When budgets consolidate, roles expand, and complications arise, corporate IT can suffer just as any other department might. But for IT, the complications have begun to take a new form—an audiovisual (AV) form, to be more specific.
That’s because the challenges that come with meeting room and video conferencing technology—challenges that used to be handled by AV support staff—increasingly fall into the laps of IT personnel instead. It can be daunting work, especially when long-term plans are on the table.
“When someone makes the decision to invest in tech in a meeting room, the fear is to think that as soon as it’s installed, it’s going to be outdated,” says Cory Schaeffer, director of system solutions for QSC LLC. “They ask, ‘How do I invest in technology that serves us well over time?’ That’s the question we’re laser-focused on.”
Long-term planning is something with which QSC is quite familiar. The company was founded nearly fifty years ago as an amplifier manufacturer, but in recent years, it has focused on designing and engineering high-performance AVC (audio, video, and control) solutions. Among them is what Schaeffer describes as “the most powerful and scalable AVC platform available” in today’s market. The Q-SYS Platform was built from the ground up by embracing mainstream IT technologies from Intel, Linux, and standards-based networking concepts. It puts QSC ahead of the curve, but the proverbial rearview mirror also gets a lot of use.
“We’re really in a transitional time where many clients are looking less at hardware and more at software-based platform solutions,” Schaeffer says. “Clients lean toward platforms that are extensible and are built around concepts they are familiar with and solutions that allow for easy integration with their existing infrastructure.”
“When an IT team is faced with integrating AV into their department, my best advice would be to create AV standards. It’s a language they already know . . . something of which they already know the benefits.”
QSC’s platform development comes at a time when IT departments are coming to terms with their biggest AVC challenges. Meeting room technologies tend to be cobbled together from discrete hardware components, each with its own requirements and each utilizing different protocols. Enterprise-wide system upgrades are tricky, to say the least. Room management and monitoring are nearly impossible. “It’s really been the wild, Wild West out there,” Schaeffer says. In addressing all of these challenges, she knows the importance of the critical counterbalance known as AV standards.
“When an IT team is faced with integrating AV into their department, my best advice would be to create AV standards,” she says. “IT already has a set of standards. What they need is to work AVC standards into that. It’s a language they already know, something of which they already know the benefits.”
There are, in fact, IT teams that have become early adopters of AV standardization. One example can be found at a large e-commerce corporation, where its AV team has been part of IT for nearly five years, according to the company’s manager of global media services Matt Anders. Another is witnessed by Pete Kolak, a former conferencing engineer at Adobe who now serves as senior manager of conferencing services for an industry leader in building high-performing networks. “In my experience,” Kolak says, “I’ve never worked for a company where AV was separate.”
As representatives of enterprises that have already embraced the AV/IT convergence, Kolak and Anders have advice for businesses just beginning this process.
First, invest in a “future-proof” infrastructure. Kolak says that as technology quickly changes, IT teams should expect to get 3–5 years of use from infrastructure equipment. “You should also consider solutions that are based on basic IT standards to make integration easier and seamless with your existing infrastructure,” he says.
Next, find the right partner. When selecting a vendor to work with, Anders says to make sure they have a strong training program. “Training is one of the biggest challenges of integrating and managing AV equipment,” he says. Finding someone whose technologies have a basic feature set that is familiar is also important. If they don’t have it, find out if there is something you can work together to develop.
Finally, develop enterprise-wide technology standards. Many end users consider standardization and total cost of ownership as key value drivers when selecting AV technologies. This convergence has been the newfound ability for AVC to move away from customized hardware solutions toward more central, standardized systems.
As an AV/IT convergence pioneer, Anders notes that his company realized the importance of this nearly five years ago. “Not having standards was a disaster,” he says. “We developed our standards from scratch. Now, every single one of our rooms are identical. They all have the same touch panel, same look, same products. An engineer from here or the UK could fix any room globally because they all have the same wiring labels, numbers on the cables, etc. That has really helped support maintenance, phone support . . . everything.”
Establishing AV standards will ultimately allow a company to avoid meeting room disasters. By doing the more challenging work up front, end users will experience easy-to-use meeting room technology. This is likely to be all the more important as technology becomes even more sophisticated. “Future platforms will do more than just control AV,” Schaeffer says. “They will track room occupancy, how often a room gets used, how often this or that piece of equipment gets used, equipment warranties, etc. What’s on a laptop or panel today will become more virtualized.”
One of the key realizations regarding the development of QSC’s Q-SYS Platform was that the company needed to develop something that reached out to IT customers in a more direct manner. “We realized early on that the future of this industry would need a platform that embraced IT’s language,” Schaeffer says. “They would need an open IT-friendly ecosystem that transcends the limitations found in single-purpose hardware-based products.”
QSC has spent the past few years paying closer attention to how IT professionals embrace the new AV department, and the company has also worked to become a partner in helping develop those AV standards. This, along with AV savvy, is helping bring the company’s platforms to a bigger audience.
“Our AV industry still focuses on the hardware,” Schaeffer says. “And you have to have it—from innovation in beam-forming microphones, touchscreen control panels, to conference room cameras, and so on. But what they should be looking for is a standard, IT-based platform that will both serve them well into the future and be upgradeable.”