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The changing face of AV in a Covid corporate world

Martha Zantides, IT Infrastructure project manager at Pace-XL, and ex-KPMG and AVI-SPL project manager, on changes to corporate AV over the years, and since Covid

I first started working in AV back in the Autumn of 2009 after 20 years of being in IT, first in operations and later as a project manager. I was working as a project manager/service advisor in the facilities technology team at KPMG when I got involved with AV because of two major capital projects with the remit of working with the AV consultants to finalise and implement the approved AV solutions.

At this time AV solutions were still based on point-to-point solutions and the ones we implemented were based on Crestron control systems. This allowed for the establishment of a common set of AV standards and guidelines for defined rooms and spaces – a first for KPMG.

This was the standard type of solution that most corporates were deploying then and over the next three to four years.

Squeezed budgets
As budgets started to get squeezed, many of the corporates started to look at minimum functional products – ie, products that would provide basic functionality at the lowest cost. Rather than implement a standard solution, the solutions would be based on products that would – in parallel with the advent of more IP based, HdbaseT and digital media type solutions – reduce the need for lots of AV infrastructure within small to even large meeting rooms bar auditoria, meeting rooms for more than 15 people, presentation suites and training rooms.

The next changes to come around 2014/15 were in the form of two different types of technologyhuddle room solutions for small meeting rooms, Skype for Business and Zoom, all video conferencing (VC) type solutions but running over PCs and laptops – ie, software based, although Skype for Business uses hardware Codecs.

These types of solutions met two different needs: the need for a minimum functional product as they provided laptop presentation, audio and VC functionality in one solution; and as they run over the IP network, reduced AV infrastructure requirements so reduced installation and hardware costs. The second type of technology was collaborative interactive touchscreens such as Microsoft Surface Hub .

Covid squeezed
The economy, because of Covid-19 and other factors is currently stalled and all decisions on spending are governed by need and Covid-19 requirements.

Pre-Covid-19, the types of projects I was involved with were standard AV installs in offices. However what they had in common is that they were all VC-based solutions ranging from Cisco to Zoom.

At present, because of lockdown and lack of economic confidence, corporates are spending either nothing or the minimum required to enable comms between their clients and employees. The impact of Covid is that many corporates have found that their staff work just as efficiently away from the office and productivity has been unaffected.

Technology has been the key driver of this along with people not traveling or only when necessary. This can only be enabled by robust and stable infrastructure and low-cost conferencing solutions based on software rather than AV specific hardware.

Solutions such as Zoom are IT solutions based on software running on servers – Cloud-based, off-Prem as part of a managed service or subject to security/information protection requirements, which would need a firewalled protected in-house server with the system available only to those internal to the company. Another driver is the ability to share, comment, update and distribute content in real time – a key requirement especially with remote working.

The expansion of  Zoom, Teams and similar solutions will become the norm and fewer office installations will be required. However, the need for these will not be completely removed post-Covid:  although corporates will need less office space, humans are social animals and will want
to have a place to meet face-to-face, so there will still be a need for room-based AV.

The technology for room-based installs will, depending on the requirements and size of office, either be AVIP based, huddle rooms or peer-to-peer VC such as Zoom. The AVIP will also cover streaming and large space requirements such as auditoria and training rooms for live events. Streaming solutions will also cover the need for broadcasting events in one building to other offices within the organisation such as company-wide meetings and announcements.