Pro AV Logo Originally published as a Consultant's Connection
column in Pro AV Magazine
  September 2002

Getting with the Program

It takes input from all three of these elements to create a good AV program: the management's vision, the end-user's applications and the technical staff's operations.

By Tim Cape, CTS-D

More and more often (but still not often enough), AV consultants are brought into an AV-centric project when they should be—early. There is a long list of reasons why this should be, but the most important is to establish realistic budgets and functional physical requirements in a new or existing building. The physical requirements include such important parameters as adequate square footage for AV equipment, projection and storage rooms, as well as sufficient floor-to-floor height to accommodate good sight lines and appropriate image heights. If these issues are not adequately addressed at the start, then the results will be either unworkable or compromised at best.

In parallel with the architectural programming, including a needs-analysis based on functional requirements provided by the owners and users of the new facilities there should also be an AV programming process to establish the functional needs and the impact of any AV systems within the new spaces. The project then proceeds from programming through conceptual design, schematic design, design development and finally to the construction documents from which the project will be built.

The program document, properly prepared, is the playbook by which the rest of the design process is executed. It establishes the goals and functions that the design (and ultimately the building) is supposed to support. For the AV consultant, the program document can be as widely varied as the individuals who prepare it—a situation that hopefully will change. The problem lies in the fact that there is not a strong tradition of our specialty being involved in this architectural process nor is there any agreed upon basic standard definition of what an AV program is.

By Invitation Only

Mechanical, electrical and structural engineers are always requested to be a part of the programming process because the architect knows that their expertise is required to establish the functional requirements for their trade and (equally importantly) to help establish or verify realistic budgets for construction. For the owner's part, the facilities department (if there is one) is brought in to help establish the more technical requirements from the standpoint of issues, such as design consistency, operations and existing infrastructure. Department heads, administrators and some end-users are usually a part of the discussions to contribute to the definition of functional requirements for the facility under design.

When it comes to AV, however, we aren't always invited to the party, and this is often true for both the AV designers on the architect's team, as well as the AV techs on the owner's staff. If AV pros aren't a part of this early process, trouble ensues (as many of us have experienced). The later we are brought in, the more compromises have to be made in meeting the AV functionality of a building, particularly one where AV is a significant element of the building's purpose. So why aren't we on the invitation list?

Bringing in AV expertise late in the design process is usually the result of the owner and/or architect not having been through the process on this type of facility before. Once an AV-centric building is built without the proper expertise involved at the proper time, everyone involved learns the hard lesson and becomes initiated into the society of the experienced.

The Right Team at the Right Time

Getting qualified AV design assistance is not necessarily an easy task, and it's only part of the solution. The right people on the owner's side also need to be involved to get the right information. Consultants need to know not just what the senior administrators' vision is, but what the day-to-day end-users do now, what they think they need to do in the future and help them understand what their options are technologically. Consultants also need to interact with the owner's technical staff to get the skinny from the folks that speak their language. Unfortunately these technical people are sometimes left out and what could be important operational insights become unfortunate oversights.

It takes input from all three of these elements to create a good AV program: the management's vision, the end-user's applications and the technical staff's operations. In addition, how these elements are interpreted and presented are then extremely important. In preparing the AV program, Premise Number One is: “An equipment list does not an AV program.” Though some mention of source types and quantities, projector quantities and performance parameters and other equipment-specific information is usually included, it's the functional descriptions (often with conceptual graphical layouts of each space) that make the AV program effective.

Getting the owner's staff involved is sometimes easy and sometimes not. Sometimes, the internal workings of a large organization are deep and mysterious and fraught with danger at every turn. For example, getting the AV technical staff involved often goes something like the following anecdote.

Some of the AV people work for the IT department while others work for individual departments. The facilities people don't really consider them part of the building operations, so they don't ask them to the programming meetings. The administrators know the technology guys should be there, so the IT representative is brought in, but he really doesn't know what the AV guys do, so their requirements are underrepresented at best. The architect knows they will need an AV consultant, and they are going to bring them in early—when they are starting construction documents (or about three or four phases too late) so they don't ask for the AV people to be there. The actual users ask for things like projectors and screens and everyone thinks this is all anyone needs to know. Besides, all the equipment can be bought on the internet, right? Sound familiar?

To avert this nightmare that is sometimes reality, AV pros should be just as much a part of the design team as the mechanical and electrical consultants are. In addition, facility owners need to realize the need for their own AV people to provide input in the early stages of a project, as well as the appropriate end-users. And the AV industry needs to learn how to create an effective, functional AV program document that will serve a design process that may last for two years or more. If AV pros are going to be an integral part of the building design and construction industry, we all have to learn to get with the program.



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