“Symphony 4.0 records room utilization, device utilization, it stores information on packet loss, ping latency, and operating parameters like projector temperatures, all monitored and stored for later access by our customers,” he explains. “Before, we were mostly looking at if a device was on or off.” Mehr says AVI-SPL is sensitive to the possible issues that monitoring any data can bring; Symphony 4.0 uses a communication proxy that lets it operate behind corporate firewalls but allows data owners control access.
Mehr says Symphony is intentionally vendor-agnostic, able to monitor products and platforms from a variety of manufacturers through their own APIs or SNMP protocols, or through custom programming, such as the API they devised for Microsoft Surface Hub devices. This, he asserts, sets it apart from the cohort of data-mining platforms being developed by product manufacturers, but still puts it squarely in the new category of data-based platforms that could collectively transform the AV industry, once integrators and their clients decide the benefits outweigh the potential pitfalls. And Symphony 4.0 may soon join the ranks of platforms accessible by other integrators and users that are not AVI-SPL clients — Mehr says the company is planning a stand-alone productized version, available through a license fee, that will become available sometime in the second half of the year.
To Mehr, the entire category represents a shift that puts systems integrators into the position of being able to not just install and integrate communication technology, but also to collaborate with their customers on what they really need. “If [clients] have been building meeting rooms that can hold 20 people but only two are showing up, we can show them that they need to be investing in smaller rooms,” he explains. “That’s a major change in the relationship — it’s no longer about putting equipment in rooms, it’s about providing data and analysis that will help with strategic decision making.”
Customers Seeking Guidance
AV integrator Verrex had its own, as-yet unnamed data platform in beta earlier this year, with an expected Q3 rollout. It will be limited to Verrex’s own customer base, and will be able to be monitored by either Verrex and the customer jointly or by the customer alone, and will collect a broad range of information on room and device usage.
Michael Shinn, director of global managed services for Verrex, says the impetus for the data platform came from customers, many of which are very IT-savvy and are looking for better guidance for their collaboration and meeting spaces. “It’s not just understanding the systems but understanding how those systems are being used, that’s what they’re looking for now,” he says. “We needed to do a deeper dive than what the manufacturers’ platforms were offering, and we did.”
But allowing the system to be used unilaterally by the customer was an important strategic element, Shinn maintains. “There is a huge reluctance on the part of customers to share data,” he says. However, he adds, “We’re still in the early stages of this in AV. What we’re hearing now is an initial response, and it will evolve over time.”
Awareness of the potential monetization of data derived from monitored systems is driving some manufacturers and large-scale integration companies to move forward with cloud-based tools to exploit this emergent market in AV, and as their market research indicates, their enterprise clients are likely ready to engage. However, the rank and file of integrators may be the single biggest speed bump on that road. Ben-Gal calls it “data reluctance” — the uncertainty not only around the potential for data exploitation but more critically the data’s provenance: who owns what and what can be done with it? A steady stream of corporate data breaches (and one presidential election cycle) have made all data seem potentially toxic to some and has left many outside the immediate IT world and its legal counterpart understandably fretful about its use.