TechDecisions spoke with Jacqueline Hoffmann, Solutions Consultant for Mvix Digital Signage about how AV can be used within business processes.
TD: Many consider AV a subsection or branch of IT, but you see it as divergent. How is that?
JH: Calling AV a “subsection” of IT is a bit reductive. Yes a huge chunk of AV is powered by IT and yes, IT and AV may overlap, but each has its specialty and the boundary between them needs to be preserved. More than anything else, AV is about organizing media to create wonder and experience. As a strategic tool for business operations, its value comes from the spatial experience created.
An easy example is a video wall in a corporate lobby that displays personalized welcome messages, live feeds of the city skyline and street activity, or real-time social media content. The video wall creates an engaging, immersive experience. It makes the lobby feel exciting and welcoming. It lends the perception of a tech-savvy and forward thinking brand.
With how simplified IT integration is today, the misconception of AV being a subset of IT can result in an AV system that is costly and hard to manage. This happens when businesses add late-stage AV implementations that quickly pile up into a chaotic system. Those seeking the benefits of AV as a strategic tool for business operations should place it at the forefront of design, not as an afterthought.
TD: So you’re saying that more thought should go into AV design instead of waiting for it to just “naturally happen” during implementation.
JH: Exactly. AV integration is a multi-step process that will, ideally, begin in the early stages of designing the space. This is why the “AV is a subset of IT” mindset is counterproductive—it tricks businesses into thinking they can treat AV design the same way as IT and still achieve the benefits of AV as a strategic tool for business operations.
In reality, there are many considerations that go into AV design – it should not be treated as an afterthought. They involve parties at every level, from business owners and managers and the designers and architects, to the integrators installing the systems.
There’s the decision about whether to build a distributed or centralized control system, each with its costs and challenges. There’s the choice of management software and which programs offer the functionality that your business needs. Then there is the location of the AV equipment itself in relation to the ergonomics of the available space and traffic flow. Each of these factors is influenced by the architecture of the venue and how people will interact with the AV. They aren’t things that can be easily knocked out at the end.
TD: You mentioned distributed vs. centralized AV systems – can you give us a few examples?
JH: Distributed AV systems involve co-locating computers, video equipment, and any necessary hardware near the exhibit location. There are hardware based controllers in each room that connect to AV devices in the room. It is “distributed” throughout the space in question. You’ll see these systems in more temporary settings, such as traveling exhibitions and trade shows.
They tend to be less expensive and require slightly less planning to implement. All equipment is housed in the same area, making implementation and testing an easier task. There are fewer up-front costs, but the drawbacks can be significant. Maintenance can be difficult and can take away from the spatial experience when repairs need to be done. Equipment cooling is also a concern with many businesses having issues with power management.
In too many cases, this control system is chosen by default without a lot of deliberation going into the design. When done on a large scale, this results in a lot of expensive and disruptive corrective on-site work later.
Centralized systems on the other hand involve audio/video and control signals that are extended from the control room to video walls, interactives, projectors, etc in the space. Maintenance can be done behind the scenes to preserve the offered experience, and all aspects of the system can be managed from a single location. With such a system, the benefits to efficiency become evident.
There’s more work involved, but the ROI is worth it when spatial experience is a priority.
TD: With so much of the AV incorporated into IT devices are AV control systems necessary at all?
JH: IT as it is today is making it awkward for traditional AV control systems, with their skill sets being replaced by the advanced functions of the devices they used to control. Right now if you want to do a video conference, you simply launch Skype. If you want to do a presentation, you launch Prezi.
So what are AV control systems to do? They’re now playing a supervisory task.
To put this in context, let’s look at a college campus with hundreds of classrooms, offices, and dorms with video walls, kiosks, displays and projectors, sound, lighting, audio, etc. Because of hardware limitations, the college would need to purchase multiple hardware controllers which need to be programmed, maintained and powered. Imagine the work involved in manually logging in to the multiple control hardware systems to gather information and manage the systems.
If the college leverages the processing power of modern computing systems and software to control and supervise video walls, projectors, speakers, interactives, etc., imagine just the electricity alone that could be saved from not running hardware controllers!
A hybrid of software-based management and traditional control systems is the sweet spot. In this hybrid, automation and and supervision is used together in an AV management system. Gathering the health and well-being of your AV equipment is easier, there is better integration with IT services such as room booking systems and there are the added benefits of hardware redundancy and automated disaster recovery.