The world of communications and collaboration has undergone some significant shifts. Before the invention and adoption of the telephone you could communicate by post, telegraph, or in person.
As the 19th century became the 20th the telephone was adopted as the most efficient form of two-way communication. We were able to pick up a receiver and talk to another person half a world away.
The advances that have come along since Alexander Graham Bell have allowed us to have small- or large-scale meetings “virtually.” We can talk to and see each other and present information. Typically we will call this communication and collaboration. Now that we are able to do such things from a computer, tablet, mobile device, or traditional video conference system, we call that unified communications and collaboration or UCC.
“UC is the ability to host a video conference; voice, data, and video brought together for everybody to use,” says John Greene of Advanced AV.
So, we can communicate pretty much anytime and anywhere using multiple types of devices. Software-based codecs have come along like Skype, Google Hangouts, Blue Jeans, and Fuze. “They said, ‘software is going to take over for hardware’ and that hasn’t happened,” David Danto of Dimension Data says. “What we have are young people entering the workplace who are used to software and are comfortable pushing their own buttons.”
From a systems integration standpoint you have software being used as the connection between systems and not a dedicated codec. This is how we are achieving the unified communications part of UCC. There is still a need to get high quality audio and video into systems. “We as manufacturers of pro AV products look at software and software products as being very important going forward. That goes back to the ‘end-to-end’ solution,” says Casey Hall of Extron. “There’s a natural integration between software and hardware and much is heading into the software domain.”
What Does the Customer Want?
As an integrator, does your design and sales strategy change? Not necessarily. “Soft codecs are augmenting existing spaces,” says Chris Turner, services account manager for Advanced AV. “We let the customer tell us what they are looking for and we tailor the solution based on what the client is most comfortable with.” Whether you are designing a stadium, classroom, or board room, you still must do what underscores virtually any sale — listen to the needs of the client and cater to that.
What are some of the common problems they are trying to solve? “A small percentage, 15 to 20 percent, of your systems will be one-offs; the rest will be huddle or collaboration spaces,” Danto suggests.
This is a perfect space for UCC. The huddle or collaboration space can be as simple as a basic audio and video connection to a display or have a few more features such as the ability to add multiple sources. The simplest definition of a huddle space is that it is easy to get in, get the meeting done, and get out. They can be a meeting space for two to three people who also need to bring in remote workers.
There are some companies that will over-design a system to provide the absolute best AV experience. That is not always needed, or even wanted. “The sad part, from an integration standpoint, is as long as it works all the time the client doesn’t care what it looks like and sounds like,” Danto says. “It’s a drift away from quality to effectiveness.” Adds Greene, “The clients are giving up a ‘wow’ feature for it to just work.”
“You will be an IT company that does AV, or a media creation company with integration. You could be a collaboration company, or a projection company … the real change will be that integrators will need to become a trusted advisor.” —David Danto, Dimension Data
Seize Opportunity to Expand Role
In talking to Vaddio, Crestron, Extron and others, the manufacturers believe that UCC and software-based codecs aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. The systems that are in place, and the ones that are coming down the pipeline, are going to end up being better for the clients who use them. It may put some integrators in more profitable positions.
“You will be an IT company that does AV, or a media creation company with integration,” Danto says. “You could be a collaboration company, or a projection company … the real change will be that integrators will need to become a trusted advisor.”
Rich Fregosa, of Fregosa Design in San Francisco, has been taking this approach for a number of years. Fregosa is primarily in the residential market, but he has worked on his fair share of high-profile professional sports venues. His approach has been to be a “digital concierge” — this is the trusted advisor role of which Danto speaks. Yes, your clients have access to all the cut sheets you do. They can research the specifications and reviews of each and every product you will put into your quote.
You, as the AV integrator, are the person who knows how all these parts and pieces work together. You understand the acoustics, the sight lines, and contrast of lighting for video. As a technology advisor, you get the opportunity to help your client connect the hardware part of their systems to these new software-based codecs. The real question is how.
You can demonstrate your value by sharing your expertise. If you don’t know the answer, find it. As Danto mentioned, that might mean evolving into different types of integration firms. You can be a content creation solution provider for your client and IT network problem solver; or someone who is an expert in projection mapping that also is knowledgeable about AV integration. Regardless of where you are currently, develop and expand to be able to provide your clients with the answers to their technological problems.
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As we watch the landscape of UCC develop and change, where are we headed? “We may end up eliminating (physical) meeting spaces,” says Greene. Moreover, adds Danto, “You are going to see a lot of products move into the huddle space. Everybody’s going to be taking it from slightly different perspectives; cloud based versus on-premises based. You have Cisco/ Acano, Microsoft, and Blue Jeans all aiming for this market,” as well as others.
Now’s the time to learn more about IT and networking, learn about port 80, enterprise deployments, and quality of service. Soft codecs are going to be an integral part of UCC for the foreseeable future, so the AV industry as a whole would do well to learn more about them and how to integrate them into our systems.