Over the course of my over 20 years in the IT sector, the only constant has been change. The ways in which technology is used, the tools available to end users and the back-end infrastructure have all undergone several evolutions, and I expect to see changes come at an even faster pace in the coming years.
Perhaps the one of the most significant developments has been the convergence of information technology with audio-visual technology, including moving AV solutions and support under the purview of IT departments. The trend toward video conferencing and the growing importance of communication and collaboration within businesses has also made it necessary for IT managers to learn about AV technologies. They now have consider factors such as acoustics, lighting, furnishings, paint color, audio quality and all the other elements that go into ensuring a productive conferencing and meeting experience.
AV/IT and CES
At the recent CES consumer tech trade show in Las Vegas, I got to thinking about what changes could occur in this space in the future and how these could affect users of AV/IT equipment.
One thing that really struck me at the show was how much hardware manufacturers are pursuing voice activation, automation and prompting – everything from smart glasses and TVs to cars and speakers were ‘Powered by Amazon’ or ‘Powered by Google.’
Everybody in the consumer tech industry currently seems focused on making their product connected, smart, simple and intuitive to use.
Imagine if you could apply this to the AV space and users were able to walk into a meeting room and ask the audio-video conferencing system to start a call. That level of simplicity is what people have come to expect as the norm in their personal life, so workplace technology will have to keep pace.
If people can start a video call from their smartphone in a matter of seconds, how could they be content spending ten minutes trying to set up an audio-video conferencing system in the office?
Upgrading the Conference Room
As an industry, we need to consider how we can simplify these experiences and how we can demystify AV by offering intuitive, easy to use tools. We may not be at the point of voice activation just yet, however, my focus is still very much on the user experience and trying to ensure a consistent, reliable conferencing for Shure employees across the globe.
Of course, this brings with it a number of challenges, from the differing equipment available in the 500+ rooms I manage, the change in the nature of the workplace where people can be in their home office, in a hotel, on the road or in a boardroom and yet still need to be able to participate in high-quality audio-video calls, and the differences that exist between traditional AV and IT.
Often, when an AV integrator is called in to spec a room, they’ll speak to an IT person and inevitably there’s a language gap as well as a difference in what is seen as the top priorities.
Similarly, if you ask an IT professional about their microphones, they’re unlikely to have much to say; ask them if they want to fix the poor audio quality in their conferencing calls and you’ll get a much more effusive reply. This is undoubtedly an issue of positioning, but it needs to be made clear how a product can solve a problem.
Bridging this gap and forming common ground so we can improve the user experience together is something I care about greatly.
The Importance of Guidelines
This challenge, however, is not to be underestimated. So I believe it is crucial to introduce some IT guidelines into AV. Best practices we’ve been applying for years when it comes to PCs, images, code revision and the like, now needs to be applied to the AV space.
For example, keep a good inventory and introduce a replacement cycle for AV equipment. Make sure you have the consistent code base in all of the rooms so, wherever people are or whatever they’re doing, they have the same user experience. And have the same software revisions, so if you want to make an upgrade you can without having to engineer multiple solutions. These are all tools I employ to create a more consistent experience and increase support ability.
A crucial element in this is not making site choices, but making experience choices.
An AV integrator would traditionally consider each individual space and design an installation that works just for that job. While this may have been best at the time, it makes it difficult to guarantee a consistent user or collaborative experience. By migrating rooms to a standard setup, however, you can be confident that users have a positive experience no matter their location.
Change management is a huge part of this, as we move towards consistent end points that allow us to predict better AV experiences.
There is no denying that ensuring the highest quality audio can be difficult, and it will continue to be so. But AV needs to follow the example of consumer tech manufacturers and hide this complexity from the user. People do not need to know, nor will many be interested in, the technology behind their conferencing; they simply need to be assured that it will work intuitively each and every time.
AV users just want – and deserve – that simple, smart experience that we’ve all come to expect from our technology.