Technology: Evolving trends in AV
Technology: Evolving trends in AV
The trials of 2020 have created a rapidly evolving AV market. With a career in AV spanning two decades, Crestron’s Stijn Ooms assesses the impact
Having worked in product development for AV automation and integration manufacturer Crestron for some 20 years, Stijn Ooms has witnessed some serious technology changes throughout his career. Add in disruptions to the typical business model introduced by coronavirus and the projected time to market for some equipment has overtaken other, seemingly at the time, more crucial technologies. It’s a good time to reassess the future of the meeting space and huddle room, and audiovisual technology is key to a smooth transition. Who better to steer us through the last decade of AV disruptions than a man who has been central to Crestron’s product management since the start of the new millennium.
How did you first become involved in this field and what is your role at Crestron?
My background is actually in electromechanical engineering, IT, networking and data communication. During my studies, I was given the opportunity to go out and gain experience from companies in the market. Through my personal life, I knew the distributor for Crestron in EMEA. I didn’t know exactly what Crestron did at that time but, when I walked into their house, there were these touchpanels and all the remotes on the living room table were replaced by one wireless touchscreen, so I was fascinated. They were getting lots of requests for full home automation, and so I was asked to study the Crestron products and see whether they were capable of handling full home automation in addition to just the AV gear. Bearing in mind this was around 1998, but pretty much everything was already in place for home automation. Yet, homes are one thing, building management for businesses is another, and so I started exploring these applications.
What were the main trends at that time?
At the end of the 1990s, Crestron added an Ethernet port to its control system, connecting the processors to the network. That was very innovative back then, and the beginning of a whole revolution. The PDA was on the upswing and, thanks to the Ethernet port, it was suddenly possible to control the space through a touchpanel or PDA that was connected to the network. At the same time, this solved the uncomfortable circumstances in which AV installers had to work. Instead of having to balance their computer next to the AV rack, the port allowed them to program comfortably from behind a desk. Other devices also received network ports, so design and control became much easier as they could be done over the existing network, instead of needing an extra wire between control processor and, for instance, projectors and sound servers.
Prior to the pandemic, what areas had Crestron highlighted for innovation?
Before Covid-19, the majority of the everyday conversations with customers revolved around the rise of Unified Collaboration (UC). We had already identified this trend as early as 2013. Microsoft had been our biggest user since the mid-2000s and all of their meeting rooms globally had Crestron systems. They needed a way to monitor all of these different meeting rooms, so together we co-developed a solution called RoomView. Later, they came knocking at our door again and said, “we have something called Microsoft Lync. It’s a really cool tool, but it falls apart when you bring it into a meeting room environment.” They wanted us to make an appliance that would work with Lync and could bring in all of the peripherals necessary to make a conference work. But, over time, we had seen this growing and moving from purely video conferencing to a collaboration tool like Teams is now, where you can work together on data and documents.
While we knew this shift was coming, before the pandemic 80% of rooms were not video enabled and we had estimated that it would probably takes 3–5 years to get all rooms up to date. Now, over the course of a few months, all of these rooms are going to have some sort of UC tool. Additionally, people have now got a taste for working at home, but physical contact will definitely still be needed, and so we’ll have a hybrid situation. I’ve had many conversations over the past few weeks with end users, and they’re all looking in that direction. Covid-19 has accelerated something that we thought was going to take 3–5 years into a very short period of time.
How has the pandemic altered the way UC is being conducted?
One of the biggest growing areas was in small team, close collaboration, which of course spurred the popularity of huddle rooms and huddle room technologies. That’s now unlikely to be a focus for most companies in the near future. One positive is that there will be fewer personal offices and more meeting rooms and these will likely be bigger rooms capable of implementing social distancing, instead of huddle spaces – at least for the next year or so until progress is made on a vaccine.
What is the biggest AV challenge the pandemic has introduced?
At many companies, the need for new technologies is greater than ever. The majority of shared office spaces are being reduced by half in regard to their capacity and policing of that reduced capacity has become very important to organisations and universities. The right technology, for instance occupancy detection combined with monitoring software, can help ensure that social distancing is being implemented and that companies are alerted when it is not. But, at the same time, the pandemic has accelerated a lot of processes that were already ongoing. The convergence between IT and AV for instance, and, related, the use of UC platforms like Microsoft Teams and Zoom. Not everyone is returning to the office, and for knowledge workers hybrid working remains the norm. AV installers have to be able to offer technology and solutions that answer both the need for social distancing and a touchless experience, and the need to turn any room into a meeting room, by enabling UC platforms.
What do you think will be the most crucial technology development to affect AV in the next decade?
Driven by the pandemic, remote operation and management could well be one of the main drivers, but there are many challenges ahead. AV-as-a-service was the industry buzzword last year, and now this service-type model is probably more applicable than ever. The ability to subscribe for a feature set only as and when it’s needed could pay massive dividends to cash-strapped companies. The biggest hurdle to achieving AV-as-a-service is third-party support. It’s all good if you can monitor and manage all Crestron devices, but there is much more in a building than just our products. Shortly, we’re going to release the option to monitor and manage third-party devices through the XiO Cloud tool. After that, we’re much closer to being able to truly deliver AV-as-a-service.
What do you think will cause the next big future shift in AV?
AV-as-a service will go from a capital expenditure to operations expenditure model, where the end user has a better idea of the total cost of ownership. One thing I also think will be quite disruptive is the move towards software. We see lots of technologies that were typically hardware-based now moving in a software direction; however, you still need the appliances to control them and this will increasingly shift to off-the-shelf hardware controlled by bespoke software. This is logical because AV responsibility is increasingly left in the hands of an IT engineer. If we’re honest, the AV industry is probably still 10 years behind IT in terms of the techniques for deployment, management, maintenance and scalability. Combine this with the cloud and new firmware and features sets can be easily scheduled for multiple rooms to upgrade overnight or out of business hours when you know they won’t be occupied. That is a massive advantage. This does mean, however, that there are going to be a lot of mainly smaller integrators that will need to re-educate themselves more on software and networking. But it is a shift they can’t afford to miss.
The workplace of the future must be highly flexible to support employees everywhere as nearly every office space will be modified to include room systems automation, collaboration and video conferencing technologies. The transition from physical offices to remote environments brought the value of the cloud into sharp focus. AV/IT managers pivoted quickly to keep pace – utilising cloud services and expanding licences to scale and meet staggering new demands. Whether the location is at home, satellite or an adjacent office, the benefits of the cloud extend to the AV/IT department, and thus to the AV industry.