Thinking about your AV estate

How do you work out its value and assess user needs? Two leading thinkers from corporate and higher education make their suggestions for each sector.

Gary Keene, manager AV, Google UK

“We start every project with a clean sheet of paper. We want to deliver facilities that work for a variety of teams over a period of time, so we question everything and start with the assumption we’re not replicating anything we’ve done previously.

As an organisation we do create products. We’re putting a significant investment into an enterprise arm so you’ll see more Google collaborative products coming out. To support this we’ve turned our estate into an asset to help develop better products, faster. We offer our pilot service programme to product managers who give us early-stage product which we test in a way that will deliver them much higher quality feedback at a pace they wouldn’t be able to achieve themselves.

This process also gives us an insight into what these products are doing and allows us to take a long term view on how to actually integrate them into the business. We do a lot of peer review for anything that we’re looking to take out of pilot into production and the one question you are guaranteed you will always get asked is ‘how will this scale’? Again, that forces you to think through the implications of any service change you’re looking at.

Big at the moment is the concept of room UX. We currently have in-house UX pros working on product interface development and are experimenting with products in different parts of the business to measure their impact on the collaborative process. We’re also putting these products into different territories to find out if there’s a cultural impact and find out how they work with remote teams and virtual workers. We’re also dropping them into different points of the project cycle because again, we’ve got a hunch that they’re more likely to be used in the brainstorming stages.

We can then use this set of data to drive a product adoption strategy knowing we have insight into the product’s value to certain parts of the business.”

Marcus Saunders, academic technologist, University of the Arts

“In Higher Education, the concept of large lecture halls versus more flexible, collaborative spaces – is changing. It’s about removing transmissive teaching and moving towards active learning. The current crop of undergraduates are driving it. They have different expectations about how all content, not just their learning and academic content, should be delivered to them.

You could build large lecture spaces 15 years ago quite safe in the knowledge you would teach in the same way for at least five years, maybe 10 – that nothing would change and the style of teaching would remain the same. Now the spaces need to be flexible day to day, but also more quickly adaptable. In general, the conversation’s around cost. How expensive are these rooms to build? Why are we building them if they’re not working? How do we move this on? It’s quite tricky. I can see you’re more likely to get cost approval and probably, a lot of support for something that’s brand new or is a huge step on from what you had originally.

Key is how we engineer in simplicity. How do we make things much more straightforward from a user experience perspective and achieve that with fewer components and very, very simple and consistent interaction between how you use a room and the purpose it’s designed for.

The range of questions we ask is there to facilitate what is genuinely needed, rather than looking backwards to replicate what we’ve always done. Over the last 18 months, I’ve carried out two rounds of consultation with a broad cross section of people who are going to use new buildings. It’s been interesting because you suddenly realise you’re asking a group of people, who may have taught in a very specific way for a reasonably long time in a legacy building, to imagine how they’re going to teach in something that doesn’t yet exist in four or five years time. That’s a very difficult ask because actually, that’s not their subject matter expertise.”

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