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Words of wisdom: Spiros Andreou

This month we have a range of useful tips from the service department of an award-winning integrator.

Nothing wrong with theft

In my nine years in higher education (HE), one of the most important lessons I learned was not to reinvent the wheel, but to utilise best practice and innovation where you find it. Often you will develop an in-house application, design or service where one already exists, instead of purchasing or sharing an existing solution. There is a huge amount of industry best practice that the IT department has been taking advantage of for years, and now that AV devices are networked, VLAN’d, monitored and remotely updated, the same philosophies apply. Managing the service? Look at ITILv3, fITSM or IT4IT frameworks, which provide standards-based operating models to deliver value for money and avoid risk. Failures and issues? Use Six Sigma or Total Quality Management tools to investigate root causes, improve and monitor. Ongoing projects or developments? Utilise agile methodology to break large work down into manageable (and deliverable!) pieces, keeping your customers informed along the way.

Speaking of agile…

I’ve used Atlassian’s JIRA product to manage proactive tasks and projects for several years now. JIRA is a tool used mainly by software developers and provides a Kanban board to track progress on work, show priority and review where you are spending time. With the need to be 20% more efficient each year, JIRA (or similar applications like Microsoft’s Planner and Trello) can really help highlight where you can change to improve. It’s an excellent business relationship management tool as well, because exposing the board to your customers shows transparency in the progress of work without having to update tickets or have your engineers attend meetings.

A stitch in time

One of the key lessons my time in HE taught me is that proactive work always pays for itself. It feels like a daunting task to break the back of day-to-day issues that seem to flood in endlessly, but even small savings start to add up. It’s great for motivating your staff as they can see how many potential incidents have been avoided through the proactive work. Cost benefit is important to remember though. Just like the IT department’s Kaizen board or CSI register, it is important to control time spent on this work as troubleshooting a small fault can end up costing more than replacing equipment or providing a workaround.

Trying it in a wrap

Where in the portfolio does your customer or institution’s AV support service sit? Whether you are in facilities management, IT services or a standalone entity, your organisation will have a service catalogue describing the parameters of what you offer to your customers (the people paying for the service) and how it will demonstrate value for money. You may even have a service strategy detailing how new installations will be handed over, supported and decommissioned. If you are a service provider yourself, your customers will consider you among their multi-vendor portfolio, which may include outsourced email, virtual desktop and project support services. Certainly in HE, supplier management (which may have been non-existent five years ago) is now being seen as a key process, as third-party service providers start to become more prevalent in contracted-in roles. With the consequence of failure of these processes growing every year, for example through the newly introduced Teaching Excellence Framework, National Student Survey or even the quality of competition in the marketplace vying for business, AV has to be right first time, every time, and a big part of establishing and operating a quality service is ensuring it is consistent, in line with your customer’s expectations and fit for purpose.

Next paradigm of competition

The interconnectedness of the customer, equipment manufacturer and integrator has driven down price competition within the industry. Especially in HE, service expertise and quality are starting to become the key differentiators in a world where student experience is paramount. While most universities are trying to grow their student numbers to better cope with the ebb and flow of funding, professional staff headcounts are shrinking, with highly experienced specialists safer than on-the-ground technicians and managers.

You are always snagging

It is clear that it is no longer acceptable for an integrator to install equipment, sign some documents and leave site. Resisting the advance of ‘consumer-like’ solutions that release new versions every year (with support to match), most customers still operate a four- to five-year replacement cycle for their AV and require that same warranty on equipment and installation defects from their chosen provider. With the growing complexity of installations, this can become a substantial activity which could tax a modest support operation. Consider how these new challenges might influence your proposal to your customer; the AV industry is adapting and innovating in response, and these are exciting times!

Spiros Andreou is service delivery manager at CDEC