• Type: Whitepaper
  • Topics: Networked Av Systems;
  • Date: March 2015

By Nermina Miller, Special to AVIXA

Ask a dozen AV tech managers what career path they took to get where there are today, and you're unlikely to hear the same story twice. Some rise up the ranks from an entry-level position involving equipment installation and troubleshooting; some switch tracks from another career that may have already bloomed. Their stories are like the spectral colors you see when light breaks through a prism.

Although their beginnings may be different — some even fall into AV by accident — the role and influence of tech managers bear resemblance across the AV industry. Who is the modern tech manager? What do they do? The shortest answer is they perform an increasingly complex set of tasks that involve both people and systems. And in an era of networked AV systems, that means a lot more than it did 10 years go.

How They Got Here

Kevin Cochran, CTS, received his AV training and moved up the ranks at Kent Audio Visual in Wichita, Kans., and sister company J&S Audio Visual. In those positions, he gained the experience that allowed him to move into the corporate sector.

“I had spent 10 years working in television news and was able to use that experience, along with some brief time as a hotel AV tech, to land a job at Kent Audio Visual as a video production person,” Cochran recalls.

He now works for enterprise consulting firm Dziomba & Associates and maintains AV systems for international energy producer EnCana in the U.S. He also serves as Encana’s AV project manager for new builds or renovations.

Noah Sanders, CTS, CCPD, AV engineering manager for Pillsbury Law, cut his teeth on 70-volt speaker system installations in homes and small businesses before working in production coordination, live sound, sound for film, video editing and — ultimately — high-end AV installations. He’d spent over a decade designing, installing and programming large residential projects in coastal Georgia before moving to Nashville, Tenn., to work for a law firm.

“The CIO initially brought me in as an audiovisual consultant to develop a universal strategy for updating AV technology in all Pillsbury offices,” Sanders says. “Our collaboration resulted in a forward-thinking strategy, which would eventually merge information technology, video networking operations and audiovisual technology into a single group that supported communications as a whole.”

Tim Potts, CTS, has 25 years of experience in the AV industry, 17 years at Virginia Commonwealth University. At one time, his department used to design, purchase and install all AV systems for the university. But as VCU grew — and the demand for AV systems increased — the university realized it had more projects than its AV team could handle.

“We began hiring AV vendors to install the systems under our specifications,” Potts says. “So, I went from being an AV engineer to an AV project manager.”

Jacks Of All Trades, Masters of All

No job that involves multiple systems and stakeholders can be without challenge. Today, tech managers must know how to direct human and physical resources to overcome both AV and IT obstacles in their environments. Cochran and Sanders sum up the intricate web of AV and IT systems and resources they manage.

“I manage the audiovisual and videoconferencing operations for all the Encana United States properties,” Cochran says. “I am able to use our IT staff to support remote sites and have multiple AV vendors to assist with installations and higher-level maintenance issues.”

At Pillsbury Law, AV operations is one of four IT engineering groups. Its primary role is to bridge communication gaps and encourage collaboration among the firm’s U.S., European, Asian and Middle East offices.

“This unique structure has facilitated a healthy cultural integration and cross-pollination of ideas between security, network, audiovisual and VoIP technologies,” Sanders says. “The result is a robust, virtualized audiovisual network that spans the globe, and which is managed from our centralized Audiovisual Operations Center (AVOC) in Nashville.”

In a global economy, where organizations collaborate across states, countries and continents, tech managers face challenges of demographics and culture. For example, technology users in Silicon Valley may have different expectations than those in a European office. And in a university environment, where staff and students may come from all over, tech needs can be varied. Not to mention that more users expect to be able to interact through their own devices wherever they go.

Sanders’ team meets these challenges by emphasizing simplicity, ubiquity and real-time support in its technology solutions. “The result is audiovisual systems that are powerful enough for the advanced user, easy to use for the technically challenged and fully supported for reliability,” he says.

Of course, a big part of what tech managers do is respond when systems don’t perform for users as expected. System failures are par for the course. As John Keats once said, “Every fresh experience points out some form of error which we shall afterwards carefully avoid.”

A way that today’s tech managers try to avoid recurring issues is through standardization. Potts and his department have developed an extensive set of standards to help hold their vendors accountable and provide quality products to their end users.

“For example, we have control system programming protocols in place that specify how a control program is designed,” he says. “We have quality AV installation standards of practice for how the hardware is installed, how a rack is laid out, how the AV system drawing looks, and so on.”

Standards also help address the inevitable ups and downs of end users in dynamic, 21st-century enterprise. “For us, standardization allows us to transfer systems from one office to another as necessary,” says Sanders.

Out With the Old — Gingerly

In many cases, a tech manager must play fortune teller. Inevitably, time and progress render outdated even the best technology solutions. Tech managers have to think ahead when designing and integrating new systems. They have to take a proactive role in guiding the technological vision for an organization by both optimizing current AV/IT infrastructure and accounting for future trends. And that’s not always easy when it comes to present-day users.

“There is still a lot of older equipment,” says Cochran, “and people want to use it for as long as they can.” Cochran says he frequently deals with users’ fear of new technology, but feels fortunate to work for an organization that is willing to fund new solutions. Creating an atmosphere that allows users to express their concerns and ask questions is helpful for achieving a satisfactory user experience.

Sanders offers the following advice to AV/IT managers:

  • Understand what your users don’t understand, and then learn from them. Have the patience to discover why.
  • Accept perception as reality and pursue creative solutions to accommodate the human side of technology. Incorporate users into this pursuit.
  • Maintain awareness of the overall goal. An end user’s ultimate desire is reliability and simplicity. Accommodating that desire is more important than pushing imperfect technology.

“With users, many times they don’t understand the system or have a bad experience, which breeds fear,” Cochran says. “I try to prevent that through training and by letting people know I am a resource to help them.”