Once upon a time an AV integrator didn’t need to know anything about networking in order to do their jobs. AV systems were isolated from the network and the IT department cared little for the specifics of the systems outside of whether it worked and who to call if it didn’t.
The rise of videoconferencing and collaboration systems set the wheels in motion for the convergence of AV and IT – that catchall phrase that predicted the increasing connection of AV equipment and systems on the network.
Following the laws of physics, the mass amount of AV equipment increasingly capable, if not reliant, upon network connection cause the convergence to speed up, bringing AV and IT closer together. Digital signage connected to the network in order to allow for remote control.
Surveillance cameras connected to the network in order to be tied into building management systems and run through cloud software. An increasing number of sensors were attached to AV systems in spaces like meeting rooms to gather data on how equipment was being used.
Today that convergence has occurred and could be more accurately called the intersection of AV and IT. For much equipment and many systems, the two are inexorably linked. There are as many or more AV systems that cannot exist without network connectivity as there are those that do not allow for network connectivity.
Integrator Networking Necessities
The first thing that any AV integration firm needs to do in order to properly interact with the network is educate their workforce. In this case it’s a jack-of-all-trades situation rather than a master-of-one.
Instead of hiring several experts on different components of the network, teach each relevant staff member the basics of each component. For the purpose of AV that will be enough to get started.
“Even as an integrator it’s not profitable to have all those specialty people that only do one thing on a job,” says Darrance Tezino, Director of Technology Services, CenterPoint Energy. “The customer will assume that every single one of you are subject matter experts. The minute that you can’t answer or answer incorrectly the emails start going out.
“You need to be able to talk about connectivity, because at the end of the day you’re connecting these components,” he says.
The most effective way to be successful with multiple crews out in the field is to get the crew trained. Enable them to earn certification through accredited IT organizations. Partner with manufacturers to ensure you know how to correctly connect their products to the network.
Make sure your technicians can certify the technology down to the basic cable. When training, ensure you’re aligning your staff with a standard.
Listen: How to Build Your IT Relationships by Helping Keep Their Mobile Workforces Secure: Episode 122 of AV+
“In IT we don’t just send resources out. We bank on guidelines that guide our decisions, give us the ‘whys,’ and train on how to respond,” says Tezino. It’s why IT pros often start at the helpdesk – it allows them understand the flow process.”
In general, remote access to applications is of high importance to the IT department. That means integrators must understand how to push the platforms on UCC systems further than the office environment.
“What we’ve seen, and I think it’s consistent with other colleagues when I speak to them, is that remote users have become critical. As such, applications and the use of those applications have become more remote use,” says Kevin Nikkhoo, CEO, Xenex. “That means they have to adjust the integration of the equipment that they use to cloud applications so that remote users can easily get access.”
Integrators can help to ensure that connectivity remains stable using VPNs. If that device is defective or stops working then the connectivity goes away. It’s important to find solutions that have failover and high availability.
“Traditional appliances that plug into the network and provide that function are risky,” says Nikkhoo. “If they fail the entire group of employees using that VPN won’t be able to get in.”
As an AV integrator, you are the point of contact between the customer and products you are implementing.
“If you are not involved with the sandbox of that implemented asset or product that needs to go through a security review then you dropped the ball,” says Tezino. “It is your job to bring the manufacturers to the table. It is your job to bring the whitepapers to the table. It is your job to say there is a sandbox environment that has been tested, works clearly, and has no alerts or penetration.”
As the owner of the device being installed, the integrator is also responsible for the security of that device even after the project has been completed. The customer will surely see it that way if a mistake made by the integrator causes harm to their infrastructure. You introduced the product into the environment that allowed a threat actor to enter. You’re culpable.
“Everything we do is completely vetted, but their could be customers that prefer to work with a specific provider,” says Nikkhoo. “In that scenario we actually work with them to integrator our solution so that the customer gets the best of both world. We have to look at what the customer needs are and how to handle it.”
“Follow it through,” says Tezino. “Pull all resources in to help facilitate a security review to a corporate or enterprise environment. The IT department doesn’t have the time. They have a whole bunch of other stuff to vet as well. To prioritize AV that has no dependencies on IT’s workload, looking at it from a security perspective is a tough battle to win.
“If you bring all the right players, you guide it the whole way through, you offer the sandbox environment to get them to feel comfortable and deploy this – that is the white glove customer support that most corporate environments are looking for,” he says.
Understand as well how the company handles their internal cybersecurity. “We do an assessment of both human resources as well as application systems to find out the core competency available within the customer and employee set and how we can complement that.
“Let the customers focus on their core competency by using their resources where they can add the most value,” he says.
Understanding the IT Department
“Technology is now the driver of communication channels,” says Tezino. “Now AV integrators are being required to talk with infrastructure. If you have a legacy infrastructure and the integrator doesn’t identify that the equipment doesn’t work.”
With that in mind, AV integrators need to evolve how they deal with customers. Increasingly the direct interface with customers goes through the IT department. However, IT pros and AV integrators tend to think of technology differently. AV integrators think horizontally in terms of the system, while IT pros think vertically in terms of the stack.
“The biggest thing is meeting the customer where they’re at,” says Tezino. “IT costs money. It does not make money for the company. Understand their positioning.”
The CIO’s primary concern is security and need. Intricacies and added functionalities are of little concern to a CIO. The marketing team will determine aesthetics. Security will ensure it’s not vulnerable. The networking team will manage bandwidth and connectivity. “You add in all of these layers and people that have to be involved and you have to cater that conversation,” says Tezino.
Can the system scale? Is it secure? Is there a warranty? What is the refresh cycle? These business questions are going to be as important, if not more so, to the majority of individuals or departments on the customer side as whether the systems fits their needs or not.
Once you communicate these to each individual or department, there will be next steps, and you will have the ability to ask questions. “Talk through that stuff,” says Tezino. “It’s being able to navigate the entire signal flowthrough and knowing what the big picture is.
“What does done look like? That is going to guide every conversation that you have with valuable and tangible trackers for completion of a project,” he says. “That’s their language and what they care about.”
If you speak IT’s language then you’ll be able to implement the correct systems securely and make the customer happy at the onset. When employees begin to use the system the bells and whistles will sound, and IT will hear them and come to you for future projects knowing you get the networking right first, and solve the needs of the business along with it.