David Thorson is the Senior Manager of Programming Architecture for AVI-SPL. We spoke with him about the role that an audiovisual programmer plays in installations.
TD: What does an audiovisual programmer do?
David Thorson: What an audiovisual programmer does is, simply put, provide an experience. In our world, from a technical perspective, an AV programmer allows people to communicate and collaborate using many different technologies from touch panels to end user devices like blu ray players — getting those signals up onto a display or projector —through a touch screen or a mobile device to provide a touch point for an end user to drive control.
One thing that we use to use to try and explain what an audiovisual programmer does is say, ‘If I add up all this equipment, then an end user would need a box full of remote controls’ —a remote for your TV, a remote for your blu ray, a remote for your cable device — and the old adage was that a touch panel could take all those remote controls and tie them into one remote control.
But the user experience of five remote controls on one touch panel really isn’t what we’re trying to achieve anymore. The new school of thinking that we’re really pushing at AVI-SPL is looking for other ways to break down those barriers and trying to find technologies and ways to interface with the system and get information from the end user without any control system or touch panel or remote control at all.
We look for ways to integrate with the technology. Such as with scheduling systems; if an end user is scheduling meetings in advance there’s no reason for them to come in and pick up a remote control or touch panel or do anything. We can automate by user experience. If someone walks in the room and plugs in their laptop or a mobile device, they’ve done enough. We shouldn’t require them to go to a touch panel and press three more buttons. We just want to automate that meeting simply off of that human interaction with the room.
We’re looking for things that the customer might be doing in advance of the meeting, before the meeting, in the meeting space, or even during the meeting, to really prevent them from having to go through and touch anything at all. That’s really what AV programmers are doing more of today and something we’re working very hard on to make us better.
TD: What are the keys to successfully programming an AV installation?
David Thorson: I think the most important key to what defines success is end user experience, getting the right meeting experience and meeting the end user expectations. It really starts with working closely with the stakeholders to define what features that we can exploit for them, or define what the control system can really do before we can define success. Sometimes we have to explain to the end users what technology they have in the room, what the capabilities are, how we can tie those things together, and then we have to dig a little bit deeper to find out what of those kinds of things can we really tie into that integrates closely with the way they do business and the kinds of meetings they have. If the end users not happy or we’re not providing an experience that’s easy or seamless for them to use then we’ve failed.
One other key point is the actual programming itself. We have to have robust programming in the background. It has to have all that back end logic, it has to be tied together, it has to tie the different technologies together, it has to be reliable. What that means for us is using modules that we’ve built in house that have been stress tested and designed meeting our internal standards. Something that goes along closely with that is intuitive designing. We really want to find something that fits their company culture, something that’s intuitive for them. It might be something that they have across their enterprise that could be modified.
The final key is ongoing support. With the speed that technology changes it’s really important to have the right resources quickly available to make changes. An end user’s expectations may change over time, or the hardware requirements may need upgrades, so it’s important that ongoing support be available in a short time frame to make those changes when it comes to the programming.
TD: Once the installation is complete, what kind of upkeep can the end user expect to cover moving forward?
David Thorson: One thing that they should expect is to have some ongoing preventative maintenance. Whether it’s once or twice a year, have a professional come into the space, exercise all the technology, and make sure everything is up to date. That’s what end users should be expecting and really be asking for when they put this kind of technology in their enterprise. This way it allows a touch point for us to provide software updates to any hardware. It also allows us to provide security patches on devices that may be running certain technology that requires care in a network environment. It also provides a great line of communication to have a representative there speaking with the end users, to get feedback, and to make sure the end user experience is still meeting their needs. It allows us to make those changes either in the room or apply that feedback into future spaces that the customer may be building.
TD: How is programming for a regular AV system different than programming for a control room system?
David Thorson:There’s definitely a difference. A regular presentation system is typically a meeting space, and the design for that is very often something that’s predictable, there’s usually a certain size and scope to it. From an end user expectation we know exactly what a presenter needs to do and what they want to do. When it comes to the control room, the big difference is the 24/7 environment. We’re looking to have technology in there that’s up and running 24/7. From a control system program perspective, those systems get much more robust. They’re much more far-reaching. It’s typically more end points and more devices. You just have to take care to make sure all the systems are operational and tied together very cleanly and reliably.