By Brian Trampler, Senior Product and Strategy Manager, Black Box
I like to read about and experience advances in AV technology, as it is a keen area of interest for me. My start in technology was tied to the first gaming system I had as a kid growing up in the U.S. The constant need to improve the graphics, the speed, the link from my controller to the game, and the audio that surrounded me in my room or enveloped my ears as I soared around the galaxy firing at enemy spacecraft, swung across a chasm using a vine in an endless jungle run, or wandered around an island in the middle of nowhere left me trying to figure out what I was trying to accomplish. I then moved on to supporting that technology by working on a helpdesk for one of the very first collaboration tools during the dot-com boom and bust. Walking a customer through the particular variations of the multimedia presentation that was being downloaded in the background at extremely slow data speeds as compared to today really pushed the bubble on what could be achieved. And working on some of the first video streaming events was not just exhilarating, but also very trying at times.
AV has grown since then. Video walls or lighting effects can immerse an entire stadium, sit outside an airport to light the way and provide a symphony for the eyes, or cover an entire city building with color and imagery. Audio can blow your ears out or deliver subtle nuances, and tools the NOC uses can monitor health, status, and capacity. These factors have only increased in complexity - shortly to be followed by great advances in a move to simplify the user experience and the minimization of equipment required to accomplish the same task - leading to a high level of satisfaction and immersion. And yet, the advances often outpace the return one can get from a piece of equipment. So, instead of chewing up capital with a one-time expense that has to hit a break-even, many companies have made the move to AV delivered as a monthly recurring service charge.
AVaaS provides you with flexible technology and hardware capabilities accompanied by a powerful 360-degree service wrap, with a predictable monthly payment. Having the ability to use readily accessible cash on sales and lead generation, R&D, and critical operational expenses in times like these instead of on meeting room technology makes AVaaS an invaluable proposition.
I must also admit – I've read recently that some in the AV industry don't feel that there is a set standard for AVaaS. I would tend to disagree with that; I believe that all software and hardware as a service have standards they must adhere to in order to appeal to customers. Here is my list of the 5 features that make AV as a Service offering appealing.
Hey, this is hardware after all, did you think that the actual thing you hold in your hand, touch to control, wirelessly or physically connect to, or mount on the wall isn't part of the service? The hardware is a key component of this AVaaS offering; these are the cameras, screens, cabling, and input devices that make up an AV collaboration room, whether providing functionality for one person at home or in a huddle room, or many in a larger space. Add in digital signage and scheduling integration, and your room becomes available as an instant collaboration room that also communicates internal events and external news of the day. The biggest issue lately has been supply chain, so make sure you are working with a company that has stock on hand or you might be waiting a while for your new setup. I've seen wait times surpassing 6 months to a year in some cases.
Software upgrades can be costly and time-consuming, especially when a number of peripherals need to work together. In order for this to become a non-issue, making sure that the AV system you've chosen as your standard meets not only the certification requirements of the application you are using it with, but also has enough capability or future-proofing to be upgraded. The management of those upgrades should fall on the AVaaS vendor, relieving you of the headache of constantly patching, updating, and training your staff on the effective usage of the systems put in place. AV should enhance your collaboration, not detract from it, and a good AV vendor removes that risk.
Installation of the system is part of the AVaaS experience, and setting a standard with the AV provider you work with also provides a consistent experience. Look for a company that has already established room size and compatibility certification standards; they are more than likely to keep up-to-date on the latest technology and educate you on new/additional capabilities you might not be aware of. And leveraging installation experts across your entire office space also allows for that user experience consistency. Rooms that look and feel the same become more accessible to users regardless of the complexity behind the scenes.
Part of maintenance is the software upgrade capability and the standard certification of systems as listed above, but it is also all about making sure that you are proactively looking for issues. Is the sound in the room consistently having issues, is that bulb on the projector about to die, are there constant issues with users changing the settings - making the system unusable for the next user? Is the screen flickering or having color balance issues, and who is supporting all of these concerns? That is where the maintenance service part of the AVaaS offering becomes a compelling differentiator. And whether you've chosen reactive (i.e. wait for a call to be made when an issue occurs) or proactive (diagnose and resolve issues before they affect a user, or quickly resolve identified issues before they affect usage) maintenance, working with a partner that knows your environment and expectations for the upkeep allows you to free up your staff to focus on your business.
I've already talked about the software upgrades that you leverage in an AVaaS model; this is about upgrading the entire system to a new system or capability. As hardware and components become obsolete at a more accelerated rate, and new technologies arrive at a faster pace, customers are often left with a sense of technical FOMO (fear of missing out). AVaaS providers typically provide systems for 3 to 5 year lifespans, with the ability to upgrade as part of the service agreement. Upgrading also extends the contract out once the upgrade is accomplished, so choosing an AV vendor with experience and a good reputation are extremely important goalposts to measure.
As IT becomes more of a commodity, and less of an internal focus, leveraging AV as a Service may be just what your company needs. Black Box can help. To explore your options, contact us at blackbox.com or 855-324-9909.
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