Every organization needs to communicate. Audio and Video systems help us to deliver our message far and wide. At some point you need to rely on technology to help with the heavy lifting. When that time comes, you need a game plan to make sure that the technology you end up with creates AV Solutions, instead of just technology headaches and frustration.
To address your needs, you will either turn to an AV design consultant or a turnkey design/build integrator. Each has advantages. If you already have a trusted relationship with someone, a design/build firm can offer a one stop experience and put all of the responsibility in a single place.
The advantage to a consulting firm is that you are able to leverage expert insight and bid the project, reducing your cost, through competition. Every case is different, but we typically find the consulting process reduces costs for projects over $100,000 in budget.
Either way, one if the major challenges that you will face, in my experience, is getting a partner who can understand your particular needs and create a unique solution to fit those needs. There are several reasons for this problem. Canned solutions are obviously more cost effective, because they require less engineering, which is the bottleneck in most AV practices. Additionally, many organizations are their own biggest hurdle to getting a design that exactly matches their needs. Why?
When entering into a new technology build, many organizations will take they approach that they don’t know what they need, so they will go wide. They say to their AV partner “I want a range of options. Give me a price for the Honda, the Mercedes, and the Ferrari, so that we can make the most informed decision possible”. This is a recipe for disaster. You are spinning the wheels of the firm you are working with, who has limited engineering bandwidth (particularly in the case of a design/build integration firm).
The longer this dance continues, the less your eventual solution will fill your needs. Instead, you need to tell them what you actually need. “But I’m not a technology expert,” you say. Yes, but you are an expert in your business or organization. Many folks in the AV industry have their minds centered around gadgets, not business outcomes, ROI, or performance analytics. Don’t expect them to understand these things or ask the right questions on their own. Of course, no company is the same, but by assuming that your AV partner doesn’t know how to ask the right questions, you’ll greatly increase your chances of success.
Here are the steps to follow:
Go Big Picture
What are you trying to accomplish as an objective in the space? Do you want people to be able to present? Do you want people to be able to collaborate? These are two very different things. Be sure you know the answer. If you don’t brainstorm with your team. From schools to boardrooms, we’ve seen an epic shift from presentation to collaboration. We’ve written an entire 5 article series on the subject.
Consider measurable and actionable objectives
Are you considering video conferencing? Why? Do you actually know how much you spend on travel? Have you determined what ROI you expect from your technology investment? If you can determine that spending X dollars on a solution will save ultimately X dollars, all you have left to do is confirm adoption. Once you establish this criteria, you are in a much stronger position to shop for the appropriate solution.
Involve all key stakeholders
In my 20 years in the AV industry, one of the largest problems that I have witnessed is the failure to involve all stakeholders early in the project. This will invariably result in requirements that are missed. This is a nuanced game and the devil is in the details.
Even if you’re sure that you personally understand all of the requirements, involvement is important for another reason. .. it will dramatically increase adoption. From higher education, to business, to entertainment, we’ve seen that having a strategic technology roll out plan that involves stakeholders from the beginning dramatically increases adoption and success.
Double down on infrastructure in new construction
When walls are open and decisions are first being made, infrastructure is cheap. Brainstorm all of the potential uses for the room. Regardless of whether they fit into the final budget, try to include the infrastructure for them. Conduits in the walls; Connection boxes in the concrete floor; walls that are constructed to provide adequate sound isolation between rooms. These things are much more expensive to go back and address later.
Similarly, if you have an AV equipment closet or rack room, make sure that you include some future capacity for both the electrical and HVAC systems. It doesn’t do you much good to add more equipment two years later if that additional equipment causes the room to overheat and all your expensive electronics to fail.
Talk to every person that will use the room and define workflows
This is possibly the most important point. Get everyone together in the same room. As a group exercise, walk through how the room will be used. Make it step by step and you will see that additional needs or requirements will arise.
You may need to record presentation. Someone may want to be able to annotate on a presentation. After they finish the annotation, should this be available for download on everyone’s wireless device in the meeting, or should this be stored to some location in the cloud? Do you have multiple meeting spaces that you want to be able to schedule? Should the system automatically turn on just before a scheduled meeting? How can you make the experience as seamless as possible for the users?
In a world of increasing competition, time is at a premium. AV Solutions providers are focused on designing technology that accomplishes your goals. Do not assume that they will have a background in organizational workflows or human communications. If you don’t explicitly determine these requirements and hand them over, you are leaving the outcome to chance.
I try to spend a lot more time up front with clients determining their exact needs. This is actually met with frustration in some cases. Like everything in life, we’re not the right solution for everyone. Over the years, I have predicted that AV technology will become increasingly commodity and that smart consultants and integrators will become experts in communication or application of that technology to achieve organizational goals. Here’s an example of one article that I’ve written recently on the need for a more solutions based AV approach.