically similar, but functionally slightly different, systems that might differ only in terms of their control logic because they come from different suppliers.

But there is little point in adopting this approach if the platform is either not sufficiently encompassing or does little more than combining user interfaces. A bit of additional intelligence, whether artificial or simply options to apply rules and policies universally, would be very welcome, especially when AV is being managed by IT generalists rather than AV specialists.

Remote control

It is no longer acceptable to apply patches or even toggle the power while standing next to a piece of hardware. AV devices may be in hard-to-reach locations in any event, embedded in room fittings or ceilings, distributed around a campus, or remote offices and home working locations.

Everything, from setup to fault finding, needs to be able to be administered remotely. This is essential if an enterprise wants to go a step further and outsource this support work, for example to a service provider.

Additional intelligence

It is probably a little early in the development of integrated AV to look for extensive artificial intelligence, but smart building management, with increasing use of sensors, gives further insights that could be applied to AV management.

AV and IT may be converging, but the relationships with facilities management are still often not as close, and it is unlikely that IT and AV managers will want to take responsibility for room facilities, beyond their technology remit.

However, a sharing of data, especially, for example, from environmental, proximity or presence sensors, may be very helpful for AV management if it can be integrated into control systems.

Overlaying new systems

AV installations will have evolved organically in many organisations, with or without shadow AV, and there is rarely an opportunity to rip out and replace screens, projectors, videoconferencing or meeting room systems en masse.

New control systems need to be able to be retrofitted as an overlay across existing systems. A minimal level of user interface integration is not sufficient to provide the depth of control required to be able to apply policies universally. Systems need to be integrated functionally to deliver real value.

AV as a service

Does this really have to be done in-house? The recent 2019 CI state of the industry report indicates that while there is growth in the AV integration sector, profits are under threat. Services offer an interesting opportunity.

Currently, more than half of AV integrators have sold and delivered managed services in the past year, but services account for less than one-third of revenues for 75% of all integrators. Enterprise appetite for technology products to be delivered and billed “as-a-service” continues to grow, and diverse but still evolving areas such as unified communications and video fit well into an as-a-service proposition.

This gives any organisation an opportunity to simplify its support needs, but still scale with demand.

For AV integrators, especially those willing to grow to add value beyond the “hanging and banging” of installation and deployment, this could be a ready revenue opportunity.

While there will be a lot of impressive screen technology on display at ISE2019, increasing standardisation, use of networking and a convergence with IT mean that the issues of efficient management, security and control are also high on the agenda.

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