• Type: Whitepaper
  • Topics: Av Industry; Networked Av Systems; Video; Conferencing; Audio;
  • Date: November 2015

By Nermina Miller and Brad Grimes, AVIXA

This is the first in a three-part series on the role of the pro AV industry in unified communications and collaboration (UCC). Part 1 focuses on the skills required for AV professionals to play in this field and how UCC providers in the AV industry identify customer requirements.

The AV industry’s collective foray into unified communications and collaboration (UCC) was born of — among other things — the convergence of traditional AV and information technology (IT). It didn’t happen overnight. As recently as a few years ago, IT shops didn’t want anything to do with AV on their networks, and AV pros didn’t want to deal with IT shops because they didn’t speak the language. As the two sides started coming together, it became clear that if an organization already had a network in place, it didn’t always make any sense to build a second just for AV (sometimes it did). And UCC, which was quickly becoming the way organizations wanted to communicate, brought together the best of both worlds.

Because they are network-based systems, it can be easy to lose sight of the fact that UCC environments actually require AV engineering and expert AV services if they are to deliver on their promise. Why? Because audiovisual communication — increasingly central to UCC — is not like desktop computing or mobile networking. It requires knowledge that AV professionals have, from how to improve audio experiences to putting the “presence” in telepresence.

Yes, a UCC solution could be implemented by an IT solution provider. But integrating a UCC solution into a room, for example, taking into account lighting, acoustics and other environmental factors that impact effective conferencing, takes an added skill set.

“When you blend UCC systems expertise with competent and experienced AV engineering best practices, the results are a highly superior user experience supported by a fully aligned company IT and UCC strategy,” says Alex Bisset, Director of Sales Engineering at HB Communications.

Building the Right Skill Set

How do AV firms position themselves to work on enterprise UCC solutions? AVIXA recently published a whitepaper on the role of the pro AV industry in UCC deployments. The whitepaper explores how AV integrators, given their unique blend of skills, take a whole-room approach to UCC like no other technology professionals.

AV engineering has always been about improving a user experience, but when it comes to UCC, AV skills alone won’t result in an optimal solution. Rick Winde, Director of Advanced Video at MCW Solutions, describes his firm’s embrace of UCC-related skills.

“The responsibilities for handling UCC included QoS [network quality of service], security, bandwidth and other related issues within the video spectrum,” he says. “It then became a necessity for us to become knowledgeable in all of these areas to guarantee day-one operation and day-two service and support.”

Building this knowledge in-house, where the AV expertise already resided, was important, says Winde, because deliverables were creating “too many demarcation points” with other trades when it came to IT and network responsibilities.

AVIXA training covers UCC ground, including the Networking Technology Online and Networked AV Systems classes, as well as the Networked AV Systems book. UCC-related skills are also taught as part of the Certified Technology Specialist-Installation (CTS-I®) and Certified Technology Specialist-Designer (CTS-D®) training.

“The AVIXA classes have proven to be a major contributor to how we train people,” says Scott Wood, Senior Vice President of Technical Services for Unified AV Systems. “Whether we get an AV person and teach them IT or, more importantly, when we need an AV person that has an IT background, we can get that through AVIXA.”

But AV integrators also need to branch out. For his company’s part, Bisset says HB Communications maintains master-level technical and sales certifications with collaboration-focused partners, such as Cisco Systems, Polycom, Lifesize, Vidyo, Crestron and other manufacturers. With the right AV and IT technical skills in place, an AV pro’s role in successful UCC deployments comes down to a very analog talent: listening.

Needs Assessment is Key

The need to identify system requirements up-front is hammered into trained AV professionals. Without a proper needs analysis, there is little chance of guaranteeing that a solution will perform the way it should. This is especially the case with UCC, which users typically adopt with certain outcomes in mind.

“In most cases, it’s about a desired business outcome, such as better-connected teams, reduced travel costs, and so on,” says Adam Kaiser, Assistant Vice President of Corporate Marketing at IVCi.

John Jennings, Assistant Vice President for Midwest Operations and Chief Technology Officer at Trinity Video Communications, ticks off a number of questions his team wants answered at the outset of a UCC project in order to determine the customer’s needs. “Is it a reduction in travel? Increasing sales? Providing better customer service?” he says. “Increasing access for patients?”

From there, AV integrators go to work on UCC solution designs, often in consultation with IT. “Do they want a premise-based or cloud-based solution? Are there integration requirements? Are there custom development requirements?” Jennings continues.

“Typically the more in-depth discussion is going to be between the AV integrator’s engineer and the customer’s IT department,” says Wood. “It all points back to the AV/IT merger, but we have to get a good idea of the users’ exact needs for the room and how they expect it to function. Once we have that answer, we can work with the IT department to determine what kind of AV gear we can put on their network and what kind of network service they’re going to be providing so that we can make those solutions come to life.”

In many situations, this conversation between traditionally separate technology professions is new. Sometimes, old ways of operating are deeply ingrained and can lead to a resistance to change.

“We’ll have an in-depth discussion,” says Wood, “and if they’re dead set on the way things used to work, and they don’t want a complete overhaul, and they want to make their new room match the existing, then we’ll make sure to put in proper equipment. But my interface will have the same look and feel as other rooms; it’s just going to interface with a different piece of equipment.”

Network Requirements

When AV integrators understand customers’ needs and begin to understand the network environment in which they must work, their fact-finding mission centers on the intersection between those two. In other words, how can they achieve the required functionality of a UCC system given the network environment with which their AV equipment must interface? At this point, issues of bandwidth and cost often come to the forefront.

“If it’s a dedicated room we’re putting the AV gear in, and it doesn’t necessarily need to be on their network, we’ll [propose] our own private network for that room,” Wood says. “But if you need to work with the AV equipment, we’ll put a switch in the rack so a technician can plug into that switch and talk with every piece of gear in the room.”

Working with IT, the AV team should determine, for example, how much peak bandwidth a UCC solution will require and whether the current network can accommodate it. If it can’t, AV integrators must broach the subject: Would IT rather build a new network or upgrade what currently exists?

“They may not need that type of [UCC] bandwidth or traffic on their network,” says Wood. “If it costs more to [upgrade] than to pull a couple of cables to deliver the same type of signal, they may choose to go the latter route. We’re not going to go in and build an entire network across their building. It’s going to be for the portion we’re working on.”

Of course, an AV professional’s role in identifying requirements isn’t limited to infrastructure. Where pro AV really contributes to a successful deployment is at the endpoint of a UCC solution — where day-to-day users interact with the technology.

In part 2 of our special report, we will explore some of the user challenges that AV integrators must address as they design and implement UCC solutions. From mixed-vendor environments to room acoustics, interoperability to interface design, that task of ensuring that users get the most out of a UCC solution often lands in the AV pro’s wheelhouse.