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AV/IT integration: implications for integrators

We look at the implications for AV and IT integrators of greater convergence between the two industries.

Having previously looked at how far the convergence of AV and IT has progressed, the second part of the feature showed there is still some reticence when it comes to video over IP. In the final part we consider the implications of more integration on both sides of the divide.

“Businesses today revolve around speed, clarity and completeness of communication and collaboration,” says Stijn Ooms, director of technology at Crestron, “and to achieve that takes more than just AV technology. IT and telephony are an integral part of the mix. AV is now just as important as voicemail, email and printers – which means it needs to be easy to use, easy to manage and reliable.”

“It is wholly unacceptable for an executive to show up to host a meeting to find out that some key component of the meeting room isn’t working,” he goes on. “It’s not just about frustration – it’s about lost time and productivity. That can all be avoided with AV systems that are integrated and centrally managed just like other critical systems.

“How do we get there?” he asks. “We take a page from the IT book. It’s not uncommon for infrastructure that supports critical business functions to comprise intelligent devices that were designed to work together, designed to be attached to the network and designed to be managed. That’s the way forward.”

There is, though, an argument that the discussion of whether the AV world is being taken over by the IT world is a futile one. It is arguable that what defines the AV market isn’t who the players are, or the products and technologies that are involved – or even who, in the customer organisation, makes the decision. The market has always been defined by the solutions it brings – and solutions like digital signage, training rooms, videoconferencing, boardrooms, visitor attractions and so on haven’t gone away. And they won’t go away. The challenge for integrators is to embrace new ways of doing what they’ve always done.

Understandable fear

There is, of course, an understandable fear that AV integrators will somehow be progressively muscled out of the market by integrators who have traditionally operated in the IT space. That can, though, only happen if AV integrators allow two things to happen. The first is that they fail to acquire the necessary knowledge of IT technologies, processes and, perhaps most importantly, ‘careabouts’ of customer IT professionals.

And the second? The second is to undersell the enormous value they bring in terms of knowledge, understanding and experience in the solution/application. Many in the industry note the inevitability of AV becoming integrated with IT – while simultaneously pointing out that IT professionals continue to be challenged by how best to work with both video and audio. That’s a point made emphatically by Andy Nolan, VP UK, Ireland and Northern Europe, Lifesize.

“AV will unquestionably merge into IT,” he says, “but organisations must not underestimate the value and expertise of AV integrators who play a critical role in ensuring projects are expertly deployed and can deliver high levels of customer satisfaction.”

And, as Rick Seegull, senior VP of sales & marketing at Aurora Multimedia notes, it may not only be AV integrators who are nervous.

“Yes,” he says, “there is still the apprehension from integrators and some manufacturers. There is also apprehension from IT departments as they will always assume it will be part of their data network and may fear they will now need to manage the AV side as well, and its possible effects on data communication.”

Unsurprisingly, there’s no real agreement as to where we might be in the transition towards an IT-centric AV world. Where there is agreement, though, is that change is both ongoing and inevitable. But, perhaps it was ever thus? One thing that is very apparent is that leading integrators like Reflex and Saville have invested in learning about, and equipping themselves for, the new world with considerable success.

“Integration needs to become cleverer, with AV professionals requiring a greater understanding of how IT networks operate,” believes Roland Dreesden, MD of Reflex. “An understanding of switches, firewalls, ports, UDP traffic and segmented networks – VLANs – are just a few of the areas of knowledge to be developed. These are challenges that a conventional AV network would not have encountered.”

And, as Brian Davies, European technical director at AMX explains, acquiring and developing the necessary skills will only become easier for AV integrators.

“One of the big benefits of the way the AV world is moving is the pool of talent that’s becoming available to integrators,” he believes. “School leavers and graduates have an understanding of IT and networks. We can teach them about the AV parts of the job – but they bring with them the base knowledge and experience that are invaluable.”

Aurora Multimedia solutions
AMX control systems
Reflex AV integration
Crestron control systems
Lifesize videoconferencing solutions