Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Campus Technology: 3 Key Resources for AV Professional Development



In my October 2016 Campus Technology article, I talk about professional development suggestions for AV support departments, focusing on InfoComm certifications, manufacturer training, and industry conferences.  Learn how to use your time wisely for professional development opportunities.
3 Key Resources for AV Professional Development
by Mike Tomei, Tomei AV Consulting 
Working in a technical role, especially within a rapidly changing industry like audiovisual design, installation and support, means that you constantly have to keep your finger on the pulse of ever-changing technology and design trends. I've worked with a wide variety of higher ed AV support staff, with some keeping up with technology and others letting it pass them by. I've made the decision to be diligent about keeping up with technology and industry trends, but it's not always easy to figure out the best methods of doing so. Everyone in AV design, installation and support roles seems to be busy and often totally overworked. Throw in the fact that departmental budgets are always being tightened, and you have a recipe for needing to really pick and choose the most effective professional development opportunities out there.
I've spent lots of time in my professional life acquiring certifications, taking manufacturer training classes and attending conferences. This article conveys my opinions and experiences with all of the above. There are plenty more professional development opportunities than I touch on here, but hopefully these suggestions point you and your staff in the right direction.
InfoComm Certifications
Other than being a member, I have no affiliation with InfoComm International, but anyone who knows me understands that I'm a big fan of the various CTS (Certified Technology Specialist) certifications. There are three types of CTS certifications: the basic CTS, which focuses on industry trends and core AV technologies; the CTS-D, which focuses on AV design and project management; and the CTS-I, which focuses on AV installation practices. I've taken the time over the years to acquire all three of these InfoComm certifications, and I'm very pleased that I made the decision to invest my time in doing so.
I feel that all staff members in higher ed AV design, installation and support departments should be required by their management to obtain the basic InfoComm CTS certification within one year of being hired. It not only establishes that employees are at a certain knowledge level with a baseline understanding of the AV industry and the core technologies, but the study process is also very worthwhile. There's no way that any one staff member can be an expert in every facet of the AV industry, but the process of studying for the CTS exam is a great way to at least introduce AV support staff to all the different areas of the AV industry. Your live event support technicians will begin to understand what the integrated systems designers are doing, and vice versa.
Once AV staff members have obtained the basic CTS certification, they can move on to the next level: the CTS-D (design) and CTS-I (installation) certifications. These are really made for individuals in roles that focus on specific system design and installation duties, and not for your AV support generalists. I believe that it's important for every higher ed AV support department to have at least one CTS-D on staff. Even if you don't have a staff member 100 percent devoted to AV system design, you must have someone who at least initiates AV installation projects by writing a program report or scope of work, and works with your independent consultants/integrators. That person really needs to have a CTS-D, to make sure that he or she has a baseline of AV system design and project management knowledge. I found the study process for the CTS-D exam to be one of the most worthwhile aspects of obtaining my various CTS certifications. The CTS-D exam is certainly the most challenging exam of the three, and I've seen some experienced system designers fail it. The study process really brings together all the InfoComm and industry design standards that the test is based on. Passing the CTS-D exam was my most rewarding professional development achievement.
The CTS-I (installation) certification is another all-encompassing exam that requires a study process, but it isn't a certification that I see very often among higher ed AV support department staff. Often, these departments are relying on AV support staff to provide level one and two troubleshooting and minor equipment repair/replacement, but they push major equipment repair and systems installation out to integration firms. For that reason, I feel the CTS-I certification is a bit too advanced for the level one AV support folks, and most departments don't have a higher level installation technician on staff.
When I took the three CTS exams, the study process was a bit more challenging than it is now. Currently, InfoComm publishes study guides for the three exams. These books didn't exist when I took the exams. The study guides cover the majority of subjects in the exams, but it's still important for the student to pull knowledge from industry experience as well as outside study sources. I've taken many of the online and classroom courses offered by InfoComm. I found many of the online courses to be a bit outdated, and I really got much more from the organization's in-person classroom courses. I took a great online CTS-D study class with InfoComm instructor Tom Kehr that really helped bring many of the design concepts together, but I still did plenty of research using alternate sources.
One of the big reasons the InfoComm CTS certifications exist is to serve the consultant and integrator community. Clients will often require a certain number of consulting or integrator staff to have one or more of the CTS certifications. This is often dictated in the project's bid documents, excluding certain companies that don't meet the certification criteria from even beginning the bidding process. All that being said, I certainly see the CTS certification's value in the higher ed AV support world.
Manufacturer Training
Many of the AV industry equipment manufacturers offer training classes and certifications that are available to higher ed AV support folks. Many people simply disregard these manufacturer-led training classes as sales pitches to captive audiences, but I think many of them are very worthwhile. Naturally the manufacturer's motivation is to pitch their products to their target audience, but these training classes have really evolved over the years to now include useful information taught by some of the most brilliant minds in the industry.
Some of the larger manufacturers in the industry offer "big picture" training classes that teach general AV industry technology and design trends. Naturally they relate these trends back to their specific product lines, but the majority of information taught in these classes is very useful to general higher ed AV support staff. Some of the manufacturers even tailor these classes to academic AV support subjects, so your staff doesn't have to sit through training sessions intended for other industries, such as the latest trends in 911 emergency command center design. Some manufacturers offer these classes online, but I usually get the most out of actually being in the classroom.
Drilling down a bit more, the manufacturers also offer higher level training sessions that often focus on one specific AV technology, or a specific piece of their equipment. Some of the specific content taught in these classes may include AV streaming technology, control system/DSP programming, digital system design/installation techniques and networked AV systems. These classes often rely on lots of hands-on setup and testing of equipment, which is always very helpful. Having face-to-face access to the folks who designed the equipment is a great learning resource.
When it comes to control system and DSP programming classes in particular, I have strong opinions about how AV programming should be handled on higher ed campuses. To really do control system programming right for anything more complex than a basic classroom system, schools really need to devote a full-time staff member to programming. While a full-time AV programmer is a tough expense to justify on most campuses, a staff member who is also responsible for system design, installation, daily support, etc. cannot really stay on top of current high-level programming techniques and features. All that being said, I think manufacturers' control system programming classes can be valuable for any higher ed AV staff. Staff members responsible for system design duties need to take at least the 101 programming class, to make sure they have an understanding of the features and capabilities of their control systems. Being able to at least talk the same language as the programmers (either independent or from hired integration firms) is key. DSP programming is a bit of a different animal, and I do think that higher ed AV support departments should devote a portion of someone's job description to high-level DSP programming. It's an easier learning curve than advanced control system programming, and it's certainly worth the time for managers to send their employees to the higher level DSP configuration classes.
Don't think that these manufacturer training classes require large travel budgets just because the manufacturer is headquartered across the country. Many of these companies will offer regional training opportunities, often renting meeting rooms at hotels in select large cities across the county. I will say, though, that attending training sessions at the company's headquarters is usually best, since they typically don't have the same amount of demo and test equipment at the regional training sessions as they do in their HQ's training classrooms. Some manufacturers offer rewards programs to their customers, who can in turn obtain comped travel expenses to attend these training classes. It's always worth a conversation with your manufacturer rep if your department is able to accept gifts like this from companies.
Conferences
Over the past few years, the question has been asked if large AV conferences are still necessary, considering the plethora of online resources and manufacturer training opportunities available elsewhere. The record-breaking attendance numbers at the annual InfoComm show each year say to me that conferences are indeed still regarded as worthwhile events. Most higher ed tech managers seem to agree, but with the large price tag these conferences have for registration fees, travel expenses, training class tuition, etc., it's often hard to justify the expense. Still, I feel the show floor booths, training opportunities and networking opportunities presented to InfoComm attendees are an excellent resource to higher ed AV staff. There are many programs at the InfoComm event tailored to higher ed AV support. Between networking receptions, training classes, certification prep courses and technology tours of other schools, it really makes sense for technology managers to budget for their staff to make the trip. I think that higher level design and installation staff members need to make the trip to InfoComm every year or two, while mid- and low-level support staff can benefit from the trip every three or four years.
Even though it's the largest AV conference in the U.S., InfoComm obviously isn't the only event available to higher ed AV staff. Conferences like CCUMC, UBTech and Educause are especially relevant to higher ed AV technology managers. These conferences don't focus as much on system design and installation, but rather on management and administrative topics.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

AVNation EdTech podcast: Episode 46 (Oct 2016)

In this month's AV Nation EdTech podcast, we discuss manufacturers selling and marketing directly to end users, fostering brand loyalty, InfoComm education opportunities for high school students, and VR in the classroom.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

AVNation EdTech podcast: Episode 45 (Sept 2016)

After a couple of months off, we're back with a new AV Nation EdTech podcast discussing OLED display technology, back boxes and flat panel display mounting, and the internet of things.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Campus Technology: A Benchmark for AV Support Staff


In September 2016 I wrote an article for Campus Technology discussing some of my opinions about AV support staffing and I also talk about a staffing survey I conducted in 2014.

A Benchmark for AV Support Staffing
by Mike Tomei, Tomei AV Consulting
How many AV support staffers should an institution have? In my job as an audiovisual consultant, I've honestly never met someone in a higher ed AV support role who feels like their department is adequately staffed and they're not overwhelmed with the amount of work put on their plate.
It's hard to pinpoint why AV support departments aren't usually staffed properly. Maybe it's because AV support went through a transition from dealing with carousel slide projectors to managing high-end digital presentation, collaboration and conferencing tools, and staffing levels just didn't keep up. Maybe it's because AV support departments sometimes fall under non-technical departments (such as facilities) that just don't understand what it takes to properly staff an IT group.
In 2014 I decided that I wanted to study higher ed AV department staffing levels, so I put together an online survey. It turns out I wasn't the only person curious about staffing structure, so I ended up getting a very positive response to the survey. It seems like technology managers are always looking for a data-driven way to approach staffing.
This survey attempted to determine an average ratio of the number of AV equipped rooms per support staff at any given institution. I knew that it would be difficult to compare AV staffing levels across schools, since there are lots of factors differentiating one school from another. One major factor is the school's approach to IT support: Is it centralized or decentralized across campus? Audiovisual technology levels also affect the number of support staff needed. A school with only basic presentation systems in its classrooms needs a very different support structure from a school that has quite a few complex collaboration, capture and conferencing rooms. Schools that outsource their AV design and/or installation work to consultants and integrators, rather than handle that with in-house staff, will surely have different staffing levels. All that being said, I still think that a survey quantifying AV support staffing levels across multiple schools is helpful for higher ed tech managers to at least see a benchmark and have a starting point in determining their staffing needs.
Survey Information
I conducted the survey online in the spring of 2014, and posted a link on a couple of online forums frequented by AV tech managers. I ended up receiving 61 responses, giving me a pretty diverse pool of data to look at. I'm by no means a professional survey writer, but I think the data is very useful.
The first few survey questions looked to gather some information about the respondent's school. I asked for the number of classrooms, meeting rooms and offices with installed AV equipment. I also asked about the number of digital signage displays, and the number of students at each school. Respondents' number of AV-equipped classrooms varied from around 30 to more than 500. Number of students varied from 176 to 50,000 — a nice mix of small and large schools.
I then asked about full-time staffing levels in specific positions relating to the design, installation and support of AV systems. This survey didn't look at staffing levels for AV event support departments. The titles I asked respondents to consider were: director; assistant directors; managers; supervisors; AV project managers; system designers; control system programmers (full-time); field repair technicians; bench technicians; daily support field technicians; administrative assistants/business services employees; and student employees. Every school classifies its AV department staff by different titles, but I tried to focus on a variety of common titles/roles.
Results
The most important result that came from this study is an average ratio of the number of AV-equipped rooms per full-time staff: 43:1. This ratio is based on classrooms/meeting rooms only, and does not include admin assistants or student employees. Some respondent's ratios were down as low as 15:1, while some topped out over 140:1. Obviously there is wide variety in the number of AV-equipped rooms each full-time AV person is tasked with supporting.
Not surprisingly, the most common positions that exist in the respondents' departments are daily support field technicians and field repair techs. Looking at the big picture, I would consider those positions to be essentially the same, with lots of crossover of duties. There are also plenty of student employees reported by the respondents, but I didn't include student employees in determining the average ratio of AV-equipped rooms per full-time staff. Falling into the middle range in the respondents' departments are AV project managers, system designers, managers and supervisors. The most uncommon positions in the respondents' departments are bench techs, administrative assistants, control system programmers and assistant directors.
Many of the freeform notes sections of the survey were populated with comments about how understaffed people felt their departments were, and how each staff person has to wear a bunch of hats when it comes to AV support duties.
Even though all those previously mentioned factors come into play when comparing one school to another, the 43:1 ratio can be helpful as a quick benchmark in determining how far off your AV support department staffing level is compared to others. If you would like to see a full copy of the survey results, feel free to send me an e-mail (mike@tomeiav.com).

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Campus Technology: Keep Your AV Support Team in the Loop


In August 2016 I wrote an article for Campus Technology about when to involve campus AV support departments in design-bid-build projects.  If you need a refresher on the phases of these larger projects, refer to these articles I wrote for Campus Technology:  1, 2, 3, 4, 5

Keep Your AV Support Team in the Loop
by Mike Tomei, Tomei AV Consulting
If you're in an AV support role on campus, you've probably experienced this scenario: A large classroom renovation project is underway, with an audiovisual design consultant subcontracted under the architect. The AV support team is brought into the project too late, after design decisions have already been made, after the AV contractor bidding process is complete, and often after construction has already started. When this happens, the project usually takes two different routes: Either the campus AV support folks ask the project manager for a bunch of changes to the AV system design to conform to their established standards, or the project doesn't have the money for more change orders, and the AV support department just has to live with a bunch of non-standard AV systems. Either way, plenty of extra time and/or money is spent, and it's a stressful experience for all project stakeholders. With a little foresight and planning, though, it doesn't have to be that way.
During the InfoComm show in June, I taught a seminar that focused on the phases of a classroom audiovisual installation project, and I received multiple questions from higher ed technology managers about how they should be involved in the larger design-bid-build construction projects that are typically led by a construction project manager and architect. In particular, attendees asked, at what point during a large construction project should the campus AV support department get involved? My answer: before the project even exists.
You may be wondering how this is possible without a time machine. I'm suggesting that the AV support folks need to meet with the campus construction/facilities management department before projects start. Rather than a meeting about a specific project, this needs to be a general meeting introducing the construction project managers to the established campus AV standards, the AV support department's preferred level of involvement in larger construction projects, and the staff that's responsible for supporting and maintaining those systems. The project managers need to understand the importance of maintaining AV design and construction standards across all buildings on campus. Even if the construction project managers don't involve the AV support department at the very beginning of future projects, they can at least get the campus standards documentation in the hands of the contracted AV design consultant right from day one. (If you have not established clear AV standards documentation for your campus, you can read a 2015 Campus Technology article I wrote about the importance of documenting AV standards.) 
Now that you've stressed the importance of future AV system designs adhering to established standards, you can focus on the important milestones where the project managers need to get the campus AV support department involved. The first major milestone should be right at the beginning of the project, when the construction project manager is just starting the needs analysis (or programming) process with the client. This occurs before the architect has been hired on the project. The AV support folks need to be involved in these initial discussions to make sure that all stakeholders are paying attention to audiovisual system design and installation. I'm not suggesting that the AV department should dive right in and start the design process; rather, the AV team can help the client establish the basic AV scope for the project and remind the project managers that the AV design process needs to be a part of the project's overall design process. Depending on the size of the project, this may take the form of hiring an AV design consultant, looking to an AV contractor for a design-build contract, or relying on the campus AV support department's in-house design services.
Many clients don't realize the scope of AV that's needed on a project until well into the design phases, and sometimes during the construction phase. Having a set of experienced AV support department eyes on the project from day one assures that a relatively accurate AV scope is established. As a consultant, I'm sometimes not hired on projects until well into the architectural design phases, probably because AV design services just wasn't on the project manager's radar. Electrical, structural and HVAC design engineers/consultants are typically hired on the project at the same time as the architect, but many non-technical clients and project managers don't initially think of their AV needs. When I'm hired on a project right at the beginning of the architect's contract, and presented with a clear idea of what the project's AV scope will entail, I'm able to spend the proper amount of time on the AV design portion of the project.
The next major milestone for AV support department involvement should be the bidding process to determine the project's architect. Since AV design consultants are subcontracted under the architect, it's important for the AV support department to review the architect bids and provide an opinion on the AV design consultant attached to each architect's proposal. The campus AV department may have worked with these AV design consultants in the past, and can provide insight into the good, bad and the ugly. The AV department folks are also able to help with evaluating the qualifications of the proposed AV consultants. Watch out for architects who may want to squeeze AV design services into the electrical engineer's scope, or subcontract an AV contractor to handle design only. 
Because of the amount of work and deliverables involved with larger design-bid-build projects, typically the AV design consultant needs to handle the bulk of the work, rather than the campus AV department. Campus AV folks should retain a review role, but not be burdened with the bulk of the design and construction administration work. That brings us to the next major milestone for AV department involvement: The campus AV team should be brought in by the architect and AV consultant during the needs analysis process (during schematic design) to present the established campus AV standards. This will set the stage early on for a solid base of standardized design and installation processes, and allow the AV consultant to grab the ball and run with it for the remainder of the design process. I never feel that AV support departments are stepping on my toes when they ask me to understand their standards at the beginning of a project. Due to my experience in past jobs when I worked in their roles, I appreciate the fact that I'm able to gain an understanding of the established AV standards from the get-go, rather than much later in the project when I need to redo a bunch of design work.
As the design phases of the project evolve, the AV design consultant will be handling the heavy lifting, but the campus AV support department should be involved in reviewing design and construction documents from the architect and AV consultant. The conclusion of the schematic design, design development and construction document phases involves review and approval (by the client) of submittal documents from the architect, engineers and consultants. Typically these take the form of a program report, CAD drawings and construction/bid specifications. Getting these documents in front of the AV support folks is another cross check for making sure that AV standards are being met, and the design hasn't taken a wild turn for the worse. Most AV support departments aren't staffed with full-time design engineers to create all of this documentation, but they should be able to provide these review services as needed. Spending a little extra time in these phases to make sure the AV design is on point will prevent many headaches down the line.
During the bidding phase, when the AV contractor is hired, the AV support department should be involved either in suggesting the list of preferred AV contractors that will be asked to submit proposals, or at least in simply reviewing that list before the RFP is sent out. The AV consultant may suggest AV contractors that have been problematic on past campus projects. Often the AV consultant isn't local, so they don't have the same local market knowledge that the campus AV support department has.
After the AV contractor has been hired, it's typically the AV consultant's responsibility to take a construction administration role and oversee the AV contractor's work. This is one phase that the campus AV department should not be heavily involved with. The project managers need to rely on the consultant and contractor's expertise to install AV systems that adhere to the reviewed and approved design documents. Campus AV support folks may need to review change orders, but they can't get bogged down in the granular construction administration duties that the consultant should really be handling. 
The next milestone that should include the AV support department staff: the client training process, at the conclusion of the construction phase. In addition to a training session for the non-technical clients, the project's AV consultant and AV contractor should hold a separate training session for the technical AV support staff that will be tasked with supporting and maintaining the new AV systems. This should occur after the AV consultant and AV contractor have concluded the systems verification process and punch lists. If during this training session the AV support folks notice aspects of the AV system that don't conform to established standards, or simply aren't working, then someone dropped the ball back in the design and construction phases.
The final major project milestone for AV department involvement should be the AV contractor's close-out submittal. It's the AV consultant's responsibility to review and approve this submittal package, but the contents need to be passed along to the folks responsible for supporting and maintaining the new AV systems. Items such as as-built drawings, control system and DSP programming files, equipment and system manuals, MAC/IP address tables, equipment inventory, warranty details and service contracts all need to get in the hands of the campus AV support department.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Campus Technology: Advice and Reflections on the Best of InfoComm 2016


In July 2016 I wrote a recap of my experience at the InfoComm Show 2016.

Advice and Reflections on the Best of InfoComm 2016
by Mike Tomei, Tomei AV Consulting
If it's June and you work in audiovisual system design, installation and support, then you either attend the annual InfoComm show, or you follow the news coming out of the show and wish that you were there.  The 2016 event was in Las Vegas, and it certainly didn't disappoint — hitting record numbers of attendees and vendors. Plus, more people than ever took advantage of the educational opportunities at the show.
Even though I now work in the AV consulting field, much of my show experience mirrored the years I attended when I worked full time in higher ed AV support. Most of my clients are higher ed institutions, so I try to experience InfoComm through their perspective. This year at the show, I concentrated on teaching, networking and building manufacturer relationships. I certainly got to see many new products, but rather than try to race from booth to booth on the show floor, I instead focused on experiencing some of the other benefits of attending InfoComm in-person. I will preface this article by saying that I'm an independent consultant, and I have no financial affiliation with any of the manufacturers I mention in this article, as well as the InfoComm International organization.
Teaching & Education
When I talk to individuals who are attending their first InfoComm, I always start by stressing that they need to take advantage of the educational opportunities at the show. Professional development is key in an industry that is changing as rapidly as the AV industry is, and InfoComm is your best opportunity for industry training.
This year is the first that I was a presenter for a couple seminars held during the show. I taught a seminar on ADA compliance in classroom AV design, and another seminar dissecting the various phases of a classroom AV construction project. Both of my seminars targeted academic technology managers. A quick poll of each seminar showed about 90 percent of the attendees were from higher ed institutions, with the remaining 10 percent made up of AV integrators, consultants and corporate AV support staff.
Both of the seminars had more than 100 attendees, which was in part due to the fact that InfoComm tried a new seminar package model this year. In past years, we had to enroll in each class/seminar separately, and pay a fee for each. This year, attendees were able to purchase a package that granted attendance to all the Wednesday, Thursday and Friday seminars. This seemed to be a big hit with the large number of attendees participating in the educational opportunities.
Normally I take advantage of the InfoComm University classes that are offered on the Saturday, Sunday, and Monday of the InfoComm show week. These are three-day-long classes that offer a deeper dive into subject matter than the shorter seminars offered on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. If you haven't taken these three-day classes, I highly suggest you look into them. This is an opportunity to learn from some of the brightest AV instructors and professionals in the business, and make some nice networking contacts too. If you're pursuing one of the InfoComm CTS certifications, and you're looking for some classroom instruction to complement your independent study, then look no further than these InfoComm University classes. This year, I didn't end of taking one of these three-day classes only because I already have my CTS-D and CTS-I certifications, and I've taken many of the other courses being offered. I'm hoping that InfoComm adds some new higher-level design and project management classes to their three-day InfoComm University program.
Networking
Another piece of advice I always give InfoComm newbies is that they need to take advantage of every networking opportunity available during the week. Attend every relevant event, party, reception, committee meeting, etc. that you can get your hands on. With more than 40,000 people attending the show, you're bound to make some solid industry connections. 
When I worked in higher ed AV support at Harvard University and Ithaca College, I always made sure to attend the annual Technology Managers Reception. This is one of your best resources to meet like-minded AV technology managers at the show. You're bound to find someone from another campus who's in the same boat as you are, grappling with a tricky AV installation or searching for that piece of equipment that will solve their unique AV design issue. Collect business cards like your job depends on it and a few months later you'll be glad that you've built a nice network of industry professionals.
Another aspect of networking at InfoComm that many higher ed technology managers overlook is the goal of meeting manufacturer representatives. Many tech managers want to avoid getting the hard sell, so they slip in and out of the booths and remain anonymous. I suggest taking the opposite approach: Walk into the booth, immediately ask if your regional marketing rep is there, and make a face-to-face connection with them. Sure it'll result in more sales calls over the year, but having a direct contact at the manufacturer is a great resource for product and technical questions. Even as a design consultant, I rely on my manufacturer marketing reps heavily. During the year I constantly contact them with design and technical questions, and at InfoComm I try to schedule 30-minute booth tours with them.
Products
OK, I get it, everyone wants to hear about the new and exciting products that were premiered at InfoComm this year. Unfortunately, it's just not like it used to be. In the past, all the companies waited until the show to introduce their new products for the year. This doesn't seem to be the case anymore, with manufacturers releasing products all throughout the year — and even the products premiered at InfoComm are usually preceeded by a "sneak peek" press release a week or two before the show. 
My goal on the show floor isn't necessarily to hunt down the new and exciting products, but rather to get my hands on products that I need an in-person demo to experience. I'm talking microphone and speaker demos, projector and flat panel display shootouts, and other equipment that can't be evaluated just by reading a cut sheet back in the office. I also like to find manufacturers that may not have the flashy and exciting products, but have the products that will make my life easier as a system designer. Products like unique display mounts, equipment rack accessories, under-table or in-ceiling equipment storage solutions, etc. Head to the back of the show floor to find those smaller companies.
I think we can all agree that the AV/IT convergence has happened, and the premiere products at the show this year certainly exhibited this. The AV industry is all about moving audio, video and control signals over the network, using proprietary or standards-based methods. The audio section of the show floor has always been a bit stale in past years, with very few groundbreaking advancements (compared to the video world), but this year you couldn't help but notice the mention of Dante everywhere. Even though this was pretty evident at the show last year, this year's plethora of Dante-enabled devices secures their place at the top of the heap when it comes to networked audio. 
One Dante-enabled product line that caught my eye was the new audio DSP offerings from Crestron. The company premiered its new Avia line of DSPs, with all the features I'm looking for in a classroom/conference room DSP: AEC, USB interface, Dante connection, VoIP (SIP) connection and control system integration. Crestron has an uphill battle to turn users away from their preferred DSP manufacturer, but with all those features and a design team lead by audio industry veteran Dennis Fink, I think they'll have some success.
Another Dante-enabled product line that I made sure to experience a demo of was the Shure Microflex Advance ceiling mic array and table mic array. The mics have Dante outputs, and depending on the model, offer on-board DSP features like echo reduction, steerable coverage, auto mixing and EQ. Even on the noisy show floor, we were easily able to steer the ceiling mic coverage over to pick up our voices.
Sticking with the networked AV theme, QSC's Q-SYS AV-to-USB is another new product that I think is very useful for classroom and conference room AV systems. In a nutshell, the company is expanding on its Core 110f DSP to now integrate IP cameras and a USB interface. If you've ever struggled with a classroom or conference room web conferencing system design that consists of a bunch of USB extenders, a USB hub and/or switch, control issues, multiple camera switching challenges and poor audio processing, definitely take the time to learn more about QSC's offerings.
I was happy to see that Crestron will be offering DigitalMedia compatible patch panels and premade cables. The AV industry loves to rely on direct cable runs between field devices and rack equipment, with field terminations of male RJ45 connectors. For years, IT standards have dictated that structured cabling needs to terminate at punch-down jacks and patch panels, rather than direct connections between, for example, wireless access points and the network closet switch port. Crestron's new DM patch panels and pre-made cables will help to push AV system designs toward tried and tested IT structured cabling standards.
Another product that rose to the top of discussion at the show is Biamp's TesiraLUX encoder and decoder, which will support video distribution using the AVB standard. Biamp had previously incorporated the audio portion of AVB into its Tesira DSP line, and now will show that video can be transported over a network using AVB. The idea that someone has finally figured out the "V" in AVB is exciting, but I really need to experience this product firsthand before I can consider incorporating it into my system designs.  I'm not totally sold on the idea of AVB being the future of networked AV, so I'm interested in watching how this all plays out.
One last product offering that I took notice of is Middle Atlantic's DC Power Distribution solution. If your AV equipment racks are full of power supplies (wall warts) and power strips for all the smaller devices, then you can look to this product from Middle Atlantic to clean things up. This is a 1RU device that offers different common DC voltage outputs on phoenix connectors, replacing all the individual wall warts. It's one of those tools that will make your installers happy.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

AVNation EdTech podcast: Episode 44 (June 2016)

We recorded our June EdTech podcast live from the InfoComm Show floor.  Bill O'Donnell hosted, Ernie Bailey was there, and we welcomed back Greg Brown.  We discussed our experiences at the Show, and commented on products that caught our eye.

Campus Technology:  Keeping Classroom AV Technology on Track


In June 2016 I wrote my fifth article for my recurring Campus Technology column titled AV Smarts.

Keeping Classroom AV Construction on Track - Part 5
by Mike Tomei, Tomei AV Consulting
Over the past four months, I have written about the design and construction process for higher education classroom audiovisual systems, including the administrative, schematic design, design development, construction documents and bidding phases of an AV design-bid-build project. This brings us to the final phase: construction.
Now that an AV contractor (integrator) has been signed onto the project through the efforts of the bidding phase, it's time to actually install the AV system that we've spent months designing. Just because we're up to the final phase doesn't mean that we can let our guard down and float along to a completed project: This is where the rubber hits the road. The construction phase requires attentive coordination efforts to make sure that all contractors properly furnish and install all the components of the AV system. Even though the AV design consultant may have gone to painstaking lengths to design every aspect of the AV system — even down to the connector — proper construction coordination and communication are needed to make sure the finished product matches the design intent. All of those hours of needs analysis meetings can be thrown out the window with an uninformed contractor making decisions independently in the field.
Architects typically remain on projects after the general contractor (GC) bid has been awarded, in order to oversee the efforts of the contracted GC. The client wants the architect to make sure that the building is constructed as the design documents dictate. The AV design consultant typically provides the same service during the construction phase; the consultant's role shifts from a design role to a review/approve role. It's best when the AV consultant remains on the project to oversee the construction process through final system commissioning and client training. Even if an AV contractor makes every effort to install the same system that's shown on the design drawings and specifications, the contractor just hasn't invested the same amount of time in the project as the design consultant has.
Construction Administration
The construction phase typically starts with a kick-off meeting to get all the contractors, design team and owner's team in the same room. Periodic construction meetings during the lifespan of the project will also take place. Because of the interdependency of all the various contractors, it's important that relationships are established between them early, and construction details start to get hashed out before everyone's tripping over one another on site. This initial kick-off meeting is an opportunity for the design team to walk the contractors through the design intent of the project, as well as discuss project scheduling and other construction phase coordination issues. Being the subject-matter experts that they are, the contractors may throw up some red flags right away as design intent is clarified. Making sure that the contractors have a thorough understanding of the design details right at the beginning of the construction phase means that there will be fewer surprises down the road, when it's harder and costlier to make changes.
There are quite a few pieces of AV equipment that span the responsibilities of various contractors. Items like projection screens, flat panel/projector mounts, floor/table boxes, etc. require furnishing, delivery and installation coordination from multiple contractors that need to work together. The project manager and consultant need to be at the root of coordinating those efforts.
Right off the bat in the construction phase, it's important for the project manager, architect and AV consultant to document everything. From the moment the kick-off meeting starts, all the way to the final client training session, there are lots of ideas, information and changes being thrown around. The introduction of all the contractors into the project creates lots of "cooks in the kitchen." Their input is usually invaluable, but sometimes important items can slip through without a formal documenting process, which causes issues down the line. A contractor may make a suggestion during a construction meeting, another contractor takes that suggestion to be an informal change order, and now all the involved parties are no longer on the same page.
Following a simple, yet organized, project management process can save everyone lots of headaches. Project managers, architects and/or AV consultants who create detailed meeting minutes are taking the first step to proper documentation. Distribute those minutes to all meeting attendees, as well as those that couldn't attend, and everyone is operating with the same information. Weekly written status updates from the AV contractor are also a way for everyone to stay informed.
Submittals
The submittal process is an essential component of making sure that the final product matches the design intent. In the case of audiovisual systems, submittal materials are items sent by the AV contractor to the project manager for approval before proceeding with procurement, construction and installation. The required submittal materials should have been clearly defined in the construction documents (bid specifications), so there aren't any surprises. The submittal process can be lengthy and costly for the AV contractor, depending on the complexity of the project. If the required submittals weren't clearly defined in the bid specifications, then the AV contractor will no doubt express objection to spending time and labor hours on creating these materials that weren't part of the original proposal.
Typically, submittal materials that are required from the AV contractor are shop drawings, the contractor's proposed project schedule, finalized equipment list, AV furniture details, cut sheets, finish samples, product samples and control system/DSP programming details. Obviously, not all of these items will be required for every project. The AV design consultant is responsible for reviewing and approving all of these submittals, making sure that they follow the design intent as described in the design documents. Contractors are instructed not to order any equipment or begin construction efforts until all of the submittal materials have been approved. Paying attention to the details during the submittal process really sets the stage for a successful construction phase. As long as the AV consultant keeps an organized record of all submittal dates, and responds to them quickly, this process will work well.
Requests for Information
One important aspect of documenting the flow of information during the construction phase is the request for information (RFI). As a contractor is working through the process of preparing for installation, or even while they're in the middle of site work, they may have questions about the design intent. While it might seem easiest for them to pick up the phone and call the design consultant for clarification, it's important for their questions to follow a formal RFI process. If the contractor sends questions on an RFI form to the project manager, and the consultant's response is returned in that same format, then you have easily referenced materials if a question comes up in the future about the same issues.
Change Order
A close cousin to the RFI is the change order (CO). If the question posed by the contractor in the RFI results in a change that involves procurement of additional materials, or additional labor efforts from the contractor, then a CO needs to be issued. The change order originates from the project manager and is sent to the contractor outlining the change, all associated costs, and the new project total cost after the change. All contract scope and pricing changes need to be documented in this fashion to prevent confusion later in the project — and to keep control of the project's budget. Change orders can also be issued when materials and/or labor are being removed from a project, after being deemed unnecessary to the project. Sometimes the contractor is working in the field and decides that a change is necessary to keep the project on track, and seeing no other alternative, they create a construction change directive (CCD). The CCD is sent by the contractor to the project manager for approval.
Quality Control
Depending on the complexity of the project, the AV consultant may wish to be involved with various quality control efforts during the construction phase. This may involve the consultant visiting the AV contractor's shop to test the AV systems after the shop-build process is complete, but before the equipment is moved to the installation site. The consultant may also want to visit the site periodically as the other trades are installing the AV-related infrastructure. Take pictures of all the walls, floors,and ceilings while they're still open and before the finishes are placed on them. Knowing where the cable paths and wall blocking are located after the drywall is up can be priceless. The AV consultant also can perform a final "AV room ready" assessment after the infrastructure is installed, but before AV equipment is shipped to the site. During the AV contractor's site installation period, a few site visits from the AV consultant is a way to make sure that construction is progressing as planned.
Systems Verification
After the AV contractor notifies the client that the systems have been installed, configured and tested, the AV consultant typically visits the site for formal systems verification. Many have started relying on the ANSI/InfoComm 10:2013 Audiovisual Systems Performance Verification standard during this commissioning process. The Performance Verification Checklist that accompanies this standard has become a widely accepted industry standard that can ease the verification process greatly. Whatever final systems verification checklist or criteria that is decided upon should be presented to the AV contractor at the beginning of the project, so all parties are on the same page as to what's expected during these final tests. If specific performance or reference specifications were described in the original bid specifications, then that testing takes place now. A punch list is created by the AV consultant, who makes a return visit to ensure that all items have been addressed.
Client Training
After all systems have been fully tested and punch list items completed, client training can occur. Resist the urge to train clients on partially tested systems, or systems with outstanding punch list items. You only get one chance to make a first impression, and if a faculty member runs into technical issues during his initial training session, he'll never trust that AV system again. It's best to have the lead installation technician or the AV consultant conduct the training session, since they have a deep understanding of the system operation. Conduct a couple training sessions, with one focusing on non-technical users and the other directed toward the technical support staff that will have to operate, service and maintain the AV systems.
Closeout
Now that the equipment is installed and the clients are trained, don't let the project fizzle out just yet. The final step is for the AV consultant to review and approve the closeout submittal from the AV contractor. This submittal package may consist of the as-built system drawings, compiled and uncompiled control system/DSP programming files, equipment/system manuals, equipment inventory/MAC/IP address list, warranty statement, maintenance contract, keys and spare parts. Again, the contents of the closeout submittal package should have been defined in the original bid specifications.
From an AV design and installation standpoint, the project is now complete. The client gives the final sign-off, the warranty period begins, and our journey through all the phases of the project has come to an end.

Friday, May 27, 2016

AVNation EdTech podcast: Episode 43 (May 2016)

In this latest episode of the AV Nation EdTech podcast, we talk about the Microsoft Surface Hub, lecture capture equipment and methods, and the latest InfoComm/BICSI partnership.  We're recording the next episode of the podcast live from the InfoComm Show floor (the AV Nation booth # N2821) in Vegas on June 10th at 10am.  Stop by if you're attending the show.

Campus Technology: The Ins and Outs of Classroom AV Construction Documents and Bidding


In May 2016 I wrote my fourth article for my recurring Campus Technology column titled AV Smarts.

The Ins and Outs of Classroom AV Construction Documents and Bidding - Part 4
by Mike Tomei, Tomei AV Consulting
This is the fourth article in a monthly series focusing on the design and construction process surrounding audiovisual systems in higher education classrooms. Over the past few months, I have written about the administrative, schematic design and design development phases of an AV design-bid-build project. After the majority of the design details have been hammered out in those phases, we're now presented with the task of creating the documents that will be used in the bidding and construction process. This phase is the construction documents phase, followed by the bidding phase.
Construction Documents Phase
After you've gone to all the trouble of meeting with stakeholders, performing site surveys, reviewing project documentation, researching equipment and creating AV infrastructure/technical design drawings, it's necessary to compile all of that information into a package that can be used for the bidding process, and shows the design intent for the construction phase. Typically, the construction documents created by AV design consultants are specifications and drawings. The key word for this phase is communication. Effectively communicating the AV design intent, scope of work and performance requirements can be done only with properly written and detailed construction documents. Providing contractors with incomplete construction documents is a sure-fire way to cause major headaches for all project stakeholders. Creating a well written/drawn set of construction documents assures that bidding contractors will submit similar proposals that can easily be compared to each other during bid evaluation. The construction documents also become part of the contract between the client and the contractor, so it's important that they're created properly.
Specifications
Specifications can be thought of as a written document that defines the roles, responsibilities, scope of work, installation standards and performance requirements for the project's AV systems. The AV specifications are incorporated into the project manual, which includes specs for all aspects of the project (not just AV), as well as bidding information and contract terms and conditions. Generally speaking, audiovisual specifications typically appear in section 27 of the Construction Specifications Institute's (CSI) MasterFormat, which separates each aspect of a construction project into different specification sections. Within each section, construction specifications follow the CSI's three-part format, which separates the specification into general, product and execution requirements. Drilling down even further, the CSI created SectionFormat, which defines each paragraph header within the three parts of the spec. The goal is to provide bidding contractors with a standardized look to each section throughout the project manual.
Specifications can be written in many different ways, with most falling into the categories of descriptive, proprietary, performance and reference standard. Descriptive specifications detail the characteristics and requirements of a product without actually naming a specific make and model. This can be a time-consuming and wordy process and, in my opinion, leaves your spec a bit too open to interpretation. I prefer using more of the proprietary method, which lists specific acceptable makes and models. I go to the extent of depicting specific equipment in my design drawings, so I include that info in my specifications to make sure contractors are preparing proposals along the lines of my system design intent. Performance specifications describe the desired end result of an AV system, and the methods that will be used to test that desired performance. I incorporate aspects of this writing method into my specifications, while keeping in mind that excessive performance requirements will drive up the cost and length of the project. Reference standards specifications are similar in nature to performance specs, but they dictate that established reference standards will be used to define the specs. Citing ANSI standards would fall into this category.
Part 1 of a spec includes general information, with subsections including: administrative, references, system summary, milestones, submittals, site conditions, contractor qualifications and warranty. Part 2 of the spec focuses on the products, including acceptable manufacturers, equipment, materials and substitutions. I typically supplement this section with a detailed equipment list as an appendix. Part 3 of the spec includes execution details, like installation and performance requirements, systems verification, commissioning and closeout activities.
Specifications can be a daunting thing to write, since they're all-encompassing. They really cover all aspects of a project, from the bidding process through construction to the final project closeout. Spec writers walk the line of including enough details to give the bidding parties a proper overview of the project and cover the contractual obligations between the client and contractor, without bloating the document with too much information presented in a disorganized fashion. Relying on a qualified AV consultant for specification writing is essential to getting a concise yet thorough specification. There's certainly an art to writing a well-crafted spec.
In the higher ed world, often schools will establish a list of preferred/approved AV contractors through their procurement office. The school's purchasing staff negotiates rates, terms and conditions with preferred vendors. Signed agreements are on file with contracts active for a set amount of time, speeding along the procurement process from project to project. Contractor qualifications have already been vetted, insurance requirements handled and contracts signed. Bid specifications typically cover many of these topics, but since an institution's procurement office has already taken the time to handle this, then a project's AV specifications may take a bit of a different form when dealing with approved vendors. If the bid request is only being sent to pre-qualified preferred/approved vendors, then the AV consultant may not need to address vendor qualifications, administrative requirements, warranty or any other issues that have been pre-negotiated as part of the contractor's preferred vendor contracts. Specifications may take the form of a simpler "scope of work" document. Smaller projects may not warrant full-blown bid specifications. On those smaller projects, often the project's specifications are incorporated into the CAD drawings, in the form of detail drawings and notes.
Drawings
The second major component to the construction documents phase is the finalized AV CAD drawing package. Most of my CAD drawing process takes place in the design development phase of the project, which I discussed in last month's article. Once we're up to the construction documents phase, I finalize my AV system design drawings and issue the 100 percent set. This drawing package will be included with the bid documents to AV contractors. Making sure the drawings, specifications and equipment list all match will prevent confusion and questions from the contractors during the bidding process.
Document Review
If the architect and project engineers are also in their construction documents phase, then it's important for the AV consultant to review their finalized construction drawing package before it's marked as 100 percent, stamped and sent out to bid to general contractors (GCs). The AV infrastructure drawings created by the consultant are typically labeled as "for reference only," with electrical, structural and mechanical details being translated from those drawings to the stamped architectural/electrical drawings created by the architect or engineers. Take the time now to review those drawings and make sure that all the AV infrastructure requirements correctly appear on them. Once the architect issues the 100 percent drawing set and sends it out to bid with GCs, any changes will have to be an addendum or change order. This also applies to the project specifications compiled by the architect. Confirming that all the AV-related specification sections are included and worded correctly will prevent issues down the road.
Bidding
After the bidding package is compiled, the AV contractor bid is typically administered by the school's project manager and the facilities contracts department. Project funds originating from public vs. private sources will dictate if the bid is an open or selective bid. An open bid will be publically posted, with any vendor allowed to submit a proposal if it meets the specified qualification requirements. A selective bid is a request for proposal sent to only a select group of contractors, typically based on the school's preferred vendor list or past experience with the contractor. A school's AV design and support staff should be involved with recommending AV contractors for the RFP, to prevent a contractor from winning the bid that has had previous issues with AV installs on campus.
During the bidding process, a pre-bid meeting is helpful to get everyone on the same page. The client, architect and AV consultant will meet with all interested bidders to summarize the project, tour the site and answer any questions. When it comes time to evaluate the submitted proposals, refer back to the opinion of probable cost created in the schematic design phase and updated in the design development phase, to act as a benchmark for comparing pricing across multiple vendors. After the contract is awarded, we're on to the construction phase, which we'll discuss in next month's article.

Monday, April 25, 2016

AVNation Special: Huddle Spaces


In this AV Nation special, Tim Albright, Rob Carter from Crestron, and I discuss the design and technology that goes into huddle spaces.  We talk about hiding equipment, offering the features that users need, control of the AV equipment, and future huddle space trends.

AVNation EdTech podcast: Episode 42 (April 2016)

In this latest episode of the AV Nation EdTech podcast, we talk about Milestone purchasing Vaddio, short throw projectors, and my series of articles in Campus Technology about the phases of an AV installation project.  Greg Brown has left UCLA for the AV integration world, so we welcomed David Huckleberry from Purdue University.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Campus Technology: Drawing up the Details of Classroom AV Systems - Part 3


In April 2016 I wrote my third article for my recurring Campus Technology column titled AV Smarts.

Drawing up the Details of Classroom AV Systems - Part 3
by Mike Tomei, Tomei AV Consulting
This is the third article in a monthly series focusing on the design and construction process surrounding audiovisual systems in higher education classrooms. In the last installment, I described the administrative and schematic design phases for classroom audiovisual installation projects, as well as the resulting reports and documents. Once those schematic design deliverables have been approved by the client, the next step is the design development phase.
The design development phase of the project lays out mechanical, electrical, plumbing, structural and architectural details relating to the audiovisual systems. The technical AV system design drawings are also created at this time. The phase relies on the deliverables from the schematic design phase (the AV program report and opinion of probable cost) as the basis of subsequent design. This is why the schematic design phase, and more specifically the AV program report, are so important: Working off of a structured, thorough and approved program report/OPC is key for the design development phase deliverables and can really reduce the number of revisions made in the process.
Taking a bit of a step back, I will say that sometimes the schematic design phase may include some of the deliverables I'll describe as being part of the design development phase. The architect may put together a preliminary floor plan and wall elevation drawings as part of the schematic design phase, and may ask the AV designer to include AV equipment on those schematic drawings. Generally speaking, I prefer to lump all of the AV design drawings into the design development phase, but stay flexible on a project-by-project basis.
The design development phase mainly consists of meetings with the design team, resulting in the creation of the audiovisual system design CAD drawings. These drawings can be separated into two categories: drawings that are required for AV infrastructure design, and drawings that are needed for the technical AV system design. Drawings showing AV infrastructure requirements may include floor plans, reflected ceiling plans, wall elevations, sections, mounting/installation details, lighting zone plans, schedules and risers. Drawings needed for the AV system design may include single line flow diagrams for audio, video, control and data signals, as well as drawings showing viewing angles, speaker coverage and control system user interface layouts. Sound like a daunting number of drawings? Luckily not all of these drawings are needed for every project.
AV Infrastructure Drawings
The drawings for AV infrastructure design typically show electrical, structural, mechanical and architectural requirements. These include power outlets, network data/phone/cable TV jacks, floor/ceiling/wall/table box locations, junction boxes, HVAC requirements, AV equipment locations and AV equipment installation/mounting details. When creating AV infrastructure drawings, I typically prepare a "50 percent" drawing set (meaning, the basis of the design, open to changes) that acts as a first draft for review with the client/design team, a "90 percent" drawing set that shows all changes, then a "100 percent" drawing set with any final changes reflected. Any drawing revisions after the 100 percent set will be in the form of an addendum or change order. Larger projects that require more coordination may have 30 percent, 50 percent, 90 percent and 100 percent drawing sets issued. 
The AV infrastructure drawings are a key tool for the architect and engineers, who incorporate all of that info into the project's main drawing package. This is the set of stamped drawings that the architect will use in the general/electrical contractor bid package. It's important to note that the AV infrastructure drawings contain electrical and structural information that can potentially be dangerous or deadly if not specified properly. It's very important that the project architect and/or engineers approve all of these AV infrastructure specifications. I clearly mark my drawings as "for reference only" and make a point to say that they're not for construction, and are not stamped drawings.
At a minimum, the necessary AV infrastructure drawings are typically: floor plans, reflected ceiling plans, wall elevations, equipment details, schedules and risers. Put in the time to get these drawings correct and complete at this stage of the project, and you'll save yourself many headaches when the contractors are on site. Skimp on these drawings now, and you won't have electrical outlets and conduit where you need them to be. Then you're looking at costly and time-consuming change orders late in the project timeline. You really want to rely on an experienced AV designer/consultant to assemble this CAD drawing package.
The floor plan and reflected ceiling plan drawings should show locations of power outlets, data/phone/cable TV jacks, junction boxes and AV equipment locations. The wall elevation drawings should show all of those same items from a different perspective. The equipment detail drawings should show installation and structural mounting details for all of the AV-related equipment that the general contractor, electrical contractor or other trades will be installing. The included schedules should summarize all the required junction boxes, ceiling/wall/floor boxes and cables. Your riser diagrams will show the path and details of required conduit.
Technical AV System Drawings
The drawings for the technical design of the AV systems typically show signal flow, viewing angles, speaker coverage and control system user interfaces. When creating AV system design drawings, I typically prepare a 90 percent drawing set that allows for last minute changes from the client, then a 100 percent drawing set with any final changes reflected. Any drawing revisions after the 100 percent set will be in the form of an addendum or change order. These technical AV system drawings are often over the head of the client and the rest of the design team, so usually there are not as many revisions compared to the infrastructure drawings.
These AV system drawings will be used when issuing the AV contractor (integrator) bid package. Accurate AV system drawings, along with specifications/scope of work (to be discussed in a future article), will result in accurate and comparable bid responses from multiple AV contractors. Leaving loopholes and vagueness in this design drawing package may result in the AV system design not reflecting the original design intent, as it gets interpreted by the AV contractor's design and engineering staff. Many think of single line flow diagrams as basic drawings just showing the overall intent of the system, but I like to get very detailed on these drawings. Detailed AV system drawings at this point in the project will speed up the shop drawing submittal process (to be discussed in a future article) and will prevent your system from being redesigned by the AV contractor.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Campus Technology: Developing the Big Picture for Classroom AV Projects - Part 2


In March 2016 I wrote my second article for my recurring Campus Technology column titled AV Smarts.

Developing the Big Picture for Classroom AV Projects - Part 2
by Mike Tomei, Tomei AV Consulting
This is the second article in a monthly series focusing on the design and construction process surrounding audiovisual systems in higher education classrooms. In my February article, I outlined the various stakeholders that can be involved in classroom AV installation projects. I also described the differences between design-bid-build and design-build projects. Now we're ready to move on to the various phases of construction projects and how they relate to AV design and support. As we examine each phase, I'll describe the major milestones and deliverables that make up each phase.
Administrative Phase
It's much more exciting to jump right to the schematic design phase, but I feel like it's important to discuss the process at the very beginning of a construction project: the administrative phase. This phase can take many different forms, depending on the complexity of the project, so I'll present a big-picture view.
When a college or university department (the client) decides it would like to initiate a construction project, its first step is usually contacting the facilities planning department. A project manager from this department is typically assigned to the project, and begins guiding the client through the process. He or she will meet with the client to establish a general idea of the client's wants, needs, goals, timeline and budget. Sometimes this information is compiled to create a program report during this phase, but I'm going to focus on the program report later in the schematic design phase.
After the inevitable red tape has cleared and the project is approved, the project manager begins assembling the design team. The project manager sends out a request for proposal that architectural firms bid on. Those architectural firms then assemble their design team subcontractors to be a part of their bid proposal; these typically comprise engineering firms that focus on electrical, mechanical (HVAC) and plumbing, as well as a team of consultants, including an independent audiovisual design consultant. Including an AV consultant on the design team at this stage is often overlooked, but ideally that individual is a part of the project from this point on.
Before a contract is awarded to an architect, the project manager should engage the school's AV support department to evaluate the AV consultant's qualifications on each individual architect's proposal. Unfortunately, it's very rare that anyone within the institution's audiovisual support department is involved in this stage of the project. It would be great if the AV design folks were working on the project from day 1, but it usually doesn't happen until later (and sometimes way too late in the project).
After the architectural contract has been awarded, the project moves on to the schematic design phase.
Schematic Design Phase
Now that the design team has been assembled, the schematic design phase can begin. The purpose of this phase is to clearly define the project's goals, requirements and direction. A big-picture outline of the project needs to be developed before starting to focus on the nitty-gritty details. Needs analysis meetings with the client and end users begin to uncover the desired goals for the project. Typically, an architectural program report is written at this point, which defines the needs of the client, offers a preliminary opinion of probable cost estimate, and provides a narrative description of the spaces and infrastructure requirements, as well as basic facility plan CAD drawings and renderings. Once approved by the client, these documents act as the foundation for subsequent design and construction administration phases. Taking the time to properly execute the schematic design phase is the key to setting the stage for a successful project.
From the AV standpoint, hopefully the institution's AV support department is engaged in the schematic design phase, and hopefully an independent AV design consultant is part of the design team right at the start of the project. As many of us have experienced, unfortunately this isn't usually the case. Quite often, the client and architect get near the end of their schematic design phase, and even into their design development phase, before realizing that they've neglected the audiovisual component of the project. Speaking from a consultant's standpoint, I'm very glad to be part of the project from the architectural proposal stage, but very often I'm hired by the architect or directly by the client well after the project is up and running.
If the audiovisual system design begins after the client and architects are well into their design process, it's important for the AV design process to take a step back and start with a thorough schematic design phase. The architects and engineers may be up to their infrastructure design stage before the AV system design folks get involved in the project, but that's no excuse to rush through (or eliminate) the AV schematic design phase. The architects will be anxious to quickly integrate the AV system infrastructure requirements into their construction documents (CAD drawings and specifications) so they can put them out to bid to general contractors. As someone involved in the AV system design, you need to stress the fact that nothing gets specified until the AV schematic design phase takes its course.
The AV schematic design phase should always kick off with a review of all project documentation, followed by a complete needs analysis process. The AV design consultant reviews all documents (drawings, the architectural program report, etc.) that have already been prepared by the client or the architect/engineers. The AV consultant will then schedule meetings with the project leaders, the design team, clients and end users to discuss their AV-related needs and goals. The project's AV consultant should include the campus's AV and IT support staff in their needs analysis process, even though those individuals may not yet have a direct interest in the AV design for the project. The AV consultant then begins a review process to study existing AV design documentation, AV systems, standards and facilities to get a better understanding of the direction of AV design and support on campus. This is a commonly overlooked part of the design process, resulting in non-standard equipment being specified and installed. If the construction project is taking place in existing facilities, the AV consultant should perform a site survey to better understand the spaces involved.
After all of this information is gathered, the AV consultant can then write the AV program report. Unfortunately, this is another often-overlooked item, since many AV designers want to jump right into developing the small details of the design. Without a program report, the AV system design process isn't starting with a clearly defined and agreed upon foundation. As important as it is for the program report to define the overall direction that the AV system design will take, it also serves as a key cross-check to make sure all of the client's AV needs have been heard, documented and will be addressed. After the program report is approved by the client, it can be used later in the project to control scope creep — the uncontrolled expansion of a project's scope as the project progresses. When scope creep is left unchecked, project stakeholders may start adding to the AV system's scope until the project's overall size and direction become bloated and blurred. Projects will inevitably experience changes to their scope, but without a clearly written program report to refer to — and a properly defined change process — you're setting yourself up for a scope creep mess.
Typical components of the AV program report are: a project summary, list of project stakeholders, summary of the client's AV needs, descriptions of the AV-equipped spaces, narrative descriptions of the AV system's capabilities and equipment, and architectural/infrastructure considerations. The program report shouldn't dive too deep into specific equipment makes, models, cables, connectors, etc. It should rather take a big-picture approach to defining the project's AV systems. An exception to this will be if there are clearly defined equipment standards on campus that need to be incorporated into the AV design.
Attached to the program report is an opinion of probable cost (OPC) document created by the AV consultant. This is a preliminary AV system cost estimate that includes equipment/material costs as well as AV integrator labor costs. The cost for AV system-related infrastructure may also be included. These equipment and labor costs aren't sourced from an AV integrator at this point in the project. They're best-guess estimates determined by the AV consultant using past projects and industry experience. This document is used for project budgeting purposes, and I'm guessing that most clients will admit they immediately flip to the OPC when they receive the program report. As the project makes its way through the schematic and design development phases, this OPC will be revised numerous times. When the project is finally up to the bidding phase, the OPC will be used as a benchmark to review and compare AV integrator proposals.
After the program report and opinion of probable cost documents are approved by the client, the AV program report should be distributed to all project stakeholders, no matter how small their involvement may be with the AV system design and installation. The project now leaves the schematic design phase and the design development phase begins, which I'll discuss in next month's article.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

AVNation EdTech podcast: Episode 41 (March 2016)

In this latest episode of the AV Nation EdTech podcast, we talk about AV equipment connected to the network, essentials of the connected classroom, and the end of Crestron's QuickMedia line.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Campus Technology: The Who and What of Classroom AV Design - Part 1


In February 2016 I wrote an article for Campus Technology focusing on the design and construction process surrounding higher education classroom audiovisual systems.  This is the beginning of a new recurring monthly column titled AV Smarts that I'll be writing for Campus Technology, so make sure to check back each month.

The Who and What of Classroom AV Design - Part 1
by Mike Tomei, Tomei AV Consulting
There are plenty of resources out there informing readers about what projector they should buy or how to create huddle spaces — but when I was a higher ed tech manager, I was always looking for advice on successful project management. Particularly when there are architects and contractors involved with large projects, managing the design and installation of classroom AV systems can be a struggle.
This is the first article in a monthly series focusing on the design and construction process surrounding higher education classroom audiovisual systems. I will cover the different types of AV installation projects, the roles of all the stakeholders involved with classroom AV design and install, and the various phases of construction projects and how they pertain to AV, and I'll dive deeper into each phase to highlight the major deliverables. I make an attempt to adhere to established standards from InfoComm and the AIA (The American Institute of Architects), but over the years I've tailored my project management process to reflect real-life scenarios. If you've ever struggled with keeping a classroom AV system installation on schedule, getting the right design deliverables to the right stakeholders, or ultimately delivering the exact AV system that the project called for, then this series of articles will help you.
Project Stakeholders
Before we dive into the different types of AV construction projects, or the phases that make up those projects, we need to review all the possible stakeholders in a higher ed AV installation project. If a classroom AV installation project goes awry and there's a big scramble at the end of the project to get it back on course, it's probably because the correct individuals were not involved with the project in an early phase. Every institution and every construction project has a slightly different mix of project stakeholders, but this is a typical makeup of all the major players:
Owner Team:
Client.  In the case of higher education construction projects, the client is usually the department that's initiating the request for a classroom construction project. Typically, a point person from the department is in charge of coordinating the department's administrative involvement (budget, scheduling, etc.) in the project, but he or she isn't necessarily one of the individuals that will be using the new AV systems.
End users.  Faculty or staff members, and sometimes students, are included in this group of individuals who will be using the new AV systems after installation. This group rarely has any knowledge of (or interest in) any of the administrative aspects of the construction project.
AV support staff.  This group of stakeholders is made up of the individuals that will ultimately be responsible for the daily operation, repair and maintenance of the installed classroom audiovisual systems. They may be employed by the specific department requesting the AV installation, a centralized campuswide technology support department, or a combination of both. These staff members are also typically responsible for defining campuswide AV design and equipment standards.
IT staff.  Information technology employees are responsible for providing and maintaining the IT infrastructure required for classroom audiovisual systems, such as network data connections and telecom service. This group defines IT design and technology standards for the campus. 
Facilities staff.  These campus staff members are responsible for the structural and electrical work associated with the installation of audiovisual equipment. They typically handle the wall or ceiling mounting of projection screens, projector mounts, interactive whiteboards, speaker mounts and other AV equipment attached to the building structure. They are also responsible for the installation of power outlets, connection of power to electric screens, providing cable path and pulling low voltage cables for AV installations. Facilities staff may also handle HVAC requirements pertaining to AV equipment. The institution's interior designer may also be a part of this department. Depending on the size of the construction project and campus standards, other contracted trades may handle many of these duties. 
Construction planning staff.  Many institutions have a construction planning department that acts as the project manager for the owner side of construction projects. Some institutions hire a construction project manager to represent them, if they don't have anyone on staff with those skills. Other project managers come into play from the general contractor and AV integrator, but the client's project manager takes precedence and acts as the communication bridge between the institution's stakeholders and the contracted stakeholders. This individual is also responsible for the administrative aspects of the project, like establishing the project timeline and assembling the required bid documents for the contracted stakeholders.
Design Team:
Architect.  An architect is typically hired by the institution to provide design and construction administration services for larger construction projects. He or she assembles the project's design team, which can consist of electrical, structural and mechanical engineers, as well as consultants specializing in AV design, acoustics, lighting and networking. Depending on the type of construction project and the institution's project manager's level of responsibility, the architect has a degree of involvement in the management of the construction phase.
AV consultant.  An independent consultant that specializes in the design and construction project management of installed of audiovisual systems. An AV consultant can be subcontracted by an architect or hired directly by an institution. A truly independent AV consultant is vendor and manufacturer agnostic, making design decisions based solely on the client's best interests and needs.  
Contractors:
AV integrator.  This is a contractor that specializes in the design, installation, configuration and repair of audiovisual systems. The AV integrator may be contracted directly by the institution, or a subcontractor under the general contractor. Typically, the AV integrator roles that have some sort of client contact are: sales representative, design engineer, project manager and installation technicians. I'll talk more about each individual's role in subsequent articles.
Contracted trades.  A general contractor, electrical contractor and HVAC contractor are typically hired by institutions for larger construction projects, when the required work exceeds the capacity of the campus facilities department. They are responsible for providing the same structural, mechanical and electrical services as described in the "Facilities staff" section.   
Types of Construction Projects
Before we dive deeper into each phase of a construction project and discuss how each stakeholder is involved in those phases, we first need to talk about the different types of construction projects. Factors like project timeline, budget, funding source and the client's construction project management experience all come into play when looking at the different types of construction projects. There are always exceptions to the rule, but from the perspective of AV system installations, projects typically fall into these categories:
Design-bid-build.  Design-bid-build projects are typically larger projects that involve many of the different stakeholders that I discussed. Project budgets need to be large enough to pay for this involved process, and the project schedule needs to have enough time allotted to each step in this process. State schools often have to rely on this process with project budgets over a certain amount, because they have strict public-fund bid requirements. They can't have the same individual designing the bid documents, then also bidding on that same project to sell and install the equipment. From an AV standpoint, these projects typically involve an AV consultant taking a lead role in the design and installation management of the AV systems. The AV consultant works with the owner and design teams to prepare the initial infrastructure and technical system design documents (CAD drawings), as well as the bid documents needed to hire the AV integrator (scope of work or construction specifications). The AV integrator is hired through a bidding process and the construction phase begins. With direction from the AV consultant, the AV integrator finalizes documents (shop drawings), coordinates with other related trades, procures equipment and the final installation takes place. Wrapping up the entire process, the AV consultant and owner's representatives are involved in the commissioning of the AV systems. Throughout the course of this series of articles, I'll be using the design-bid-build process as my basis for discussion, since it's typically the process that many find hard to manage.
Design-build.  Another popular process in higher ed AV installation projects is the design-build model. From the AV standpoint, this process involves an AV integrator handling the design aspects of the project, as well as selling and installing the AV systems. This process is typically seen with projects that don't have very involved infrastructure or technical design requirements. Projects that have a very compressed timeline or value-engineered budgets also typically look to the design-build model. Some higher education institutions rely heavily on the design-build process because they have in-house AV support staffers who are comfortable creating their own design documents (CAD drawings, scope of work, etc.), augmenting the design services provided by the AV integrator. Projects that are funded with private money may not require a full bid, which is a good case for the design-build model.
Other models.  There are other project management models that come into play when looking at higher ed AV installation projects, but they're typically used for smaller projects. These are usually "homegrown"; projects that many refer to as "hang-and-bangs": small classroom installs that may involve a mix of owner-furnished equipment, for which the installation of equipment is either handled by the owner's tech and facilities staff or an AV integrator. Since these models can take many forms, and usually don't have well developed project management processes, I won't be focusing on them in this series.