Ones and zeros; The opportunity data can provide the AV world

Data is all around us, so why isn’t the AV industry doing more with it? Paul Milligan explores the opportunity data offers system integrators.

This is a time of data, everywhere we turn data is being created by the actions we take. We live in a world of ones and zeros. Yet until recently that didn’t really affect the world of system integration. The focus was on getting the job done, making the client happy, and moving onto the next job. It was transactional. In the last few years, through a mix of some big IT companies (Microsoft and Logitech) and specialist software providers (Utelogy, Ask UMA and Robin Powered and more) offering easy-to-use data platforms there is now a huge amount of useful data at our very fingertips. So why isn’t the AV world doing more with it? We asked a selection of consultants, integrators, distributors and software providers to see where the industry is at right now in regard to data.

Do integrators really care about data, or are they solely focused on the install? “The majority of the channel have not yet understood the opportunity for both capturing and monetising data yet,” says Jon Knight, MD of workplace technology distributor Ascentae. “We are beginning to work with some channel partners who do understand the bigger picture and value, but it’s fair to say this is a minority at this stage and most are still focused on selling hardware, installation and associated support contracts.”

Andrew Hirst, systems architect from system integrator Visavvi feels there has been a shift in the last 12 months as expectations from customers have changed, “Discussions are coming up a lot more these days as they understand more about their devices, rooms, and their network. For a long time people would just put kit in hoping it works, not getting any feedback from their users, and just going back around after five years and doing a refresh without really knowing any information at all. They are seeing a lot more data from other products on the network/IT side of things, so there’s more of a push from customers to get that information.”

Instead of putting the blame at the feet of integrators, it feels like that the data conversation could sit more comfortably at the feet of consultants, who tend to be involved in projects at an earlier stage. “I think it falls a lot more into the consultancy world because consultants tend to sit down with their clients and say what’s going on for you? What do you need?” says Faye Bennett, founder and director, Faye Bennett Consultancy Services. “Quite often the outputs from those conversations are, ‘We have 17 rooms but there’s nobody in there ever’. It would be helpful if we knew who was in there or how often. I think some of these conversations come around a lot more naturally when you are in the consultant space as the integrator piece doesn’t necessarily fall into the scope. But there’s a wealth of benefits to gain by having those conversations at an integrator level too.”

Integrators can play a part in this discussion says Hirst, “It depends on the integrator, but we see all opportunities as a consultancy-led approach. Now that data is becoming easily more accessible and more digestible, I think that even smaller integrators will be able to utilize and capitalize on this information.” If the tools are starting to appear to make data capture easy, should the industry as a whole be doing more with it? Christopher Isak, marketing manager from systems integrator Global Media Services (GMS) can explain why we are where we are currently, “Many integrators have an interest in gathering and using data, but perhaps the use cases and the path to get there is not that clear yet. I also think that some might struggle to translate their idea into something tangible that they can offer to clients.”

Data gathering is critical to help better support the end client and what they require says Rory Brannigan, CEO of system integrator ISDM Solutions. And that goes far beyond making sure the projector in a boardroom is switched on, “Workplaces are transforming rapidly and so understanding the space in which we work has become critical to sustainability and human resource strategy.” There’s so much that can be done with this data says Hirst, it’s just being able to apply it in the right places. “One of the issues is it’s fragmented all over the place. You’ve got data coming in from Teams and Zoom, how do you actually collate that into one place where we actually get a good understanding and not just see half the picture?”

Rory Brannigan, CEO of system integrator ISDM Solutions


Data has to be packaged far better than it currently is being says Bennett, “What I don’t see is the data being collected and transformed into something that’s going to provide real tangible information and value for the customer. The first step is to ask your customer what’s happening in your world, and what would be helpful for you to know? It’s about how we report it and present it to our customers. This is where integrators can really start hitting points of differentiation. That’s the USP really right now, because not a lot of them are doing it.” There are integrators who know data is available says Rachel Swann who is the CEO of Ask UMA, a smart workspace SaaS provider, but there only appears to be a few who are actually using data to review the systems they provide. “Data allows the integrator and client to consider products effectively. For example, are the AV, UC & IT products provided right for the client now? More importantly will they be right for their future requirements? If not, what does improvement look like? Is it more hardware, or different hardware or simply better software and reporting?”

Swann has hit on the defining part of this discussion on AV and data, if data is being created by AV devices, what is it being used for? To manage problems? To maximize device or room usage? Or to drive future AV purchases? It can be all three says Hirst. “If you can build a relationship with a customer that’s when you get the most benefit, because you can actually apply that insight to the entire process. You can start off with the pre-sales when you first meet a customer you can see where they have holes. Through the install process you can make sure that everything’s going in accurately, and that the customer is happy with the final product. Once installed we can look at which device is having the most issues, does BYOD work better than a native Teams device? Are people using Zoom more? There’s a lot of stuff that can really enhance how we actually sell stuff to our customers. And that gives them a better experience overall too.”

The benefit of having exact data on product usage takes guesswork out of purchasing/specifying decisions, and the detail you can get gather from management platforms can not only drive future purchasing decisions but give you really precise data on the direction your client or business should go, as explained by Jonathan Mangnall, MD EMEA of management monitoring and software platform Utelogy. “We had a customer that wanted to understand if their users were coming into the room and plugging in via HDMI or USB-C. By exposing that on the Lightware API we could actually give them that data. So they could decide what future room designs needed to look like because they could see 95% of people are now using USB-C? That's really granular and nerdy, but it actually helps people make a much better, more informed decision.”

Data can also tell us which size and type of rooms are being used more than others, which will have a huge influence on office design going forward, especially as employers are still trying to entice staff back to the office post-pandemic. If integrators or clients are using data gathering platforms, are they using vendor-specific ones (for example AMX’s RMS or Crestron’s Fusion) or looking at independent platforms such as Utelogy, Ask UMA or Robin Powered? “People don't want proprietary, they want agnostic, and they want that single pane of glass because I think it's been proven over the last 12 months because of the supply chain issues, if you've gone down a particular route with a particular manufacturer, and their proprietary management platform, and then you can’t get those boxes, you have to go to a different manufacturer and the proprietary management platform becomes obsolete,” says Mangnall.

There are some misconceptions out there says Swann, “People think they can do it from existing software such as Outlook, it will not provide the whole picture. It’s simply not designed to pick up on ghost meeting rooms (where the room is booked but no one is inside). Software like Ask UMA provides insights and analysis that can be used to really make the workplace efficient, not just exist.”

Rachel Swann, CEO of Ask UMA



Visavvi has gone the extra mile and built its own management platform called Vantage, a subscription-based service providing clients with 24/7 remote monitoring of workplace technology. Vantage is also used by Visavvi’s support and maintenance teams, “Rather than having to take an engineer to site to triage a problem, we can do it from Vantage because we have remote access into customer sites. We get data coming in from the alerting so we can start triaging the problem remotely, and we’re monitoring it after that to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” explains Hirst. Visavvi is one the largest UK integrators, so it is only the bigger SIs that can roll this out? “With the likes of AI, and various other tools you don’t need teams of 20 people anymore to do that, even Microsoft Power BI tools can take the data and spit it out into some pretty graphs, my advice would be to start with something. Ask your customers is this helpful? What else would you like to see?” says Bennett.

Much like Visavvi has done, could integrators ultimately turn data into a new profit centre? “It’s calling out for that,” says Bennett, “Because data services are still a relatively new commodity, integrators can use it as a point of difference. We’re getting into a service world where it’s about how do you differentiate to provide tangible value to your customers?” Times are changing says Mangnall, “There isn't the money in tin that there was. Look at Teams approved devices, people are buying those direct because it's plug and play. Integrators need to find a new profit centre, and the service element is where it’s at. It’s taking data and bringing it back to their customer for quarterly or monthly business reviews and addressing the needs of different stakeholders.”


Selling a subscription-model data platform not only provides a regular stream of income but keeps you in regular contact with your clients explains Swann. “If they’re selling our software, then the integrator has increased and annual recurring revenue. It’s not a one-time, one-off hardware sale, which may or may not need renewing. It’s all extra gross margin on a repeating annual basis and the insight it provides allows account handlers additional reasons to talk to their customers, which in turn often leads to greater trust, sales and ultimately profit.” Finally, if systems are put in place, who typically looks after the data that is being collected at the client end? The AV team? IT team? FM team? Or is it the system integrator as part of a service contract? “In our experience, all of the above,” says Brannigan.

Different users can have different accesses and permissions and so it depends on what the data is being used for explains Swann. “Sometimes it sits with IT, who are interested in insights on digital usage and loading. Facility managers are interested in space usage, space configuration and future proofing. HR wants to understand how hybrid working policies are actually being implemented and adhered to, as well as how effective they are, particularly on employee wellbeing.” It is clear from the evidence above, data will become a huge factor in the purchasing of AV kit, in the design of office layouts, in the choice of a system integrator, and could provide a regular (and new) strand of cash for system integrators. So if not embrace the opportunity of data now, then when?"

Article Categories

Most Viewed