Market Survey – Facilities Management: The white gloves start to come off
Peter Lloyd, January 31, 2013
50 client companies and a dozen suppliers have taken part in AV’s online survey of the AV support market. Peter Lloyd reports on the increasing influence of IT and a growing ‘self service’ user mentality.
It used to be called AV Facilities Management – AVFM for short. But the business of providing back-up to corporate or educational meeting rooms and teaching spaces is changing rapidly.
The AVFM role is now being supervised by different masters. IT departments have become more influential. Increasingly, they are taking over responsibility for AV support alongside managing the network and looking after desktop PCs, but the demands of AV mean that they are still operating specific in-house or outsourced teams of technicians to achieve this.
A different mix of needs is also emerging. On the one hand, IT and AV-savvy users are now quite capable of self-operating simple installations and new technology is making it easier to do that. But on the other hand, multi-point video conferences and collaborative meetings have now become so important to business operations that executives still want to have technicians on standby in case anything goes wrong. Different SLAs (service level agreements) and their associated response times are being applied to discrete groups of rooms within the same organisation.
Dealing with IT
In large user organisations, says Peter Rugg of AV Connect UK: “AV is moving towards IT but it is not ready to go yet. The users recognise the need for specific AV support when they are using (the usual disparate mix of) auditoria, large format displays and sound systems.
“But you are bound to end up with two service levels – one for client-facing events and remote support for internal meetings. In some circumstances there is still a need for a technician to pin a lapel microphone on the speaker and reassure him or her that they’ll be there to make sure the sound is right.”
Vince Smith, now Feltech’s service delivery manager, agrees, saying: “There is still a facilities management influence within AV support and it is not moving towards IT as quickly as I thought it might.
“There is an appreciation that these devices need to sit with someone who understands the technology, rather than with someone who understands catering. But AV is a hybrid – the difference between AV and IT is that with IT you can do everything remotely but with AV you are in front of the client and you can see their neck muscles bulging when the projector doesn’t work or the room won’t fire up.”
However, all clients are no longer likely to be personally supported: “In an internal meeting where most people are technically savvy for them to put a VGA or an HDMI cable in the back of a laptop and turn on the display is easy. So self-service is growing. It is a way of reducing head count.”
But “the pressure on people running internal meetings is now so great that managers still need support”, says Adrian Edwards, ProAV’s director of support services. “Ask them to do more than plug in a laptop and get a picture on the screen and they don’t want to know.”
With organisation demands polarising into ‘white glove’ and IT-style helpdesk support, it’s perhaps surprising that more rooms are not being remotely managed using the kind of browser-based control and set-up software now available as part of the AMX or Crestron software suites.
“There is a drive to use externally managed helpdesk and equipment management facilities,” says AVM Vision contracts director Paul Gale who sees it as an area of support that’s maturing over the next 12-36 months. But the problem, as Gale and his peers at other companies acknowledge, lies in getting access through firewalls.
“There are some customers who allow us to manage their system, but one of the biggest challenges is getting permission from IT,” says Impact’s managed services director, Terry Wilson.
So he, and others, are working on email and cloud-based systems that allow call-out ‘tickets’ to be raised, handled and resolved without invading the client network. They are also starting to set-up operation centres within the enterprise network that allow the outsourced engineers to deal with issues affecting multi-site, multi-geography organisations.
“We now provide centralised support from a help desk at our headquarters using solutions based around proprietary monitoring and control systems. These allow us to resolve about 40 per cent of the tickets raised,” says ProAV’s Edwards.
Remote management of some operational areas, such as video conferencing, are also being supplied from out-of-house NOCs which are either run by the supplier or outsourced to specialists, such as BCS Global. “If you are going to provide hosted vcon services at a VNOC you have to provide full resilience and global 24×7 support,” says Edwards.
The possibility of remote management and the need to allow simple ‘self service’ operation of internal meeting rooms is also having an effect on room system design, with rooms being stripped down to the essentials.
Extending the AV opportunity
Carrying more support through remote networks and helpdesks is driving AV support for straightforward presentation rooms (but not executive suites) in an IT direction.
But there are other areas full of explicitly AV opportunities, as Wilson explains: “We are working with companies to help user adoption, spending time with the HR or marketing department trying to build an understanding of their workflows and objectives. We can then take them through using the technology to enable their part of their business.
“Content forms a big part of this. There are lots of new AV toys, but people haven’t had to manage content on to videowalls or digital signage systems. A lot of organisations possess these capabilities but haven’t got the people to run it, haven’t thought about the processes of managing content, creation, editing, rights management and archiving.
“Historically organisations have brought in external agencies to carry this out or to construct the ceo’s quarterly video to the troops.
“But the price point has come right down now and it can be done by an internal AV team doing briefings, capturing them and beaming them out. This is starting to release the power of multimedia communications, and it’s definitely AV rather than IT.”