The preferred solution

Following the announcement by Cisco that it was extending its world-recognised Cisco Developer Network into AV Integration, Chris Fitzsimmons spoke to the man heading up the project, Paul Depperschmidt, head of global AV integration market development.

Cisco’s AV integrator programme aims to bring the Cisco Developer badge to the world of AV, providing the AV Integrators a method to differentiate themselves on projects they develop and providing a point of reference for the ever growing number of IT firms looking to outsource AV integration work. I began by asking Paul Depperschmidt, head of global AV integration market development for some background on how this process has come about.

“When we were Tandberg, the AV and Video Conferencing partners drove the market. Of the AV guys, probably the biggest we’d see would be someone like AVI-SPL. That significantly changed when we were acquired by Cisco. For many years the video conferencing manufacturers were trying to get the big Cisco partners to pay attention to video, but they weren’t interested. It just wasn’t on their radar. Our AV partners were the drivers and were calling on the fortune 500 companies. This worked well when Video Conferencing was growing as the typical deployment was in board rooms and conference rooms. Enterprise wide video was not yet practical. Cisco changed all of that with their dominance of the network.

“A major change has occurred over the last 6 months. The big Cisco partners, that frankly were not interested in video, are now on board. They’re saying that ‘pervasive video is the new thing, we’re going to offer digital signage, streaming video, physical security and telepresence over the network. We’re going to be a one stop shop to our clients’.

“Now that the large Cisco partners with their strong IT relationships are involved they are going to open up markets we could never crack. It’s going to be enterprise-wide, and mobile. But along with that the custom AV integration market is going to grow. We estimate that the VC market world wide for everyone is around $2.5bn now. We expect that to be $8bn in the next 2-3 years.

“Of course most of that isn’t going to be integrated by any stretch. A large amount of it will be “rigid systems” – all-in-one type things. But, what we’ve found is that as much as you want to package everything up into neat boxes, clients are going to say, ‘but I want it in blue’ or ‘I want it with five screens’.

“It stands to reason that as the overall market grows so will the integrated market. Maybe not as fast as the rest of it, but let’s say we doubled it. We may not have the capacity to handle that. There are not enough solid AV integrators out there in the world to handle that kind of growth.

“We have a level of exposure now as Cisco that we never had as Tandberg. If a company is spending a lot of money on a CEO’s integrated boardroom conferencing system then it’s going to get an awful lot of exposure, and that can be good or bad. If it goes well then that CEO’s going to say ‘this is a wonderful thing, lets deploy this to the rest of my company’. On the other hand, if you get an AV integration project where the control system’s not working right and the audio screws up the CEO’s going to say “we’re not ready to deploy all this stuff, it doesn’t work! In addition, issues in the CEO boardroom can and have stalled significant sales of other Cisco solutions as companies leverage their purchasing power with Cisco to get timely resolutions to AV Integration issues.” 

“Our problem going forward, and everyone else’s as well, is not as much generating integration business but getting it done right. The whole point of this video technology is that it’s global. And in order to assure it is going to work, we must have integrators we can count on globally. All integrators have best practices, but they’re all different. We came to the conclusion that someone had to step up and create some uniformity.” 

“What we’re not doing is telling integrators how to build systems or what to put in them (other than Cisco of course), if you look through the detailed information online it’s about giving you checklists of required results. It’s pretty standard stuff created by the AV Industry, but we all have to agree to the same standards and best practices for this to work. ”

Having decided that Cisco itself wasn’t just going to go out and write the book, something which it’s eminently capable of doing, I wondered how closely Cisco were working with InfoComm on this. 

“Our discussions with InfoComm were that we have to have a way to quantify AV integrators and we have to know that by the time the project is done we’re not going to be in a mess. It can’t be just this company has three CTS’s and four CTS-Ds, that doesn’t do enough for us. We have to know that the project is going to end up right. There’s a better chance with a CTS-D involved, but it’s no guarantee. We have to look at the process, and not the people being certified. They can leave, or not work on a project. We’re effectively ranking and quantifying the AV Integrators and InfoComm is not set up for that. What we’re doing is using all the best-practice material created by InfoComm and applying it into our system. So we look to InfoComm to provide the body of knowledge.

“At the basic level a company executive must sign an affidavit that they will adhere to the InfoComm installation handbook best practices. We have to put a stake in the ground somewhere. It’s an honour system - we can’t possibly have enough people to check everyone, but as a result the other integrators will call you out. If you get caught clearly not following the best practices, you’ll be off the list. We think it’s going to have some teeth to it, and we think it’s going to mean something to the IT guys.”

At level three of the three tier system things get pretty serious. There are now three checklists – design, staging and commissioning, there needs to be 24/7 support and also a solid relationship with the Cisco channel teams. Here one would expect the companies to already be senior Cisco partners. It’s also the point at which the system starts to insist upon CTS-D or CTS-I qualified individuals to sign off on projects on behalf of the company. “That’s what they send to us, and that’s how they keep points and stay in the game. We require that documentation, and we want someone who has something at risk. If they have their CTS-D or CTS-I and they are assuring a system is implemented properly they’ll think twice before signing that document.”

“That’s frankly going to be a problem in EMEA right now, which we knew going into this. We wanted to start that requirement at the mid level, but recognised there just aren’t enough integrators out there with CTS-D and CTS-I certifications. But as we move forward the goal is to move these requirements down stream. The goal from the top level is to have a fully audited system much like an ISO9000 system.”

“I think what you’ll find is that people will say, ok now it’s worth doing this certification. Previous conversations at ISE have always been along the lines of ‘why do this CTS stuff, it doesn’t buy me anything. What we’re saying now is that it does and it will.”

There is no doubt that the success of Cisco’s system, which is targeted to roll into EMEA in early autumn, is largely dependent on InfoComm stepping up CTSD/ CTS-I training in the region. As it stands according to InfoComm’s latest figures, there are 27 individuals who hold a CTS-D or CTS-I qualification in Europe. That number will need to improve significantly if this is to work.

“What we’re hoping is that companies will use this badge with Cisco’s clout to win projects. We will stand behind these companies, and if anyone should use an AV Integrator without this certification then we cannot predict the results. We believe that Cisco has the ability to drive this in the IT world, which will help the whole AV industry.” 

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