InAVate Executive Lunch: New technology adoption

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We gathered a room full of end users, integrators and consultants to ask them about the issues surrounding the support and installation of new technology. Paul Milligan chaired the session.

Guest list

Adam Florio, AV Systems
Owen Ellis, AV User Group
Jamie Short, Blend
Jerry Mason, Coleman Bennett International
Peter Fell, Feltech
Bernd Schindler, Ingenieurburo Schindler
Ray Harding, IVC
Martha Zantides, KPMG
Christian Bozeat, Macom
Patrick Stewart-Blacker, PTS Consulting
Dave Patten, Science Museum
Toby Wise, Snelling
Stuart Leader, Polar
John Midgley, Polar
Will Turney, Polar
Kevin McLoughlin, Royal Society of Medicine

Event kindly sponsored by Polar 

The proAV industry is centred around technology, and as the decade progresses the speed of change in technology is getting faster and faster.  So how do we keep up? Should we always be looking to innovate? Or is it too risky to be a guinea pig for technology that has only just been launched into the market? We assembled a room full of system integrators, AV consultants and end users in central London to find out their thoughts on the adoption and ongoing support of brand new technology.

Does the repeated use of tried and trusted technology stall innovation in the market?

Bernd Schindler: Yes, definitely.  Many integrators in Germany are still trying to avoid all the digital stuff and bring back those times when they were crimping coax cables.  Because that was so reliable but it’s just not the reality any more.  New technologies, digital technologies, network-based systems have set the pace so damn fast that companies, some integrators can’t catch up any more.  So they say try to stick with what they know and what’s proven.

Peter Fell:  I think it’s rare for us to be able to make that decision whether we innovate or not.  We are very much dictated by what our clients want, or what the consultants are pushing in our direction.  So the innovation is coming further up the food chain and it’s coming from the clients, it’s coming from the consultants.  We are then at the coalface with a brand-new piece of equipment, trying then to make this thing work.

Christian Bozeat: We have a lab in Stuttgart where we test new technologies, that’s our job as a consultant.  We’re here to drive innovation, we’re not here to give tried and tested, and we’re not here to get stuck with that. It’s our job as consultants to test that technology and make sure we understand it, so that when we talk to our client we can provide them with the best advice.

Dave Patten: There are different kinds of risks with installing new technology, there’s the risk it won’t do exactly what you want it to do and there’s a risk the manufacturers won’t sell enough and will withdraw it from the market and you’ll be landed with something that is then obsolete, unsupported and you have a huge bill to replace it with something else.

Patrick Stewart-Blacker: Fundamentally it’s about management of risk.  Consultants are there to mitigate the risk of doing something different.  If you look at the way the market’s shifting at the moment, we’ve got a commoditisation of things like structure cabling, Wi-Fi, the core provision of IT and to a certain extent AV.  You’ve got all these out of the box complete solutions going into the room.  What you’re providing is less risk.  So we need to continue to innovate, we have to. We’re not in the game of AV artistry anymore, that day has gone.  The days of creating over-convoluted, very complicated solutions for the most basic provision of a screen in a room are gone, the Cisco’s of the world have made sure of that.

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Is not having the time to fully examine new products more of a factor than risk when deciding to implement new products?

Peter Fell: When you are given a product with a serial number of 001 and 003, like we just experienced on a job, the time you need to integrate it properly is massive, it’s probably four times what you are allowed in the original budget, because you are encountering issues you haven’t even considered.  Time is a huge factor.

Jerry Mason: When you are part of the construction programme you don’t have any leeway.  You have to be finished by a certain date, the venue is going to be occupied whether you have finished or not.  That is one of the considerations when you choose to use something that is tried and tested.  When something is brand new and you are under tight deadlines you have to do everything you can to test it upfront, so you don’t have problems on-site.  We don’t have the luxury of a test lab, but we try and test things as much as we can.  We don’t get paid for testing products, so you have to balance the desire to innovate with commercial considerations.

Jamie Short: There’s an assumption from manufacturers that what I want is a list of functionality and how much its costs. In reality what we actually want to know, especially if you are writing a detailed design, is to know on a high level what it does but also how to work it.

Bernd Schindler: The time you have to spend with new products is worth it.  It has to be in the right environment i.e. with a long and trusted client who wants to try something new.  The customer won’t pay you three times the money because it took three times the amount of time to install it.  For me as a consultant being ahead of the rest of the industry when it comes to new technology is added value to my business. 

Christian Bozeat: We are testing AR, VR, hardware, software, collaboration solutions, and matrix systems to see which ones work together.   Every client we work with has a different set of needs, so we have to go through a process to determine what it is they want. Then we can start to map technology and find interesting solutions to fit those, then we take that to a proof of concept.

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Does the availability of firmware lead manufacturers to rush products to market, knowing it can be fixed later on?

Peter Fell:  I think the answer is absolutely yes.  Virtually every product that comes out these days is reliant on the software that sits within it.  A manufacturer does rush a product out with a very early version of firmware and they take the Apple and the Microsoft approach, we will release several versions of software as our customers do our field testing for us and we find all the bugs, or they find all the bugs and feed it all back to us and then we will issue the updates on the firmware.  I think the manufacturers have become a little lazy in terms of thoroughly testing their products before they come to market because they know they can fix it in the next version of firmware.

Toby Wise: The reality of today’s marketplace is that the environment and conditions are changing for the devices we’re working with.   Unless we’ve updated the firmware on the device we’re using then it’s not going to work anymore.  It’s a difficult thing to manage from a systems integration perspective because you don’t have any control over when firmware is released to the particular devices your client is working with.  So you’re retrospectively trying to react and that doesn’t give you time to trial or test.

Patrick Stewart-Blacker: We’re not talking about point to point solutions any more.  We’re talking about something which is a live, breathing animal which sits on the network.  iOS11 was released a month ago, and we’re on to the second variation of it already, and that’s one of the world’s most successful and best technology companies.  So how are we expecting as an industry to deal with that?

Jerry Mason: The implications for us when we’ve got to change the firmware in a piece of hardware is generally that it might have to be out of operation for a few hours, and tested in multiple rooms. There’s a huge amount of physical labour involved and we’re required to actually do that.  Manufacturers like Microsoft don’t seem to understand it, they have a blasé attitude ‘we’ll fix it in the firmware’, but we are paying for all that time out of hours, the manufacturers aren't paying for it.

John Midgley: One of the things that we see on a regular basis on our tech support is firmware.  What level are you running it at?  When did you last change it?  It causes us in the support role bigger problems than anything else.  It has to be our highest callout is because somebody’s changed firmware, or isn’t running the latest firmware.

Martha Zantides: What IT does very well is testing in a user acceptance development environment before it implements it live.  If you have to go through a test that slows things down, but it de-risks.  So in the AV world, how can you safely test what a piece of firmware is going to do in a live environment? 

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If something does go wrong, how quick do you find the manufacturers are to respond and does the response differ across brands?

Toby Wise: It differ wildly, some companies are engineering focused and tend to respond to it better, other are sales organisations that happen to make a technical product and they tend to respond not so well.

Stuart Leader: As a distributor we get pulled in because somebody is screaming so loud and there isn’t necessarily the support that’s coming from one avenue or the other, so we get bundled in to join the party to get it over the line. 

Jerry Mason: It’s also down to the size of your voice.  If you’ve got a massive project, that’s heavily featured on one manufacturer you’ll get their attention. 

Patrick Stewart-Blacker: Manufacturers have to step up to the plate, and they are doing so.  They have a lot of products that some integrators just don’t get, they don’t understand how to implement pure IP systems.  They don’t understand how to set something up on the network.

How do you find out about new products? Do you ever get to influence the product roadmap?

Peter Fell: Manufacturers beat a path to our door, but it is rare that we would ever get to influence the roadmap. 

Jerry Mason: If I answered every request to come and see me that would total more than my working week.  As consultants we do get invited at an early stage to see new technology more than integrators.  There are a small number who will ask for feedback.

Toby Wise: We book sessions three months in advance just so we can make sure everyone here can see what they need to see.  Direct engagement is the best way for us to find out about new products.