Back in 2014 — a lifetime ago in tech, considerably less in AV — Amazon patented an algorithmic shipping-system solution which used analytics to cut delivery times by predicting what buyers were going to buy before they bought it, and then shipping those products in their general direction, or even right to their door, before the anticipated sales click even registered.
Much of the system’s internal-facing elements, like video displays and touchscreens, were likely installed by AV systems integrators. In fact, systems integrators install the AV elements of those sorts of infrastructure on a daily basis, for the benefit of clients who are increasingly using it and specialized algorithms to anticipate their own customers’ needs, wants and expectations — in the process deriving enhanced revenue from an ability to parse their data ever-more deeply.
“The AV industry is just starting to recognize the possibility of interpreting customer intentions ahead of time as it begins to invest in managed services,” Josh Srago, a consultant and design engineer at TEECOM in Oakland, Calif., wrote in an op-ed piece. “As integrators start monitoring, supporting and controlling the systems that we deploy remotely, it will soon be much more commonplace for integration firms or manufacturers to want to gather information in order to determine how they can provide more products or services that end users want to see. These analytics are precisely what will allow for this next jump in progress.”
As Srago points out, a number of other industries have been parsing similar data and analytics for a long time. They can monitor, for instance, if a display is being turned on for every classroom. Are there certain professors or managers that are using more technology than others based on who booked or who is scheduled to be in a meeting room? Is there a part of the user interface in the control system that continuously causes users, or one specific user, to falter, slowing their ability to use the system?
“The remote monitoring capabilities involved in managed services gives those servicing these environments the ability to keep track of the functions of the room, troubleshoot if something falters, or send out a technician before an issue reaches critical status,” Srago writes. “By pairing analytics with managed services there is the potential to figure out what services are being used on a regular basis. This information is invaluable because it allows for conversation about the needs of the user and the effectiveness of the system based on real use cases. End users can quickly budget when looking to add systems and duplicate room layouts because they can see what has and has not worked in previous rollouts. Furthermore, it allows for integrators and consultants to determine whether or not the deployed user interface is too complicated and where it is causing issues.”
Opportunity Grows as Products Bloom
Srago’s optimism about AV-data’s potential for integrators hasn’t diminished, but it has grown more pragmatic as the concept hasn’t gained the traction he’d hoped for. He cites a number of reasons, mainly cultural.
“There’s really only a very small population that really sees the value in this,” he says, suggesting that while the AV industry has developed a substantial cadre of programmers, few have been able to see the data-analysis forest for the trees. “They’re still looking at [Crestron’s] Fusion or Barco’s Overture as room-scheduling programs, not as data-harvesting opportunities.”
Srago says the tools are already largely in place. Fusion and Overture are joined by relatively similar offerings like AMX’s Resource Management Suite, Extron’s GlobalViewer and Evertz’s Magnum. And the industry is perched at the beginning of a second iteration of some of these toolsets that have been adapted specifically for data collection and analysis purposes. For instance, Kramer Electronics’ Kramer Control platform is just coming out of its beta-testing stage.. The software is an outgrowth of Kramer’s acquisition last year of iRule, which developed control solutions for the CEDIA-oriented (residential) markets. But its genesis underscores the potential benefits for both AV integrators and end users.
“We’re living in a data-driven age now,” says Itai Ben-Gal, iRule’s president, adding that the new platform was constructed from the ground up with the underlying concept that it should provide continuous data that can then be extracted as necessary and presented via a supplied dashboard. “CEOs and CIOs know they have to spend money on AV, but what they need to know now more than ever is how that AV is being used. They’ll build more collaboration rooms and conference spaces, but before they spend millions of dollars on that they want to know who is using it, how often it’s being used, and how effectively it’s being used. They want to make better technology decisions, they want better ROI.”
The opportunity there, Ben-Gal says, is AV integrators bringing this data to their customers can point conclusively to the kinds of rooms they should be investing in, and what technology should go into them.
Integrators Joining In
Another control and monitoring platform getting a tweak in this direction is AVI-SPL’s Symphony, which was launched in 2009 to monitor and manage a user’s quality-of-meeting experience, provide scheduling capabilities, and actionable analytics on usage and signal quality, with simple integration with other applications like Microsoft Exchange. The latest version, Symphony 4.0, adds considerable depth and functionality to Symphony’s basic bones, says Frank Mehr, AVI-SPL’s senior vice president of research & development.