Those Ugly Black Pieces of Technology

Written by: Fae Sarshoghi

Back in elementary school, when I was 8 years old, my grandmother gave me a pair of socks as a gift. The socks were dark brown. My mother didn’t like them, but God I loved the texture, the embroidery and above all that, the length of those socks. They were knee length, can you imagine that? First time I wore them I felt a miracle happened in my soul and my body. I had suddenly become a grown woman. Who else would wear a knee length brown pair of socks? You’re right, my grandmother would. But this time she had decided not to, and instead gave them to one of her youngest grandchildren. I wanted to wear them every day, and this could have driven my mom really mad. Finally to convince me giving up the idea of wearing them at school, she told me they didn’t match the colour of my school uniform. That sounded fair enough. I finally dropped the idea of wearing my grandma’s socks at school, but the thought of what colours would suit those pair of socks didn’t leave me for quite a long time. I still think of those brown socks. Actually I think of them every time I sit in a meeting room looking at black tv sets, black phones, black ugly pieces of technology that resist matching their surroundings.

Why most of the technology pieces are in black, some might ask. The question is what is the alternative? Not every company and organisation has the luxury of choosing colour of their technology equipment based on the colour theme of the room it’s going to be installed in. Even the idea of it sounds crazy. Imagine Samsung decides to brighten up our meeting rooms with Yellow tv frames. How many of it do they have to produce? In what regions should it be distributed? Insane, isn’t it! How about custom made tv sets with whatever colour the customer chooses! The impossibility of the idea sounds obvious, but I want to emphasise how our colour options are limited when it comes to technology pieces. However, we have unlimited options to make those ugly black pieces, look nicer in a room.

My brown socks had a strong colour, but as a kid, if I were a bit more creative I could have still matched them with my steel blue elementary school dress, wearing a pair of calypso blue shoes, a beige hat with brown ribbon, and probably a pair of orange gloves. I could’ve even got my mom to change my uniform buttons to orange. Fancy that!

The point is, there is no colour on the colour palettes that can’t be matched with a set of other colours. I don’t actively work in design, but my hunger for art and fashion has turned me into someone who is super-sensitive to how things look. With that said, working in AV industry is the most exciting job I have ever had throughout my career life. Seeing all the effort that goes behind the scene to keep these ugly black pieces of technology work properly, makes me think what can bring the beauty of AV Technology design more into the surface, and more sensible for people seeing it.

For sure, the beauty of AV design first of all lies in the simplicity of user experience, then comes the aesthetics. But I think that our technologically advanced world is now allowing for aesthetics to enter the territory of engineering design, more than ever before. The secret is in starting to think about the AV technology design as early as possible in a project. Best Interior Designers are those that see a space not the way they like it to be, but the way it functions the best. A conference room, first of all is made for conferences, and therefore depends on a number of technology equipment. Best Interior Designers, make sure they have consulted with professional AV engineers and understand their technology options before they start to design the space.

When I started to write this article, I asked an Architect friend of mine what he thinks about these black pieces of technology, he said “Thank God, they are not made in colour. I prefer grey tones for them”.

I believe there are many ways to help the technology equipment make peace with other elements of design, and their blackness to work in harmony with other colours in a room. One way is by using black as an accent colour in the design of an AV capable room, to considerably reduce its heaviness and make the technology pieces blend into the whole colour theme of the design. We can even consider painting the ceiling black and then repeating the colour through the room to balance it. Obviously, there is not one single colour solution that works in every room. The key is in knowing that by engaging the AV specialist early on in the design process, it is POSSIBLE to have an AV system in place that functions well and looks aesthetically pleasing.

Work with an Independent AV Consultant before an Installer

Written by: David Allara

A customer that we had worked with a number of years ago called me last week and asked if I might be able to help his friend who ran a small financial business based out of Sydney, Australia. He mentioned that the business had recently expanded into a few new locations and all of a sudden had a need for video conferencing. They were confused by the myriad of options in this space and needed the advice of an expert. I told him that I was more than happy to assist and by that same afternoon had made contact with John from the small financial business.

John and I spoke for a few minutes and he told me about his business and the excitement of expanding into new territories, which included Singapore and the UK. Being a business owner myself I could relate to this excitement and the enjoyment of taking positive steps forward. We spoke for a little longer and he explained some of the reasons why video conferencing was now a key communication tool that he felt he needed to implement into the business. Daily communication with London was critical and, given the distance barrier, he wanted to enable face to face and content sharing communication between the teams in the two offices. He felt that this was important not from just a pure communication perspective, but also to build the culture throughout the business. Bringing in other offices and external clients and partners was also now a key requirement. John wanted to impress these external parties by ensuring the quality of connection and experience on the video calls was as high as possible.

Prior to speaking with me, John and his team had done some research on video conferencing by themselves and even invited three different AV installation companies in to discuss their situation and requirements. Each of these companies missed the mark completely in a number of ways, which is what prompted John to call our mutual friend for help. Firstly, the installation companies were not focusing on the business as a whole. Their focus was only on the Sydney office and quoting up AV systems to install there. Secondly, the installation companies were each providing slightly different information that was skewed towards the products and solutions they sell. Finally, the products and solutions quoted were all significantly over and above what this customer actually needed.

Clearly there was a mismatch between John’s true required outcomes, and the solutions that the AV installation companies were trying to sell.

My team and I were able to add value to John in a number of different ways. We began by simply documenting the key points of our conversations with him and highlighting the outcomes desired with an order of priority. This helped John and his team clearly see what was important and why. We then took the time to educate John and his team on a short list of different hardware and software options that were a potential fit for the business’s video conferencing needs. In a final session we work-shopped ideas and came up with a final end to end solution of hardware and software that met all of John’s core desired outcomes. This solution was then priced by suitable AV installation companies and the savings were in the tens of thousands of dollars compared to the original quotes.

This example, although simple, clearly illustrates the distinct advantages John gained by working with an independent expert AV consultant prior to signing off on quotes from AV installation companies. He gained clarity on what he really needed, was educated on all the options available, and was finally able to make an informed choice on the best customised video conferencing solution for his business.

Why an AV Technology POC is a Good idea?

WHY AN AV TECHNOLOGY POC IS A GOOD IDEA?

Written by: David Allara

At konnectus we have the good fortune to work with many medium to large organisations across different sectors and develop the optimal AV technology solutions to meet their specific needs. Our experience from working with our customers has taught us many things and if there is one single process that always leads to positive outcomes it would be to take the time to conduct a Proof of Concept (POC) before investing in a large rollout or investment in new AV technology.

What is a POC? Well it should be first made clear that a POC is not a Trial site or Pilot. A POC is exactly what it says it is in its name. It is a proof to test a particular technology or solution, which appears to make sense on paper. A POC is generally a small investment and has specific goals and objectives that are to be tested. If the POC is deemed successful then the next step would be a larger investment in a Trial site or Pilot.

When should a POC be considered, and how long should it last? A POC is not always required for every planned AV technology investment. However, when a large rollout or implementation is being planned we would always recommend that some time be taken to conduct a POC of between 2-4 weeks depending on the type of AV technology being considered, and how many people need to trial and provide feedback.

I have found that some of the stronger reasons for conducting a POC of AV technology solutions include:

  • Is a proposed solution easy to use? With AV the devil is often in the details. The spec sheets of equipment do not always include the hidden “gotchas” or its incompatibilities with other equipment/systems in the overall solution. Testing the solution end to end and obtaining direct feedback from the people that will need to use the AV technology on a day to day basis is a crucial part of the process. Often a designer or engineer will overlook seemingly non important steps to use from their perspective, which are in fact hurdles for a non-technical person.
  • Does the proposed solution meet the requirements it is designed for? i.e. solving current issues, improving experiences, delivering specific outcomes. So often this question is overlooked by a designer as he/she gets into the details of the design. A design or solution may be elegant from the engineer’s perspective but if it doesn’t truly meet the requirements it is designed for then it is a wasted investment of both time and money.
  • Is the proposed solution reliable? What is the process to install and configure it? What is involved to service and maintain it? Are there any ongoing impacts that need to be considered? e.g. additional training, specialised operators, ongoing costs such as licensing etc. All of these questions challenge the long term feasibility of and value of a proposed AV solution. A customer must be well informed with what that looks like and comfortable the plan in place to manage the ongoing variables of the AV technology investment.
  • Is the solution scalable to a larger rollout or system? This is a key factor that needs to be tested for larger organisations that are looking to standardise AV technologies, systems, and user experiences across multiple locations.

Dig Deep to Understand the True Requirements in AVT Projects

True Requirements

Written by: David Allara

I would like to share with you my real-life experience about the importance of consulting with the right people and “Digging Deep” to understand the true requirements when developing a design for a new AV solution.

The “Surface Level” AV scope of works

konnectus was a member of the greater design team that helped to deliver an expansion and refurbishment of the facilities at the Macquarie Park Cemetery and Crematorium (MPCC) in Sydney. The project ran for almost three years and the final stage was successfully delivered in mid-2018, The scope of works included the addition of a new chapel, a new outdoor pavilion, a new state of the art function centre, the upgrade of the three existing large chapels, and the upgrade of the existing administration building.

As with all projects we began with the Needs Analysis and Discovery process with MPCC. In this initial phase of a project the konnectus team aims to gather as much information as we can about the organisation, and the people that will be ultimately using any new AV systems and solutions. In this project we discovered a couple of key things that were important – especially for the four chapels and the outdoor pavilion. Firstly, all the existing AV equipment was outdated and analogue. MPCC were very clear about wanting to upgrade everything to modern digital systems. Secondly, MPCC had identified a new revenue stream for the business, which relied heavily on investing in specific new AV systems. They wanted to be able to offer their customers the ability to view a funeral service live or on demand via an online web portal.

Digging Deeper to understand the “True Requirements”

When we learned about the significant planned changes we immediately wanted to dig deeper. A complete upgrade from analogue to digital would signify a change in workflows for the people operating the AV systems during a service. We wanted to speak with them and collaborate on outcomes that they would be happy with. The additional revenue stream also required a deeper understanding from all parties. What quality of streaming/on demand did MPCC want to make available to its customers? What uptake of this service were MPCC expecting from customers in the short/medium/long term? What would be the implications to IT networks?

Initially, when we expressed the need to spend time understanding the true requirements at a deeper level, we were met with quite a bit of resistance from various members of the wider project team. “There is no time in the project programme for this” or “you are the experts, just design what you think they need” were the two most notable objections we received. I had heard these many times before and knew that I would be doing MPCC and the overall project a disservice by giving in. Rather than giving in though I requested a short meeting with the heads of the business and the three most experienced operators of the AV systems. In making my request I explained that the meeting would not take long, and the agenda would be a high-level overview of the AV designs that konnectus was proposing. However, I actually used the meeting to start to dig deeper and uncover the true requirements. The more questions I asked, the more meaningful topics of discussion we had, and the more all parties realised the true value of the process.

Additional time invested leads to a great outcome for MPCC

That meeting only ran one hour but it created the opportunity to hold multiple successful workshops with various key stakeholders from MPCC. In those sessions we were able to uncover the true requirements and issues that the new AV solutions needed to solve. It is fair to say that had we not had the opportunity to dig deeper, konnectus would have delivered AV solutions to MPCC that did not meet their requirements. This obviously would have been a disastrous outcome for all parties.

The key takeaway from this experience with MPCC is to remember to not take the seemingly fast and easy path by staying surface level. Insist on spending the time to dig down to the deeper levels with customers to truly understand their needs, requirements, and issues. The discipline to follow this method will always guarantee the best AV solution for every situation.

What my toughest AV project taught me about communication

Written by: Adrian Magno 

First time at bat

It was around about 10pm on a Wednesday, I remember vividly having to reread the email a few times before drafting different versions of a response I was happy with. I put a more sombre Spotify playlist on to make sure I could get the tone right. Breathed in and sent it off before packing my bag to head home.

I was a fresh faced, starry eyed young engineer with my first year of AV Consulting tucked under my belt. konnectus had just come off another big year. With all the projects we had won, being a small company my name was being called out to step up to the plate. Much to my delight, I was given my first project as design lead.

The client and konnectus had already worked through several projects together, having one last one to design before our contract had been fully complete. “Just letting you know, I think this one is going to be a tough one,” the director had forewarned me. I was confused, I was under the impression this one would be a cinch given we had other sites I could base the design off with a very responsive AV point of contact at the client. Attending one construction meeting, it had become abundantly clear why this one was going to be tricky.

The builder had priced the project lower than cost to win it and was charging every variation under the sun to make his money back. I was taught certain etiquette when responding to emails, ensuring we always CC in the project manager and client; address all points raised, even if we don’t have an immediate answer, to say we’ll get back to them; and to always provide at least a response within 24 hours. After some correspondence, the builder quickly grew aware of this and buried me in emails. Me, not wanting to look incompetent on my first project would burn hours outside of work to respond to them, complete with graphs and drawings to assist the points raised. After a few weeks of the barrage, I began to slip and the responses were coming back slower than they were coming in.

 Strike One

In retrospect I should’ve thrown my hand up and called for a meeting to address all the points raised by the builder in one hit, with all the decision makers in one room; or at least asked for help internally instead of staying silent and consistently ploughing on it alone. I suppose that’s what the difference is between your first project and a few years of experience. The builder consistently stopped works invoking they were awaiting a response from the AV Consultant, allowing the delivery date to consistently push.  Suffice to say the complaints from the builder had mounted and the project handover date slipping had eventuated in a threat to terminate contract from the Project Manager.

I was devastated.

All the hours burned, all the energy spent on this project. I was being outdone by this builder and he was winning. It was here that I learnt that regardless of my best efforts, the reason the builder was looked on favourably by the Project Manager despite consistently attempting to ween the client out of more money was because at every juncture he was communicating better than me. It was here at 10pm on another arbitrary Wednesday that I sent an email to everyone to organise a meeting to sort the outstanding items.

Lessons learned

I think it’s easy when faced with adversity to want to just work harder, oftentimes I’ve found it’s communication that will often be the best way to mitigate issues. That the single biggest problem with communication is the unfounded belief that it has already taken place. Additionally, whilst every engineering discipline requires a great deal of communication, one could argue that the technology related disciplines require a higher than average amount of co-ordination with the client than the other disciplines.

The expectations of a mechanical engineer is to ensure the room temperature is 21 degrees Celsius, how they do that is somewhat moot to the end user. Contrastingly, the expectation of an AV Engineer is to make sure the AV design integrates seamlessly with the corporate fleet of devices, touch panels are easy to use, audio quality of video calls are optimised, speaker coverages are uniform etc. And even when all of those things are done right, we need to find a way consistently determine what the client actually needs. You get that wrong and you’ve wasted the client’s money.

(See my previous article on finding a consultant who understands people and not technology.)

What does any of this have to do with AV?

In high co-ordination disciplines like AV, it’s important to find a consultant that communicates well not only to project managers and other disciplines, but to the clients too.

Communication is essential in any construction project. Successful communication can turn a bad situation into a good one, much like the builder on my first project scratching tooth and nail to turn his build into a profitable one. More importantly though, it can turn good outcomes into great ones; such as creating interactive and collaborative environments that staff enjoy using, or connect different departments separately geographically to utilise each other’s resources for innovative outcomes.

Great AVT Consultant: People First, Technical Second

Written by: Adrian Magno

When building a team, movies have long taught us to fall in love with the smartest guy or girl in the room. Those are the ones who change the game. Classics like Goodwill Hunting, A Beautiful Mind and The Social Network are all examples of this, indicating that the most technically able individuals are the ones who will provide the best outcome.

We’re happy to let Customer Service take a back seat when in the midst of a technical genius.

This is why upon graduating with an engineering degree, I did everything I could to up-skill my technical knowledge further. Adding abbreviations to the end of my name was a cool thing I’d say to my peers, in the pursuit of being the “smartest guy in the room”.

Through the years I would get more and more competent with my designs, adamant that my endless studying was the key contributor for this. But when I would speak to the clients about the installed technology, it seemed to be a mixed bag of “the technology is great” or contrastingly “nobody really uses it”.

When faced with the latter, in my head I would say “they just don’t understand the technology”. Upon reflection, what value am I adding as a consultant if the technology I’ve placed on site was not used by the very people it was designed for? What I had eventually learnt that whilst being technically able is a definite benefit, what makes a good consultant is not their ability to understand technology, it’s about their ability to understand people.

That things like empathy, understanding and insight are the key factors to making a good design a great one. Being able to put yourself in another person’s shoes helps you effectively cut out steps to the system; or add functionality based on what the client actually needs.

Beyond that, it’s often empathy that drives us beyond what is expected to make sure a system is rock solid. When you care about the people you’re designing for, I’ve found I want to make sure what they’re getting is the best. Not letting them down is what gets you on the phone with manufacturers to make sure everything will function as needed, make sure you quality control documents and peer review every drawing.

Engineers often cringe when talking about feelings like empathy and understanding, there’s a sense of pride we bear when we say we’re technically knowledgeable. Despite being a consultant for many years now, even I refuse to let my job title be anything other than engineer. As painful as it is to admit, I’m slowly realising that you almost don’t want an engineer to design AV systems for you. Engineers were built to understand how stuff works, how they are to connect and what are the limitations. They were made to understand technology, not people.

Don’t get me wrong, hire someone who knows what they are doing; who can demonstrate they know how to build a system that works reliably for years to come. But make sure your consultant is asking you about your current workflows, rather than talking about workflows they’ve done elsewhere.

As it turns out designing technically detailed AV systems is actually pretty easy, Building a great system that’s intuitive, now that’s an art.