Last September, when InfoComm International became AVIXA, the Audiovisual and Integrated Experience Association, I was approached by an executive at a successful AV integrator. He offered his congratulations and enthusiastic support for the move, but cautioned me, in essence, that some traditional AV integrators didn’t have as much expertise in creating AV “experiences” — those spectacular events, shows, exhibits, public displays, etc. that often come to mind when we talk about “experience design.” Their bread-and-butter was conference spaces, classrooms, and the like.
I totally get it. And if you didn’t specialize in such AV spectacles, you might think you were missing out on something or that AVIXA was leaving you behind. But as I said at the time, an integrated AV experience doesn’t have to be an event, with a big budget and all the bells and whistles. Those are often the most high-profile, eye-catching projects, but they represent just some of the integrated experiences that AV professionals create, and that AVIXA aims to promote.
An AV experience can certainly be a spectacular live event or an awe-inspiring museum exhibit. But it can also be a well-designed huddle space or conference room, where the technology is intuitive and transparent, and in every meeting, all the participants — remote and local — can clearly see and hear each other, collaborate with digital information, and be productive. That, too, is an integrated AV experience, delivered through well designed and executed solutions. That’s what AVIXA believes is this industry’s value proposition.
In the context of AV, experience is the added value that trained AV professionals bring to a project. It’s the difference between a commodity AV system that a customer buys off-the-shelf—or from an IT vendor, for example—and an installed AV system that takes into account more than just technology, so that the customer gets from the solution exactly what she wants — or more.
For several years now, we’ve been talking in terms of the “exceptional” AV experience — the right combination of content, space, and technology needed to create the outcome a customer is seeking, whether that’s entertainment, collaboration, communication, or instruction. AV professionals know to account for each component of such an experience. They’re among the first to weigh environmental factors — the acoustics and lighting in a space — and their effect on the AV experience. They know to consider whether a presentation is in the right aspect ratio, for example, or a video stream the proper format to have the intended impact. And they know which technology choices are sufficient to deliver the experience their customer is after.
So what is the experience your customer is after? That may take some exploration. The answer is rarely just “digital signage” or “a videoconference.” If it were, customers really could do it themselves (and some will try). What they’re likely to overlook are the content and space considerations of the experience, and how that combination of elements will yield the right results.
To deliver the right AV experience, it’s important to find out what outcome the customer wants to achieve. AVIXA and the subject-matter experts who help inform our training have long maintained that the needs analysis is key to a successful project. It’s really the point at which you ask a ton of questions, covering everything from the system’s ultimate end users, to the room where the solution will be used, to the ultimate goals of the system — again, the experience the customer wants the AV designer to create.
Such a needs analysis is important because sometimes it’s hard for the customer to anticipate — and put into words — what he wants a system to accomplish. AVIXA has been spending a lot of time lately with retail and hospitality stakeholders. One thing we’ve heard frequently is that, for example, a company knew a spectacular videowall could have a positive effect on its business, but it hadn’t figured out how to keep the content fresh and engaging over the life of the system. That’s part of the experience, and it should be considered when engineering an integrated solution. Ask the customer up-front how they plan to generate content and what it will look like, and the outcome should be a better experience (and maybe even lead to more opportunity in the form of content services).
Can you measure an experience? There are certainly ways to evaluate how an AV solution is best experienced. AVIXA standards for AV systems performance, audio coverage, display image, and more help ensure the technology itself is integrated for maximum effect. Beyond that, it’s important to try and measure the outcomes those AV experiences will generate in order to gauge the experiences themselves. This could also be part of the needs analysis.
In many cases, information will be important, so a networked AV solution that generates data is advisable. Not to oversimplify, but if you and your customer agree that a videoconferencing solution delivers the right experience when people use it a lot, then tracking utilization may be important. Some customers track how quickly their users can launch a videoconference (ever wasted 10 minutes at the start of a 30-minute virtual meeting wrangling with technology?).
For the more experiential AV designs, users may employ surveys or follow social media metrics, like for events or public displays. In retail, the holy grail has been sensing who’s looking at a digital signage message, how long, what their demographics are, and whether the message leads to a meaningful conversion (sale).
Back when the AV industry was predominantly about selling products, this all may have been the responsibility of customers’ operations teams. Because AV is now much more strategic — part of enterprise technology plans — the solution needs to take into account the entire experience. The fact that AV is fundamental to how people experience the world is not new. The fact that customers can derive real value from those experiences is, however, a relatively fresh perspective, and one that will continue to drive industry growth.