12.11.19

Data gathering and analysis are vital to remain competitive

Person and computer cyberspace network with artistic sphere background.
"You can gather all the data in the world, through all different technologies, but if you do not know how to combine and analyse it, it is useless."

Decisions based on accurate and trustworthy data are vital to success. This is both an opportunity to add value to your service offering, and something to consider in how you run your business says Anna Mitchell.

Data should always be central to strategic planning and decision making and it’s no longer a resource that only big companies can afford. If you aren’t using data to provide insights into your business, your customers and the market you are operating in, you are missing a trick and handing power to your competitors. 

Considering how you can apply data to your decision-making processes is vital and once you grasp the power of this resource, it becomes only too apparent that data gathering, analysis and delivery is also a valuable service you can offer your clients. The best news is that AV equipment providers and managers are in a formidable position when it comes to gathering deep information on how a company operates. From room occupancy and usage, to preferred methods of communication and meeting productivity; the tools you need to gather, collate and even analyse this data are available now.

Data gathering 
With input devices, as well as the central systems that control and manage them, becoming more sophisticated; the opportunities to gather more than just the desired audio or video feeds are being grasped. 

aurangzeb_16103_188_1sTake for example Jabra PanaCast cameras for videoconferencing. “The processing engine in each camera within the PanaCast device can be configured to detect human faces anonymously and create a numerical count,” says Aurangzeb Khan [pictured left], Jabra SVP of Intelligent Vision Systems. 

“Knowing how many people are present in a room or collaboration space allows many important workflows to be made more efficient through automation,” he continues. “For example, in most major multinational companies, there are often 10,000 to 30,000 huddle rooms and collaboration spaces worldwide. These are managed through a reservation system and typically, in the reservation system, are often fully booked. However, in practice, when people walk around the physical spaces, they find rooms reserved but not in use. These rooms are unavailable for people looking for collaboration space in the reservation system, and are a wasted resource. An autonomous workflow using the people count data can free up such unused spaces automatically.”

Meeting spaces and classrooms are obvious areas where data such as room occupancy and headcounts, methods of communication and meeting length can be collated. But another area – which in many ways is streets ahead in terms of understanding the value of data – is digital signage. 

When advertising is a part of a digital signage deployment, data becomes a vital tool to report to investors where and how long for their promotions are shown. Over the years simple reporting has grown in sophistication as tools have been developed to count how many people have seen the content as well as their dwell time. It’s now possible to determine detailed information on the audience including age, gender and reaction. 

“We’re starting to see fairly detailed analytics in the digital signage space,” confirmsByron Tarry High Res Headshot 2019 Byron Tarry [pictured right], executive director of the Global Presence Alliance (GPA). “That’s yet to really be applied to the collaboration and meeting space. We’re exploring areas where we can look to other places for the foundation of a technology that we can adapt to the dynamic of the meeting room, to do the things we want. If you look at digital signage for example, we’re now starting to measure mood and eye gaze. We could take these concepts and apply them to the meeting room.”

Drowning in data?
Integrators wanting to offer data analysis as a service to clients have lots of tools to gather data, but can the amount of information become overwhelming? 

The GPA sees data gathering and analysis as a core part of its service offering to clients and, with its partners commanding a huge global reach, the volume of information they can gather is vast. “First and foremost, we start with a methodology of what it is we want to capture and why,” says Tarry. 

Khan agrees and says that being selective about the data can start at the point of acquisition. “The key is to design the queries in such a way that only relevant information is pulled,” he advises. “For example, rather than pulling people count data continuously, companies could set up event alerts to create a flag when the number of people goes to zero, indicating that people have left the collaboration space. This could drive the room release workflow autonomously, as is done by our partner, avt Australia.” 

Those wanting to generate meaningful information from data also require a central place where this can be collated and digested for reporting and analysis. While some may opt to program systems to do this themselves, there are many tools available to help. 

Stijn Ooms, director of technology at Crestron Europe, says: “Integrators can use [Crestron Fusion and XiO Cloud] to offer services to their customers. 

“The software […] provides a very clear view into the enterprise, with the ability to manage the devices across the complete enterprise, from anywhere. But based on the data that are gathered, integrators can also offer consultancy for future expansions, new buildings or restructurings. This changes the way integrators work, as this can shift the focus from capital expenditures (CAPEX) to operating expenses (OPEX).”

But Ooms cautions: “It’s not about big data, it’s about smart data. Almost all organisations today possess a massive amount of data. It’s fairly simple to deduce big trends from these data, without having a thorough knowledge of the company. 

“As fun as it would be to play around with this, it won’t help you very much in making intelligent decisions about your meeting room usage. You can gather all the data in the world, through all different technologies, but if you do not know how to combine and analyse it, it is useless. For instance, the room booking system might tell you that the video conference room is always in use so companies might be tempted to build an extra one. But combined with the data from XiO Cloud or Fusion, you know that only 30% of the time the videoconferencing tools are used. And based on these smart data, you make an educated recommendation.”

If you don’t let data overwhelm you however, scale is an advantage. GPA clients are often deploying rooms in their thousands or tens of thousands, which Tarry believes is necessary to draw accurate and useful conclusions from. “Data generally requires scale, small samples don’t tend to be very accurate,” he says. 

Tarry continues to argue that analysis and reporting isn’t just a nice-to-have added service, it’s a vital element that AV companies need to offer as the market matures. “We’ve been very unaccountable in being able to back up all the things we say to customers. As you shift towards different business models [eg, service based], you start to see the need to back up claims that technology will provide a benefit. If a customer switches from the CAPEX model where the customer takes all the risk up front, to an OPEX model, where they can turn off services that aren’t working, everything changes. We have to justify and prove that any technology deployment is beneficial.”

What about me?
We’ve focused so far on how integrators can offer data to their clients and it’s clearly a powerful tool so how can you use it to make your business operate better? And, most importantly, how do you separate what’s useful from what’s not?

Arguably the biggest provider of research in the AV industry today is AVIXA. I asked Sean Wargo, senior director of market intelligence at AVIXA, what business reports and market analysis can provide to businesses.

“I think of it as another set of data points that you want to get updated on a regular basis,” he says. “It’s like checking your compass or your map. You do that throughout your trip. Maybe it’s once a quarter, every six months or once a year; you check yourself against the broader market trends.”

AVIXA’s research offerings include macroeconomic reports, a yearly Industry Outlook and Trends Analysis, and a series of vertical market reports. It partners with IHS market to inform much of its reporting. 

It’s not the only place to get data and most readers will be aware of other sources pertinent to various areas of the market they work in, with industry bodies and analysts covering aspects such as hotels and hospitality, security or visitor attractions for example. Another source is manufacturers. At Inavate, we’re all too familiar with press releases touting a finding unearthed by research that is favourable to the company it originates from. 

So how can you separate the good from the bad? The trustworthy from the reports that could potentially send your business in the wrong direction? And importantly pinpoint bias in the questions, analysis and reporting?

“People should want to understand the methodology, how the data is put together,” says Wago. “What’s the process? How reputable is the firm that’s doing it? In our case, we chose our partner IHS for several reasons: they had broad coverage, they understood the underlying segments of the industry, they had connections into a lot of the manufacturers that supply products to our industry. Last but not least, they were noted as a global provider with expertise across many regions.”

When it comes to looking at how a company gets its information Wago says it’s not all about making sure the sample size is large enough to draw conclusions from. “Sample size is important for certain types of research,” he notes. “In something like industry sizing, it’s more an issue of coverage. Do they have a broad enough lens? Do they have enough inputs? Are they talking to the right manufacturers? It’s not necessarily a count of individuals, that would be true of survey research, not industry sizing.” 

Wago also believes that data has never been more important for the firms that AVIXA works with and serves. “Up until recent times, many integrators were focused on a specific segment of the market and had a pretty good pipeline of business,” he explains. “There was less need to benchmark themselves or see where else there might be an opportunity. But now you’ve got financial firms coming in and helping with mergers, acquisitions and making investments. I think the industry is having to mature and look outside.”