In our latest instalment of Meet Your AV Manager, AVTE visited Jonathan Owen to learn about his role as learning spaces and collaborative environments manager at one the UK’s leading educational institutions, the University of Warwick.
Hi Jonathan. How long have you worked at UoW?
I joined the University of Warwick back in 2001 as a Conference Audio Visual Technician in one of the University’s Conference centres. After 12 months I moved over to the central Audio Visual Services team to take up a more technical role. Since then I’ve held several positions which focus on the delivery and support of AV solutions. These days I don’t get hands-on with the technology, which is something I miss, but I do get to manage a great team who are passionate about AV, and together we deliver a service which is highly valued by the University.
What does your job entail?
I’m responsible for managing the delivery and ongoing development of Audio Visual technology across the University’s campuses. I provide leadership to the Learning Spaces and Collaborative Environments team including service strategy; service performance management; service team management; customer liaison and cross-IT working to ensure overall service performance. I manage a team of 12 who manage Service Delivery, Projects and Service Development.
What does a typical day look like?
Warwick has an ambitious campus development plan which means that we’re continually re-furbishing older buildings and building new ones. I spend a lot of time meeting with Architects and our Estates Department, as well as talking to stakeholders and end users to try and understand their requirements which help my team shape the technology and services we deliver. Over the years my involvement with capital projects has changed considerably, and I now form part of a core team which comprises of colleagues from our Estates and Space Management Teams, Architects and external contractors. I’ve always disliked having to provide AV/IT solutions at the end of the project when often the result can look and feel like an afterthought. I attend more meetings and often get involved in conversations about room design, furniture and décor to ensure that any technology is embedded within the room design.
Aside from projects, I also keep a close on our core services which include; Lecture Capture, Digital Signage, Video Conferencing and Technical Support for over 500 teaching, meeting and social learning spaces.
How big is your team?
12 including me.
3 x AV Specialists [Service Delivery, Projects and Service Development]
2 x Senior AV/IT Technicians
5 x AV/IT Technicians
1 x AV Co-ordinator
How crucial is AV technology to the day to day running of the University?
AV and IT underpins many teaching, administrative and research functions at Warwick. We aim to provide tools and services that support the University. We strive to incorporate technology, so that is almost transparent to the users, happily working in the background and hopefully making our users lives a little easier.
Talk us through some of the technology you use in your job? (Opportunity to discuss some brand choices, methods deployed, benefits provided .)
Due to the number of spaces we support across we standardise all aspects of AV to ensure we offer a consistent user experience and technology that is robust and intuitive to use. We have a large campus, and therefore we have examples of most kinds of AV somewhere on campus, ranging from outdoor LED displays, a 300 screen digital signage network, immersive environments and simulation for research purposes, in addition to a large number of teaching, meeting and social learning spaces.
How has your position evolved in recent years?
During my time at Warwick, the Audio Visual Service has always been within IT Services. However when I first arrived, that was a very loose arrangement, and for many years, we were almost entirely independent from central IT and its processes. Over the past 10 years, we’ve become fully integrated with IT Services, and the way we work has changed for the better.
How has the technology evolved?
One of the most significant changes of seen over the years is the way we install AV, almost every piece of AV equipment now connects to our campus IT network in some way, whether that be for remote management or just to deliver additional functionality via a cloud service. The role of the in-house AV team is evolving, and it’s essential that staff at all levels adapt to the changes within our industry, rather than resisting them. The days of just throwing an AV system into a space are long behind us; we now have to plan the deployment of every AV installation far more carefully, drawing knowledge from technical specialists and forming larger project teams. Building and maintaining good working relationships with these project teams and specialists is an essential part of my role.
How do you choose what technology is best for the University’s students and tutors?
I run the Learning and Teaching Spaces Managers along with Aaron Turlington -Smith [Loughborough University] and Adam Harvey [University of Hertfordshire]. The LTSMG comprises of over 350 AV professionals who work in the Higher Education sector, who regularly exchange knowledge and expertise via our active mailing list meet. We also run an annual conference and technology exhibition each year in November and other events to encourage our members to collaborate and share knowledge. I also attend some AV User Group events, ISE, InfoComm and this year I’m considering attending the GITEX exhibition for the first time.
Do you have direct relationships with manufacturers or do you go through over channels?
I procure all AV through a University purchasing framework. We have good relationships with manufacturers and regularly contribute to beta testing and product development to ensure that manufacturers develop products with Higher Education customers in mind.
What factors do you have to consider before making an investment?
We only specify solutions which are proven to be reliable from manufacturers who can offer excellent after sales service. Access to our spaces is challenging as our spaces are often fully booked during term time and are then used for Conferences out of term. Any downtime has a significant impact on the University, both commercially and more importantly on the student experience.
Is there anything you’re looking at right now?
I’m always looking, that’s what I love about my role! It’s sometimes difficult to predict what type of projects my team will be asked to manage and therefore we’re constantly looking at the latest market trends and technology which can form part of our standard offering.
What’s your favourite bit of AV kit?
Past – We’ve been installing Wolfvision visualisers across campus for over 10 years and are extremely popular with our users. I really like how Visualizers allow our even our most nervous users to digitise what they are doing, which then allows us to capture more lectures for our students. Sometimes the best technology is that which supports users existing methods, rather than forcing them to change. We all adapt to change at different speeds, and I love it when technology helps bridge the divide.
Present – Wolfvision vSoltuion MATRIX for active learning environments and Mersive Solstice for wireless presentations.
What constitutes a good day or a bad in your role?
Good day – When we handover a new building to our users after working on a project for several months or in some cases years.
Bad day – When I lose a member of the team. Developing staff is challenging in any industry, however people in AV need an increasingly diverse skill set, which can sometimes be extremely difficult to find.