All AV companies are not created the same.
Selecting the right Audio-Visual Design & Build Firm will be one of the most important decisions you and your team will make. And while it may seem challenging, it doesn’t need to be that way. Not anymore.
The need for Audio Visual technology has grown to become one of the most important disciplines within the commercial, healthcare and higher education industries. How important is AV to you and your organization? The answer can be found by determining how much distress your organization has when PowerPoints don’t display correctly on the Samsung 4K LED, when people can’t be heard on a Cisco SX80 video or audio call or when users call to say “…Crestron is not working” and I need someone here “NOW”.
Odds are your organization uses technology everywhere, has a younger and dispersed work force comprised of employees and 3rd parties, requires agility, communication across many time zones and platforms including, Skype for Business, On-Premises, Cloud, mobile, PC, rooms etc. Security, once the responsibility of a 3rd party vendor who provided a uniformed presence at the perimeter, has felt its effects to every device and RJ45 jack in the organization.
If you are still reading, you and your organization are one of the many organizations who have concluded that to be effective and competitive you need a coherent Audio-Visual technology strategy and partner to help you to implement that strategy.
Step 2, How do you find the best team to bring the most value to your strategy and your projects?
There are many considerations to take into account, some of them incredibly hard to pinpoint, all with the goal of clearing the fog. Thankfully, we have outlined some best practices you can use to identify the right team & fit that will suit your company’s and project needs.
A firm is as good as its team. This is even more true for the Audio-Visual Industry where the technological envelope is constantly being pushed to new limits of: More, Faster, Cheaper, Now.
Deep Knowledge is the ability to gain a variety of information on a variety of topics, or going in deep on a certain subject or topic. Used commonly in the study of the universe, its definition applies directly the Audio-Visual Industry.
An expert Audio-Visual Engineering team includes individuals with the knowledge of audio and video signal flow and now requires the added deep knowledge of systems, equipment, networking and security, previously only found in the best firms of the IT world. (Think Cisco)
Knowledge is basis of a strong team; finding a team that disseminates the unnecessary from the business critical, as it applies to your strategy, is essential to clearing the fog.
Professional Audio-Visual systems strategy teams require the ability to continue to gather knowledge in multiple areas, organize that knowledge to allow for it to be distributed to the relevant team members through the company’s internal best practice and process to educate and promote individuals into leadership positions that promote more knowledge transfer. Work with a team that is a deep as it is wide, in knowledge and understanding.
Best practice includes, best hire practices, best employee retainage practices and best training practices and understanding ideas that challenge the status quo. If the AV Company staff is thoroughly vetted, reliable and possesses a long-standing reputation of integrity in the industry, then that company is certainly the one to focus on.
Technical certifications are important. The Audio-Visual Company that is either a direct dealer or approved distributor means the Audio-Visual company’s staff has most likely already met each manufactures criterion to represent their brand & therefore may help you identify which one is better for you. Certifications help an AV Company provide long term value, on-time delivery, quality installations in addition to a solid career path for their employees. Here are a few certifications from the leading manufactures of Audio-Visual Components and industry associations to look for:
AVIXA: (formerly InfoComm International): CTS, CTS-D, CTS-I
Creston: DMC-E-4K, DMC-T-4K, DMC-S, CTI-P-101, CTI-P-201, CTI-P-301, CTI-FUSION-P, CTI-CSD, DM-NVX
Extron: Extron Control Professional, Extron Control Specialist, Extron XTP Systems Design Engineer, Extron XTP Systems Technician
BiAmp: Tesira SERVER/SERVER I-O, TesiraFORTÉ, TesiraLUX, Vocia, VoIP, Audia for Technicians
QSC: Q-SYS Level 1, Q-SYS Level 2
Cisco: CCNA Collaboration, CCNP Collaboration
Reputation is important. It is also the right way to see whether a company’s style, approach, ethics and philosophy is a good fit for you and your team. Read the reviews, talk with people that worked with the companies previously and, if possible, visit the sites of their completed projects and ask questions. If they are established in the industry, they should be proud to show off their work, providing the confidence to move to the next step.
Technical Compatibility, Interdependency and Operability
Many companies rely on “cookie-cutter” templates, that lack additional knowledge needed to provide a comprehensive solution. Cookie cutter will not pass the bar for the modern AV / IT systems which is integrated at many levels of the organization.
In the Audio-Visual industry, Compatibility, Interdependency and Operability include the Electronics and Infrastructure, Solutions within the installed space, legacy systems and user groups.
Every piece of equipment doesn’t work in every application. Every application is not correct for every organization. Knowing what works and what doesn’t in unique circumstances is obviously critical and now is added to the Audio Visual / Unified Communication discipline. It’s a higher bar that many unqualified integrators can’t reach.
Examples of this higher criterion are everywhere. (1) the impact to the network when audio and video is distributed over segments of the infrastructure. (Dante and AES67 requires a higher level and degree of compatibility between devices, switches, and clients’ infrastructure). (2) Securing devices and the individual users to what can be shared on the Unified Communications platform. Deploying a robust SSH layer has become increasingly important and should not be overlooked in an AV system.
Room and Space Compatibility
This is where AV has an opportunity to work with the architects and designers.
Simply said, after the equipment has been pre-confirmed for the application, then the AV Designer and AV Engineer must work to make sure that the actual equipment is compatible in the room, space and furniture. Sure the rack will “fit in the credenza” but does the Shure MXA910 Ceiling Array fit into the optimal position of the Reflected Ceiling Plan? Is there a HVAC vent effecting the performance of the microphone? Is credenza properly ventilated for the rack components? Will the microphones that are being drilled into the table be obstructed by the doors on the cable cubbies? These are few of the questions that require the attention of a qualified Audio-Visual Engineer and Project team. Most importantly, as it relates to compatibility, is the proposed solution compatible for the actual end-user of the space?
If the Audio-Visual team has taken the time to ask the right questions of the user community, they will find out if there is a preference for wireless lavalier or wired microphones, room schedulers to keep the peace, a white board solution that is able to record the presentation and so on. Compatibility is important!
Process – Process- Process – Final Deliverables and the Closeout Process
Is there a documented process throughout the delivery of the system? How well does the AV company provide and respond to the multiple RFI’s and RFQ’s that are common across many departments (Facilities, IT, Security, Executive Committee, etc.) in the Audio-Visual Industry?
How is the final deliverable shared & what is included in the “Final Deliverable Submittal”? Are the Final Deliverables provided on a CD AND huge binder, (still a common practice) or has the AV company employed the best practices of using a shared a portal which remains transparent throughout the project and final delivery process?
Is the closeout process straightforward and process driven providing meaningful information or is it a document dump (also an all too common practice)? Does the AV company provide a serialized equipment list with MAC addresses, complete sets of as-built drawings & editable programming and DSP code? It is obvious that the answer should be resounding YES! Don’t let your End-Game process of the project close out be marginalized. A great End-of Project system is a terrific indicator that your post installation service experience will be as well.
Pricing and Warranty
Everything come down to price. No revelation there.
However, Best & Final may not always reflect all the criteria of a thoughtful and thorough selection process. And while staff expertise, compatibility, pricing, certifications and a long-term partner relationship take longer to asses on the front end, an informed decision maker and team will make better decisions with higher successes every time.
The AV firm that possess the qualities outlined below is an asset especially when considering the alternatives of using an unqualified firm without the knowledge and expertise to design, deliver and support your Audio-Visual Systems and Environments.
Warranty, while secondary to many, is another important part to consider. While each manufacturer warranty on the hardware may vary (Crestron 3 – 5 years depending on vertical), the AV Company Warranty on the system, the wiring, the programming, the operation and usability, reflects how confident they are in their staff workmanship & the overall finished product.
Service Service Service
We have saved the best for last. It all comes down to service. It’s as true for Audio Visual as it is for any project you’re planning to undertake. If the team you are assembling is unresponsive, unprepared or otherwise incapable of resolving the issues at hand for lack or attention then that is the experience you will remember. Proving a positive exemplary service experience in a modern commercial Audio Visual unified communication environment is truly a team effort.