Why Audio Visual Integration Goes Wrong

Posted by / February 1, 2017

Why Audio Visual Integration Goes Wrong

It’s a harsh fact: sometimes, AV is a pain.

All too many end-users end up wasting valuable time every day fighting with technology that never worked well in the first place. Technology that they bought based on a promise that it would make their life easier, but has, in reality, brought more frustration than anything else.

But why does audio visual integration go wrong?

There are three root causes of the most common AV woes: bad design, poor implementation, and the growing commoditization of AV (i.e. consumers wanting more and cheaper technology without the need of a third party to set it up).

When all three of these factors come together, you’re sure to end up regretting your technology purchase. So with that in mind, let’s tackle each of these one at a time so you can avoid ending up with AV Gone Bad (trademark not pending).

The Source of Bad AV Design

When people fail to realize the significance and scope of AV, they make the mistake of either putting it off until the last minute or lumping it in with IT. In either case, the quality of design suffers as a result.

Leaving AV to the last minute is the more obvious problem. In a new construction project, for example, it’s much easier and more cost-effective to deliver a well-designed solution before rooms are finished than it is to retrofit an already-built room to new and improved AV.

But the real problem with leaving AV till later is that it marks a failure to grasp just how important AV is. When it’s well-designed, AV technology really does enhance your team’s collaboration and communication. We’re not talking about would-be-nice-to-have gadgets, we’re talking about the primary business tools you rely on every day for mission-critical operations.

Unlike consumer technology (which can be fun, granted), AV directly impacts the effectiveness of your team and working with and presenting crucial information, often with potential clients you’re hoping to impress. With that in mind, it’s pretty silly to treat AV as an afterthought. It surely doesn’t seem like an afterthought when AV fails—in fact, it seems like an emergency.

The problem of lumping AV in with IT is more difficult to unpack. As much as AV and IT technologies have converged, there is still a crucial distinction between our industries. If you think that’s an uncontroversial statement—even in the AV industry—boy, have I got news for you.

Take this blog post from Mark Coxon (@avphenom on Twitter). In 2015, he published a transcript of an email exchange with an unnamed AV industry veteran on the subject of whether AV is really a subset of IT.

In short, the answer is yes… and no.

Although AV is now vastly more dependent on IT technology than in the past, AV is not necessarily dependent on what goes on in IT. The unnamed industry veteran in Mark’s post says it better than I can:

“The thing is this: AV is about organizational media; if the big medium tomorrow within organizations drops all connection with electronics and instead begins using flying squirrels, AV will still exist – but perhaps IT will desperately, and quickly, add a new interface called ‘aeromammals’.”

In the debate between science and religion (hang with me, I’m not going there), there’s a concept developed by Steven Jay Gould called NOMA: non-overlapping magisteria. It’s a fancy way of saying that both realms have separate but equally legitimate domains of authority.

That particular discussion aside, I think the idea of NOMA applies well here: IT and AV may overlap, but each has its specialty and we need to preserve the boundary between them. The non-overlapping areas are extremely important, especially when deciding who should be in charge of implementing AV solutions.

IT is concerned with a broad but specific set of tasks that can be boiled down to storing, examining, retrieving, transmitting, and manipulating data. While many of today’s communication solutions share a technology framework with IT, audio visual integrators rely on expertise that extends this framework—such as optics, acoustics, and networking of communication-specific technologies.

There’s no question that some IT professionals may have personal experience in AV, and there’s no rule that says you have to hire an integrator for an AV job. But as the lines between AV and IT are blurred, integrators need to say loud and proud that AV design is still our wheelhouse.

And it’s just possible that your AV systems break all the time because they weren’t designed by someone with proper knowledge and experience in AV design.

Poor Implementation—Or, Why You Need a New Audio Visual Integrator

I’d be a fool to say that bad AV only happens because of the lack of an integrator. We all know better than that. Often, the AV integrator is actually the source of your problems.

The fact is, not all integrators are created equal. Before any new AV project, you need to take the time to vet potential integrators and choose wisely if you want to save time and costs in the long run (P.S. Our CEO wrote a whole blog post about how to do just that).

But how do you know if your integrator is to blame for your AV gone bad?

Here’s the classic answer-your-question-with-another-question routine: If you made a five-minute time-lapse video of your interactions with your integrator, what would you see?

Would you see frustration, either among their team or in your response to their actions?

Would half of the video consist of wasted materials and labor?

Would you see the outline of a detailed process… or a lack thereof?

Would it be four and a half minutes of dead air bookended by paperwork?

In our experience, most of the success or failure of an audio visual integration project boils down to communication. If your integrator doesn’t start out by thoroughly exploring your exact goals and needs, doesn’t have a vision or a clearly communicated and documented design and review process, doesn’t ask for and respond to your feedback on their initial drawings, and doesn’t meet with you regularly to gauge your satisfaction with the work they’ve done, then you absolutely need a new integrator.

Successful AV integration doesn’t stop with communication, of course. But without clear communication at the foundation, it’s impossible to determine the presence or lack of other important factors in an integrator—such as their track record, depth of experience, and how committed they are to excellence.

AV Integrators Aren’t Commodities

This is not the part of the post where I deny the fact that AV and IT solutions have become more commoditized, and it’s not even the part where I say that commoditization is all bad. But it can be a huge source of frustration with AV.

The larger structural shift in IT asset ownership to third-party providers has given organizations access to massively scalable, standardized, and componentized solutions delivered as a service. It’s increasingly common to rely on pay-as-you-use IT solutions, subscribing to functionality without owning the devices and software outright. And ultimately, AV is heading in a similar direction.

None of this is inherently bad for AV, but it does lead to some challenges.

The first challenge is for integrators. Some integrators see the commoditization of AV as an implicit threat to their business, and they’re probably right. But in an industry that advocates for innovation, it makes more sense to innovate your business model than to resist the inevitable tide of commoditization. Consumers making the move to asset-lite AV and IT solutions are doing so because it works better for them, and those market forces aren’t going to disappear anytime soon.

The second challenge is for consumers. Manufacturers will continue to market the simplicity and ease with which you can use their products and services because they understand that technology purchases are made in part based on how quickly a service can be implemented. The challenge is that while some offerings may be easily commoditized, many mission-critical AV solutions still require specialized work that’s harder to package—custom programming, design, and even managed service.

I don’t see the commoditization as a threat to integrators who continue to offer valuable services that can’t be boxed up and shipped to a consumer. But that’s only true for integrators who adapt and offer what consumers really need. The question is when is “good enough” really good enough?

“Good enough” AV means solutions that are reliable day in and day out. But with the AV/IT convergence and the commoditization of AV technology, “good enough” doesn’t mean what it used to.

When AV was just “nice to have,” “good enough” was a more product-focused standard. But today, “good enough” means being able to leverage AV technology to improve your mission-critical business operations. And the best way to do that is still dependent on AV integrators, who must now take on the role of a business consultant who partners with IT leaders to make strategic decisions about what solutions to implement and how to do it right.

Commoditization hurts users insofar as it diminishes the role of an AV partner who can navigate the landscape of technology options to cull together a solution that maximizes your technology purchases. While there are more cost-effective and easy-to-use products than ever, the insight of an AV team who knows how to implement those products into a scalable solution is all the more valuable as the pace of technology continues to ramp up.

Why Good AV Matters

Ten years ago, it might have been possible to focus on the “wow” factor of AV, the things that made AV nice to have but not truly necessary.

But today, AV is mission-critical. And bad AV is bad for business.

AV technology allows teams use to communicate, collaborate, and present vital information to clients and partners. When your AV goes wrong, it makes it harder to do those things well. But when you have an integrator that partners with you to get it done right, you’ll actually enhance your workflow and enjoy using your AV.

No matter why you’re struggling with subpar AV technology, Synergy CT wants to help make it right. Get in touch with us today to start your free consultation.

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