Your browser is out-of-date!

Update your browser to view this website correctly. Update my browser now


Exclusive: Getting the most out of audio-visual investments 

Steve Franklin, executive director of Cinos, on how SMEs can pick the right AV technologies

Hybrid working has evolved over the last couple of years and collaboration and communication technologies are a key part of getting a hybrid and flexible working approach right. It’s now more important than ever that SMEs use technology to support employees in the office or at home, to communicate seamlessly and move between voice, data and video without disruption. So how do SMEs pick the right technologies that will support processes, enhance productivity and deliver value?  

If you’re looking to invest in Audio Visual (AV) technology it’s best to purchase solutions which offer a consistent user experience, are easy to use and can be scaled as your business grows. One key piece of advice would be to buy once and buy well. Upfront investments in good quality hardware can pay dividends in terms of reliability in the long term. The last thing you need is to be in a meeting with a potential high-profile customer and the room system is not working.  

Look to technology from leading manufacturers such as Cisco as this will give you peace of mind that your systems will be reliable, stand the test of time, and provide the ability to scale as the business grows. By aligning with best-in-class manufacturers you can significantly reduce the costs associated with repairs and swap outs, and if things do go wrong, you have access to the highest levels of technical support services.   

Investing in solutions such as Webex by Cisco will enable SMEs to utilise the collaboration and conferencing tools they need now, whilst providing the foundations for expansion into the more sophisticated communication solutions later down the line. For example, you may initially use Webex for your company’s meeting and collaboration requirements, but by making that initial investment from the outset, as the business grows and requirements evolve, you can take advantage of solutions from the wider Webex portfolio such as cloud telephony and customer contact centres. 

From a unified communications and collaboration perspective, working with leading collaboration providers can minimise expenditure in hardware such as desk phones. These providers enable you to host your telephony system in the cloud, routing calls to softphones, rather than dedicated desk phones. Not only does this improve the ability for your employees to answer calls from anywhere, but it means you do not need to invest in desk phones for every employee you hire. When considering cloud calling solutions, it is advised to research the best options on the market for your requirements as licensing costs between vendors can vary significantly.  

However, if you’re yet to settle on a platform of choice, or regularly need to connect with stakeholders on many different platforms there are other options available. Bring Your Own Device solutions can help you to work with the conferencing tools you need on your device of choice, whilst automatically connecting to the meeting room cameras, soundbar and microphones for a better and more immersive conferencing and collaboration experience. 

From the outset, where possible, look to ensure consistency of manufacturers. Not only does this bring advantages for your employees, as they are all using systems they are familiar with but it also delivers business benefits. 

Take Cisco as an example. Your network infrastructure, video endpoints, collaboration tools, security infrastructure and monitoring tools are all under the umbrella of a well-established, well-supported company. It ensures that your solutions conform to regulations, are fully updated in terms of software and firmware, reducing the chances of things going wrong. After all, as an SME the last thing you need is for a vulnerability to be exploited to the detriment of your bank balance and more importantly, your reputation.   

Investing in the right solutions goes further than just the technological advantages they bring. It changes the way others think about your company, that you are not just a start-up or SME, but a well-established business with quality at the core. It is all about perception. When customers connect with you on video calls, or walk into your meeting room, delivering that seamless meeting experience powered by the best-in-class technology positions you as a company that others want to do business with.  

Meeting room systems must be simple for everyone to use, require minimal user training and ideally, have one interface which controls everything in the space. This experience must be consistent across the business and easy to scale, otherwise your users are going to be hindered by technology challenges, rather than focusing on the business at hand.  

Picking meeting room solutions which offer a native experience with your chosen collaboration platform is vital, and knowing what options are available is key to making the right choice. For example, Crestron’s collaboration portfolio delivers native Zoom and Microsoft Teams experiences from the desktop to the boardroom. As SMEs grow, the number of employees and meeting spaces will increase, providing a native collaboration experience across the board is vital for productivity. Whilst this may represent a fair upfront investment, making the right choice in terms of functionality and reliability will lead to a better ROI in the long run.  

Additionally, look to utilise all-in-one systems such as soundbars with integrated cameras and microphones, mounted below the meeting room screen. These meeting rooms are likely to be smaller in the early days and so minimising the number of peripherals in the room leads to less points of possible failure and an overall smoother user experience.  

Finally, the value of maintenance service agreements should not be underestimated. Many products come with 3-to-5-year warranties as standard, but with the complexities involved in AV systems, investing in maintenance service ensures that if and when something goes wrong, it can be resolved as quickly as possible.  

At home, if you break a headset which is covered by a warranty, you can simply package it up, send it back and get your replacement. However, in the commercial world, if something breaks, like a soundbar in the meeting room, you need a maintenance partner with the expertise to dismount the soundbar from the room and reinstall it on return. To minimise downtime and ensure your spaces remain fit for purpose, SMEs should seek the expertise of AV integrators who offer comprehensive but affordable maintenance packages.   

In terms of managing your AV technology, security is something that is high on the list. SMEs need to understand the importance of keeping firmware and software up to date. It may be something we do at our leisure at home, but in the corporate space the importance of this from a security perspective cannot be underestimated or overlooked. Today, many manufacturers provide options to manage these updates remotely, so exploring the best platforms on the market to achieve this should be high on SMEs agendas as their technology estate grows.