• Type: Whitepaper
  • Topics: Live Events; Networked Av Systems; Av Industry;
  • Date: June 2015

By Tim Kridel, Special to AVIXA

Conference RoomAV and IT have spent more than a decade converging, which often leads AV pros to ponder how CIOs, IT directors and other tech executives view audiovisual systems. Is AV critical to the enterprise strategy? Is it nothing but a security concern?

In many organizations, the AV function — at least in part — has started to fall under IT, and not by accident. Many IT executives are AV savvy. And although not everything considered AV always falls under their purview — think projectors and screens — IT teams have developed the skills to execute AV projects, even as they hire integrators and consultants to help work on solutions.

At the end of the day, IT executives — like other clients — want systems that fit their organizations’ unique enterprise requirements. They also want a measure of control. For AV professionals, understanding those requirements and the way IT departments craft strategies is important to realizing the potential of convergence and developing long-term relationships with IT.

When David Erwin arrived at Iberiabank, it didn’t yet use unified communications and collaboration (UCC) tools. “I created and developed it,” says Erwin, Senior Vice President of Telecommunications and AV. “The advantage of that is you can design it correctly from the ground up.”

At Underwriters Laboratories (UL), the IT department handles UCC, but not certain other AV devices — for now. “Projectors and conference room speaker systems are still administered by the facilities group, but you’re starting to see some partnering with IT,” says Kent Walker, Director of Enterprise Infrastructure Services at UL. “Facilities may engage us at any particular site or on a global basis and say, ‘We’re looking for phones that offer good 360-degree reception.’”

This kind of consultative role is increasingly common in IT and includes working more closely with individual business units, such as sales or product development, to identify the right AV/IT solutions and implement them. One upside: Such an approach gives business units more flexibility in the types of AV products they can choose, rather than being limited to an IT-approved list of devices.

“Henry Ford said you could have any color Model T you wanted as long as it was black,” Walker says. “I think IT is trying not to be that way anymore. We’re saying, ‘We’ll partner with you to get things done.’”

With IT playing the role of partner on enterprise strategies, such as deploying UCC and videoconferencing to help minimize travel expenses and maximize productivity, it can be more challenging for AV integrators and consultants to identify who in an organization is driving some of the decision-making. Therefore, although improving ties with IT is important, so are relationships with business leaders.

“We want to be a transformation leader for the business, but for the most part, the drive and appetite have to be led by the business,” Walker says. “They have to understand that these things are going to provide value.”

Often they do. Erwin says the company’s leadership team supports funding for technology enhancements because they examine usage reports for online collaboration and see that associates do, indeed, utilize the tools. He says it’s difficult to assess how much money is saved on travel by using collaboration systems, but estimates that it is 25 percent of overall travel costs.

The Security Question

One optimistic by-product of the AV/IT convergence process has been IT executives’ increasing comfort with networked AV systems. What was once thought of as an issue of “not on my network” has become less so. In general, it appears more IT executives are comfortable with the security and management features that AV vendors provide.

“We have probes scanning every device and identifying risks,” says Erwin. “An AV device [is like] a Dell laptop or a Cisco switch. We treat it as a device on the network.”

UL’s Walker says that a heightened sense of network security overall has meant there is little that IT departments haven’t seen before. “The fear now isn’t so much of an AV device,” he says. “It’s pretty much any device you’re going to put on the network. And we’re less fearful once we start diving in.”

Walker believes that whereas networked AV devices might once have been considered a weak link in terms of security, AV vendors have largely overcome those challenges.

Still, if there’s a gap in AV/IT convergence, it’s in the skill sets both sides are continuing to develop, especially among service providers.

“Our room integrator doesn’t understand networking. Our networking vendor doesn’t understand room integration,” Erwin says. “These are huge gaps. If you’re going to get into the AV business, you need to understand both because you’re going to be the translator between the two teams. A lot of people miss that.”

Going it Alone

In the absence of AV/IT integrators that possess all necessary skills, some IT shops take a DIY, hands-on approach to AV systems integration. Others take on AV-related tasks in order to contain cost.

“If you don’t involve the technology team, you’re not going to have the technical expertise,” says Peter Lyons, Group Vice President for IT at Mediacom, a provider of cable TV, broadband and phone service. “You’re likely to overpay and bring in an outside vendor to do work that your internal IT team could take on.”

Recently, Mediacom’s IT department created a system of templates and drop sites so that departments throughout the company could securely create and publish digital signage content. Lyon’s group also conducts internal “bakeoffs” between different AV vendors’ products to determine which one is the best fit for the company’s environment.

“Knowing that my team has responsibility for AV helps ensure we’re deploying scalable solutions,” Lyons says. “We are the people integrators are going to need to talk to. We know our company and the intricacies associated with deploying these systems. We do everything IP, and anything that is IP delivered, I want in my shop.”