Remote deployment: Scale it up

M&A and pandemicinduced workstyles are two reasons why enterprises scramble to scale up their AV systems. Tim Kridel investigates how AIpowered tools and other innovations help streamline those expansions.

The pandemic didn't put a damper on mergers and acquisitions for long. In the first half of 2021, global M&A activity totalled USD 2.8 trillion, according to the research firm Refinitiv. That’s a 131% increase from the first half of 2020 and the strongest such period since at least 1980.

That’s good news for pro AV because a lot of deals lead to big technology investments. One reason is because people are a major part of a company’s value. Letting them stay where they are avoids a brain drain. A new video collaboration system helps ensure that they’re productive despite the distance.

Meanwhile, many businesses anticipate strong organic growth. For example, PwC said in June that it plans to add 100,000 employees over the next five years — a 35% increase. “The range of time spent at client sites, at Deloitte offices, and remotely will vary,” PwC told Reuters.

Alphabet and Deloitte are two other examples of major companies that have decided to allow employees to keep working from home some of the time or all the time. That shift to hybrid workstyles can trigger major expansions of a company’s existing AV systems or forklift upgrades — and not just in employee homes. For example, if video becomes the primary way that a dispersed organisation collaborates, then more of its meeting rooms will need cameras, mics, displays and loudspeakers.

“Even companies that aren’t growing see an increase in technology used,” says Stijn Ooms, Crestron director of product strategy for AV and the digital workplace. “Previously only 20% of meeting rooms were video enabled. Now we are seeing that number rise to 80%.”

Video-enabling a thousand meeting rooms sounds like a great opportunity. But what if everything — from design to installation — had to be done in 90 days? The GPA says integrators can accommodate that kind of aggressive scale up with Velocity, a portfolio of dozens of room design templates.

For example, the GPA worked with Legrand to develop a display mount that eliminates a trip to inspect the wall in each room prior to installation. “It removes the need for an equipment rack, for wall reinforcement or conduit pathways, and even allows for a simplified and cost-effective mechanism to match room and furniture finish,” the Velocity website says.

Do more with less

Whether their growth is organic or through acquisitions, enterprises have to install, manage, update, secure and troubleshoot ever larger, often far flung deployments of peripheral hardware, software and network connectivity. Scaling up is challenging partly because there’s already a chronic shortage of IT pros, who often are the ones responsible for their company’s AV systems.

“The proliferation of technology and spaces where technology is being installed isn’t followed by a proliferation of IT people to manage them,” Ooms says.

Vendor accreditation is one way to improve the chances that disparate products will work well right out of the box — including employee home offices, where IT staff can’t drop by to help troubleshoot a setup.

“[Besides] Microsoft with Teams, the likes of Google, Cisco and Zoom all go through a degree of peripheral accreditation as well,” says Simon Kitson, Maverick AV Solutions smart meetings director for Europe. “We think that’s really important. We work very closely with Microsoft and always try to promote accredited devices whenever possible.”

Vendors also are providing relief with management platforms, often in the cloud, that streamline a lot of the grunt work. For example, Extron’s GlobalViewer Enterprise lets staff schedule AV-related tasks, monitor usage trends and more.

“Software such as Jabra Xpress enables users to manage software upgrades and networks of devices across multiple locations, and to keep devices up to date with the latest firmware,” says Nigel Dunn, Jabra EMEA North managing director. “This helps IT staff to stay productive and optimise IT investments.”

AI is becoming a key component of management platforms because it enables additional use cases. One example is the premium version of Microsoft’s Teams admin centre.

“The premium licensing is starting to use AI to spot faults before they happen,” Kitson says. “If somebody unplugs a network cable, it alerts the IT manager. If something needs a software patch, it pushes it out to the device. They’re pushing that premium licensing for the rooms really, really quite hard at the moment, with some pretty heavy discounts to get people on board with it.”

Some distributors are helping with platforms and services that their partners can offer to enterprises. One recent example is Midwich Group’s Mi Insight, which monitors all AV components within the customer system, including cloud platforms such as Teams and Zoom. Part of the Mi Services portfolio, Mi Insight also sets up the opportunity for Midwich partners to offer service-level agreements (SLAs).

“In the pre-pandemic world, someone might do a health check before the day on a room where a C-suite executive was to have a high-profile meeting,” says Jon Dew-Stanley, Midwich director of technical, services and support.

“Is everything plugged in? Is everything working right? That resource wasn’t easily available during lockdowns, and in hybrid working, that person may not actually be in the building.”

Mi Insight uses AI to automate resolutions to certain events, such as a device that’s gone offline or changed status. Midwich says Mi Insight goes beyond network monitoring systems (NMS) and similar tools that support switches and servers.

“We needed a tool that could talk to other equipment [for] unified communications, signage, LED walls and room booking systems — the AV equipment that may not necessarily support the same communications on the network because they don’t support Restful API or there is a challenge in the way the API is working,” Dew-Stanley says. “We wanted to standardise that [and] create a platform that could talk to all of these different types of equipment on different protocols.”

The ability to support a multi-vendor environment is particularly helpful when the acquired company uses different products.

“One of the great things we’re seeing is that the likes of Microsoft, Zoom and Cisco are all starting to talk to each other a lot more now,” Kitson says. “They’re sharing APIs and starting to allow interoperability. So you might have a Teams front end, but you go into a Cisco Webex meeting or a Zoom meeting, and that’s definitely helping.”

Enterprises and integrators also need ways to monitor the user experience for both employees in their office and telecommuters. One example is Palo Alto Networks’ Prisma Access Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) platform for audio and video.

“For audio, it measures things like mean opinion scores (MOS), which are a good indicator of what the end user experiences,” says Kumar Ramachandran, a Palo Alto Networks senior vice president who oversees SASE products such as Prisma. “It modifies the network and modifies quality of service such that your audio call and your video call go really, really well.”

Palo Alto Network’s SASE portfolio recently added Okyo Garde, which extends enterprise security to any IP device in home offices and automates troubleshooting.

“If I have a problem with my home Wi-Fi or my laptop has too many applications open or I have a cable out, I don’t need to open a trouble ticket with IT,” Ramachandran says. “The Prisma SASE digital experience management module shows me exactly what’s going on, and I take care of it myself.”

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