Insight job: big data revenue opportunities

Big data is a sprawling, emerging category of services. Tim Kridel explores how AV firms can use big data for new revenue and differentiation opportunities.

Real estate is one of the biggest expenses for most businesses. It’s also an example of how AV firms can use big data to help clients minimise those expenses.

Sources of big data run the gamut, from platforms that track bookings of conferencing rooms and usage of the AV gear in them, to retail surveillance systems that collect shopper demographics. And those are just some of the ones involving traditional AV devices. For example, some AV firms have expanded into non-traditional applications such as building management systems for HVAC. Those applications involve systems that also can be sources of big data.

All big data applications have the same basic approach and goal: collect and analyse unholy amounts of information to ferret out insights that otherwise would be missed, and then make business decisions based on those insights. It sounds like a can’t-miss concept, which is why so many verticals and professions have been using big data for years. 

“You generally never get away in most aspects of business without having a whole lot of data to be able to justify multi-million-dollar investment decisions,” says Byron Tarry, Sharp’s Audio Visual director of enterprise solutions. “Yet with AV, we seem to have this unwritten rule that anecdote is about all we need to justify expensive decisions.” 

Unwritten or not, breaking that rule is one example of how AV firms can make money from big data: helping clients determine whether they have too much or too little real estate, specifically in the form of meeting space. Tarry cites a multinational enterprise that started using big data to assess its 10,000-plus meeting rooms. 

“They found a set of rooms with low utilisation,” Tarry says. “The analysis showed that those low-utilization rooms generally didn’t have any AV in them.”

That example also shows how AV firms can use big data to convince clients to increase their AV budget, with more systems wringing more productivity out of each square metre of real estate. It’s getting easier for AV firms to make that case—and the money that comes with it—as more clients recognise that they don’t know much about how their facilities are used. That was the case at a Fortune 100 company that Julian Phillips recently met with.

“They have no idea who meets where, how many people are in a meeting room or what they’re doing in meeting rooms,” says Phillips, Whitlock executive vice president. “They have no foresight about what kinds of spaces and rooms they need to plan for the future.” 

Enterprises can use Exchange to track room bookings, but that approach often doesn’t provide the kinds of deeper usage insights necessary to decide whether more rooms and more gear are justifiable. Products such as Creston’s Fusion aim to provide those insights. 

“You have to go to the Exchange server and ask how often that room is booked, and that’s the only data you’ll get,” says Stijn Ooms, Crestron EMEA director of technology. “By putting Fusion in between the system in the room, whether it be the control system or the panel outside and the Exchange server, we [can] store this data. We also link other devices in the room to this data.” 

For example, Fusion could interface with motion detectors in a room and note when no one shows up. The system could be programmed that after 15 minutes, the room is shown as available. Meanwhile, this usage information could go into a database. 

“When customers do an analysis of their room usage, they see that maybe one particular person books a room and never shows up, or that particular room is constantly booked but no one shows up,” Ooms says. 

The system also could track which AV devices are used in each room.  
“If it’s booked eight hours a day, but the videoconferencing equipment is used only half an hour per day, that means for 7.5 hours it’s used for internal meetings,” Ooms says. “It can save an organisation a lot of money.” 

But isn’t that an example of how big data could reduce spending on AV gear that lies fallow most of the time? Not necessarily. It could be used to make the case that the organisation has a workstyle that requires, say, dozens of huddle rooms instead of just a handful of big conference rooms.

Beyond just displaying big data 

There are also opportunities for AV firms to sell solutions that enable clients to view and collaborate on big data, regardless of whether that data involves AV. Such opportunities have been around for a long time, of course, but there are some new products that AV firms can offer to enable clients to use big data more effectively. One example is Microsoft’s Surface Hub.

“One of the apps within the Office suite is Power BI,” Tarry says. “When you look at what we’ve traditionally used AV for in a meeting room, it’s been more about display or communications. 

“But with the depth of interactivity that something like Surface Hub is providing, that deep integration with the Office suite, the ability to manipulate that data, BI is turning data into visuals. It enables multiparty collaboration in analysing that data and manipulating it in real time—something that traditionally might have happened on a PC by someone individually in a much more cumbersome way in a meeting room: One person driving and everyone else watching.”

Control rooms are another place where AV firms have been enabling big data applications for decades. But here, too, there are opportunities to go beyond just selling and installing displays and projectors.

“This is the topic of ‘information visualisation,’ where AV taps into IT: computer aided, based on pixel changes or algorithm-driven and based on sensor values in databases,” says Hans Dekeyser, Barco vice president of strategic marketing I&G. “For example, even on a pixel level, the detection of changes to red pixel can indicate alarms. Operator collaboration systems can log all operator activities, which can provide learning feedback for workflow improvements.” 

One potential pitfall with big data is reflected in its name: as the data volumes grow, the more challenging and expensive it becomes to add enough humans to analyse and act on it. Hence the value of tools that automate some of those tasks, such as by creating parameters that, only when exceeded, trigger the system to alert a human. 

“Many AV systems are streaming IP systems today, [where] recording is a very straightforward step, with all analysis options on the recorded data as extension, just like the security market did for IP cameras,” Dekeyser says. “But the AV systems can cover any type of content that is streamed, not just centric around one application such as security. 

“Image analysis software can be applied to all this content. And with all this content and learning algorithms, decision-making workflows can be optimized, in general, or specific to certain vertical applications or markets.”

Thinking outside the box

Retail is another example of how pro AV can use big data to expand beyond traditional applications—in this case, surveillance and signage—and thus drive additional revenue from those customers. In the online world, retailers already use big data to offer shoppers highly personalised recommendations, such as those based on their browsing and purchase histories. AV can adapt this model to the brick-and-mortar world.

“IT vendors have already deployed mature solutions in this arena, but the opportunity is emerging for forward-thinking pro AV integrators who can combine their expertise deploying traditional in-store digital signage with big data to now bring real-time personalised experience into physical stores,” says Minson Chen, business development manager for Samsung Electronics America’s enterprise business division. “The convergence of retail’s digital and physical channels is the next battleground.”

Big data could come from a variety of sources, including the MAC addresses of shoppers who register their smartphone at a store in order to get free Wi-Fi. As InAVate explored in the March 2016 issue, some museums already use MAC addresses to identify which galleries are heavily trafficked. 

In retail, another potential source is beacons that connect to their smartphones over Wi-Fi or Bluetooth to identify shoppers as they pass by and then serve up a personalized ad to the closest digital signage.

“All this can drive customer insight and personalized in-store experiences, but pro AV integrators should not ignore back of house opportunities for staff communications, employee training, operational decision making for supply chain, logistics risk management and facilities management,” Chen says. “For example, big data can also be used to optimise how retailers motivate and retain their large base of millennial workers. 

“Smart watches can be used to send notification to drive tasks and workflow for warehouse employees. They can also be used to maintain and track customer service levels by connecting store associates.”

Breaking tradition

Some of these applications obviously are outside pro AV’s wheelhouse. As a result, vendors and integrators will have to take a hard look at the cost of adding the expertise and products necessary to be successful. 

Other opportunities incur less cost and risk because they’re expansions of traditional AV applications. One example is using big data to ensure quality of experience for videoconferencing and unified communications. Vyopta is targeting that space with tools that enterprises or their AV providers can use, including in multi-vendor UC environments.

“We’re empowering them to prevent and resolve issues much faster than they can today,” says Alfredo Ramirez, CEO. “Network administrators typically don’t have the tools to monitor at the call stream level. That’s where we come in.”

Earlier this year, Vyopta partnered with Pinnaca, a UK-based provider of managed collaboration services. 

“We’re expanding to work with integrators that have a business model to deliver managed services,” Ramirez says. “Our product helps AV integrators [get] more intelligence about their customer’s environment so they can be a better, trusted partner. If they want to deepen their relationship with that customer, they have to better understand their environment.”

Enterprises are willing to spend big money on big data solutions because they provide valuable insights. That means the data often is valuable to rivals and hackers, too. So for their big data strategies to be successful, AV firms need to assuage client concerns about security and privacy.

One way is by limiting what’s collected, such as by focusing only on big data related to a service’s user experience rather than the content, too. 

“We don’t store the media, just the metadata,” Ramirez says.

For all of its challenges, big data also is an opportunity for AV pros to play a bigger, earlier role in shaping a client’s facility, instead of being brought in late, when budgets are mostly spoken for and most architectural decisions are made.

“Data brings the architects, the space designers, the real estate guys and the line of business guys together with the technology providers with a common language,” says Whitlock’s Phillips. “For too long we’ve made too many anecdotal-based or agenda-drive decisions about what goes into the meeting room. 

“[Big data] will elevate AV and get it earlier into the discussion with the space designers. Data gives us that place at the table.”