Pro AV Logo Originally published as a Consultant's Connection
column in Pro AV Magazine
  July 2004

Changing Roles

In today’s fast-paced technology world, system owners, IT professionals, and integrators must learn to become partners and work together to build, operate, and maintain AV systems that tap into the network.

By Tim Cape, CTS-D

As we mature as an industry, we’ve seen the AV owner’s role go from contented box buyer to bewildered system buyer to burned system buyer to shrewd system buyer. As providers, we still face a mishmash of clients at all stages of development, but more and more of them are becoming savvy.

Designed to anticipate the future roles of AV systems owners and their organizations, the second Future Summit for consultants was held at InfoComm in Atlanta last month. This event is a gathering of ICIA member consultants where we look ahead a few years and talk about what our profession might look like.

Conducted in 2001 and now called Future Summit I, the first meeting was a great success. Much of what we talked about then was technology related, focusing a lot on the impact of networking and IT technologies on pro AV equipment, systems, and providers. Future Summit II was just as successful, though this time we focused much more on the changing roles we expect to play in the coming years. So once an end-user becomes a savvy AV buyer, what happens next? Is that the end of the evolution? As we’ve learned over the past few years, the answer is “probably not.”

The data/telecom model

As we saw when the data/telecom world emerged, adjustments had to be made. First owners needed computers, then networks for the computers, cabling for the networks, network electronics for the cabling, rooms for the network electronics, and finally people to manage everything. Today’s data/telecom world has evolved beyond us in some respects. Organizations found people to manage everything, and then needed an officer to manage those people — the chief information officer, affectionately known as the CIO.

Once an acronym that required an explanation, a CIO is as necessary and familiar today as a CEO for most mid- to large-sized organizations. But while the CIO’s existence is old hat these days, the position continues to evolve. Still, some CIOs think they have their jobs figured out — they just have to keep up with computing, networking, and communications technologies, right? Maybe not. Some CIOs and their departments are beginning to understand the changes (and headaches) the pro AV world brings.

We want to be on their network. We want access to their communications lines. We need IP addresses, bandwidth, firewall access, and rack space. Most of the time we eventually get what we need. Typically, the data/telecom guys only think about data. “OK,” they may say, reluctantly. “You need some bandwidth and IP addresses — here you go. Now go away, and don’t mess up my network!”

Why aren’t they more interested in pro AV? First of all, for many IT departments it’s not in their job description — yet. Besides, data is mission-critical, and for good reason. Everyone recognizes that, which is why the CIO position was created. AV stuff isn’t mission-critical — until, of course, the CEO needs it to give a PowerPoint presentation to the board or hold a meeting.

What do we get?

What happens as pro AV takes its new and rightful place in today’s technology-rich enterprise or institution as the data/telecom world did? Will the CIO be forced to learn about us? Will we be forced into the IT department? Will we have our own head honcho — the chief audiovisual officer (CAVO)? Or in the dot-com tradition, a major dude of ear and eye candy (MDEEC)? Again, probably not.

What do we get inside the owner’s organization to represent and manage the enterprise and campus AV systems? More than likely, organizations that haven’t already put AV responsibility under the CIO eventually will. The CIO’s employees are the technology folks. AV is information. This is where the suffering and adjustment come in.

Data/telecom guys haven’t traditionally cared about much beyond the data/telecom jack, except for the computer, phone, or switch attached to it. They just want to get information from one place to another. Once the data is on the screen and the phone is on the desk, the data guys are done. Data/telecom then, is about the delivery of information, while pro AV is about communicating it once it gets there.

Unlike the data people, the AV professionals deal with not only the electronics in the room, how they’re attached to things, and how they look, but also with the room itself — acoustics, lighting, electrical system, room shape, seating arrangement, room finishes, and ceiling height. These are things the data guys and their CIO didn’t have to think about before.

What’s ahead?

Because there was so much money to be made in the ‘90s selling, designing, and installing pro AV systems, it was difficult for owners to retain knowledgeable AV personnel, which put the owners at a disadvantage. This gave the pro AV providers all the perceived expertise, while the owners badly needed and wanted it. However, there was inexperience on both the supply and demand side back then. And while some owners got good results with good AV providers, many others didn’t and have lived to tell the tale — and pick the right team next time.

Through these educational times, owners came to understand — sometimes through graceful enlightenment, others through bitter experience — that there’s more to AV than meets the eye, ear, and budget. The design of the environment is important, and there are good, bad, and ugly ways to install AV equipment. As a result, some owners have learned (and others will need to learn) the value of AV expertise in their organizations.

As pro AV equipment technology becomes more consolidated, DSP-based, and network-oriented, systems design and installation will evolve into its new form — software and network development for the electronics (which is different from the past) with room and infrastructure design for the facility (like the past and present). System owners, particularly the larger corporations and institutions, will hire more knowledgeable and experienced AV people, thanks in part to the educational opportunities our industry is providing.

As qualified and experienced AV people become more common in the owner’s world, they may move to a model more like data/telecom for their interaction with us as AV providers. They’ll be more capable of purchasing, programming, installing, and maintaining their own systems (at least for smaller systems), which will have an impact on pro AV system providers — particularly the integrators.

What this means for pro AV

With more in-house AV projects for system owners, pure box sales for AV dealers might trend upward, as would the “sweet spot” of the integrator’s mean project size, particularly for integrator design-build projects. Owners will still outsource larger AV projects as they do now, as well as large bricks-and-mortar facility renovations and new buildings.

From the owner’s standpoint, they’ll be building, operating, and maintaining their own systems more than they do now. However, they’ll need help with the transition to internal responsibility in managing their technology systems during the process. Though we may not get a chief officer of our own, AV will inevitably play a more important role within a larger organization’s management as we move forward — and with the help of AV providers, they’ll make better partners for doing business in the future. We’ll all just have to adjust as we go along.



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