Does your IT department speak AV?
Video and audio conferencing has evolved rapidly in recent years, moving away from hardware towards software-based solutions. Products like Google Hangouts and Skype for Business offer cost savings and greater flexibility, but user experiences can suffer if the audio equipment isn’t quite up to the job.
At the same time, many companies have invested heavily in conferencing systems, reducing the need to fly out employees for important meetings.
These developments have made networked audio crucial to decision-making and collaboration in an increasingly global workplace. So there’s an increasing need for both AV and IT departments to understand each other’s own particular language. Otherwise, there can be significant difficulties when integrating audio equipment into an existing IT network.
Previously, fewer digital media platforms had to sit on IT networks, such as digital signage IPTV and video conferencing. But with the growth of networked AV technologies and the emergence of networked audio, the increasing number of spaces that might be sending audio can be challenging for IT departments, especially for them to be confident that it’s not going to affect central services.
“IT departments haven’t had to deal with networked audio up to now, and it is up to us to work with them, and ensure successful integration,” explains Stuart Davidson, Technical Services Director at audio-visual specialist firm AVMI. “One of the biggest challenges within the industry is providing reassurance that everything they need can sit on the network – and that by working with the AV department and with careful planning – everything is going to be okay.”
A key concern for IT departments is the overall impact of networked services. AV departments need to work closely to plan network routines, making sure to mitigate risks to existing services while supporting a successful AV deployment.
“IT convergence has been on the horizon for a while now,” agrees Davidson. “We’ve had lots of different technologies that sit on a network, but now those technologies need to start talking to each other in a way they haven’t previously. We need to take that onboard as an industry and change our approach.”
So with convergence between AV and IT continuing apace, are we looking at a new breed of communications professional servicing both departments?
“Up until quite recently we had specialists who focused on their chosen technology, such as digital signage or conferencing. They worked independently with IT departments to understand their network requirements,” says Davidson. “However, what we’re finding now is that there’s so much being deployed across a client network that we’ve had to take on board network architects. They can take a holistic view of a customer’s estate, bringing all our technologies together.”
Along with the need for AV and IT to both be well versed in each other’s technical language, there’s also a need for greater standardization, suggests Paul Louden, Sales Director at Electrosonic.
“Technology companies and financial institutions are really deploying those standards at scale, across the globe,” he says. “It also allows them to take AV from being a relatively niche product, situated in AV, conferencing and collaboration rooms, into a solution that can be deployed in any meeting room.”
This has led to an explosion of so-called ‘huddle rooms,’ with standardized technology giving companies the ability to turn regular meeting rooms into networked collaboration rooms on a global scale.
“Using an AV system should be the same experience for any client, in any meeting room, in the world,” says Davidson. “Other benefits that are enabled with that approach are consistent support and service, and it’s something that we, and the industry as a whole, are pushing hard for.”
Of course, Shure is no stranger to the world of networked audio. Leading from the front, we have established a series of regular seminars for AV commissioning engineers, installers, AV designers and audio engineers. These seminars aim to provide a better understanding of the IT networking standards commonly used in today’s audio transport protocols, along with practical, hands-on demonstrations.
“All our technical team is being network trained, so we have a greater understanding,” says John Ellis, UK Regional Sales Manager at Shure. “AV and IT departments need to communicate more and seek to understand each other, which on the whole I believe they are. Some projects we hear about run very seamlessly, but other it seems hard work for the AV guys to get the cooperation they need.”
Network security is another crucial aspect of the intersection of AV and IT. For example, a recent UK government report found that nearly half of all British businesses suffered a cyber attack in 2016.
“IT departments are understandably concerned about security,” agrees Dave Grimwood, Pre-Sales Team Leader at international audio-visual company Electrosonic. “Audio operates in real-time and therefore needs to be made a priority.”
From a project perspective, networked audio also requires much of the commissioning to be completed onsite, which is always more challenging than commissioning it offsite. AV professionals will find themselves working with lots of IT infrastructure they may not be familiar with, this in turn requires more planning ahead.
“AV professionals often require a list of IT infrastructure up front, which IT departments understandably can be quite sensitive about, due to security concerns, this can then delay the project while they approve,” explains Grimwood.
Davidson from AVMI agrees: “What we’re finding more often these days is that we’re working very closely with IT departments for technology approvals and security testing, while providing White Paper assurances and working with manufacturers to ensure that the technology won’t compromise their network security.”
Still, Ellis says the convergence of AV and IT departments is getting better, with IT professionals becoming savvier when it comes to understanding audio.
“It’s certainly improving, although there are still probably more AV guys learning about IT than IT guys learning about audio,” he says. “IT departments need to understand that the AV industry is not going to be foolish enough to put any products on a network that will compromise that network’s security. It’s a serious business, and we’re just as serious to ensure that it keeps working effectively and securely.”