In the modern business environment, technology can be your best friend or your worst enemy, depending on how you choose to approach the acquisition and integration of technology for your organisation. In my experience, there are companies that are more than willing to spend without a thought on a 20-seater boardroom table, high-end furniture complete with imported coffee machine. However, when it comes to choosing the right AV solution for their organisation, they settle for an option that may be the most affordable but which brings frustration upon all parties involved. On the opposite side of the spectrum, I have worked with progressive companies that are not afraid to invest in technology. One of the most important differentiating factors is that early and successful adaptors do their research, and budget accordingly.

If one looks at the factors that one considers before buying a family car, for example. An educated consumer will consider the needs of the family, the expected mileage and running and maintenance costs of the different options on the market. You would likely ask what the cost of consumables will be, ensure to invest in a service plan and have your vehicle serviced at a certified service centre to get the most out of the warrantee period. While generations of trial and error have created a strong drive towards responsible consumer behaviour in the automobile industry, the same cannot be said for the technology sector.

We regularly get bombarded with new products, latest upgrades, and next-best-thing promises.  Therefore, any business executive, procurement officer or IT manager that is tasked with specifying a fully fledged AV system for their company, has to do their homework first. Making the wrong choice is almost always expensive, not only because of the hardware and software costs, but also because of the loss of productivity, poor user uptake and the risk of falling behind your competitors.

As with any specialised field, research can only take you part of the way – as anybody who has Googled the possible causes of a headache can tell you. And unlike a doctor’s consultation, most AV companies are willing to supply a sales representative to conduct a site inspection for free.  AV technologists such as myself have a passion for assisting clients in finding the perfect solution for their individual needs.  Consulting an AV professional can be the make or break of your organisations’ journey into the world of smarter offices and improved business practices. When consulting with a professional AV Technologist, it is also important that you ask the right questions.

Here are some of the questions that I routinely ask clients seeking to update or invest in AV technology for the first time. Give some thought to how you would respond to your AV consultant before deciding on the best AV solution for your organisation.

1. WHAT EXISTING AV DO YOU CURRENTLY OWN AND HOW WOULD YOU CHANGE IT?

Are you looking to start from scratch or do an upgrade on your existing equipment? If you have a system in place, what do you like about it and what is not working for you? Perhaps the screen in the boardroom is too small, and figures on excel spreadsheets are not clearly visible. It may be that your clean, slick boardroom is marred by a nest of unsightly cables making wireless technology a better fit. Your projector could be outdated making connecting to newer PCs a problem? Ask your colleagues for input – especially those that use your AV enabled rooms or have to answer calls for support most frequently.

2. WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO ACCOMPLISH WITH THE AV SYSTEM?

Now we need to examine any mission critical requirements.  Are you trying to save valuable time and money by eliminating travel expenses from executives frequently flying in and out for meetings?  Perhaps a Virtual Meeting Room (VMR) video conferencing solution would benefit your organisation.  Do you provide online training and need to do live YouTube streaming of training sessions or maybe communicate with your supplier overseas regarding the manufacturing of new products? Perhaps all you need is a smart TV mounted on the wall with an HDMI cable plugged in for presentations.  Make these requirements clear to the system designer or installer and let them make some suggestions.

3. HOW MANY PEOPLE WILL BE USING THIS SYSTEM ON A DAILY/WEEKLY BASIS?

Establish whether only a group of individuals in management will be using the meeting room, if departmental meetings and breakaway groups will also have access, and whether there will be regular guests doing presentations.  This information assists the system designer to establish the necessary connectivity required to cater to diverse needs.  When larger groups of participants need to connect, you can expect more connectivity issues on different brands of laptops, all with different operating systems, screen resolutions and processing hardware.  Some of the workarounds that can be implemented include a permanent in-room PC with a shared drive to access all the company files required for presentations and provide a wireless keyboard and mouse, so nobody ever has to bring a laptop into the meeting.

4. HOW REGULARLY WILL THE SYSTEM BE USED?

Most popular AV products are built to last and usually have good warranties, but when it comes to things like projector lamps and screens, these are products that do wear out and deteriorate with continued usage. It is, therefore, imperative that you not only spec the right products for the right environments but that you regularly service the equipment or perhaps even take on a Service Level Agreement (SLA) with your installer to ensure you have a happy and healthy AV system at all times.

Instead of opting for a standard smart TV or DLP projector, that only offer you around 10,000 life-hours, rather pay a little bit extra for a professional commercial display or laser projector that will last up to 50,000 hours on average and will not require much maintenance. If the meeting room is a space that is always buzzing with activity, then opt for products that portray user-friendliness and reliability.

5. HOW URGENT IS THIS PROJECT?

Prices in the AV industry are constantly changing, with fluctuations in the rand adding to the complexity of pricing models. It is a good idea to shop around for pricing, seek professional opinions and educate yourself on technology before you buy. If you are just browsing, and currently AV is not at the top of your priority list, please be aware that the specific products you like could, in fact, be here today, and gone tomorrow.  It is not uncommon for products to get discontinued or replaced by alternative models, nor is it unusual for specific products to run out of stock very quickly at the supplier due to big projects or installations.  So take your time, but when you have the funding, and you are fully persuaded that the solution is what you are looking for, don’t delay sending a purchase order or ask your dealer to book the stock for you to avoid unnecessary delays.

6. WHAT ARE YOU WILLING TO SPEND AND HOW ARE YOU PLANNING ON PAYING FOR IT?

Start by making a list of all the no-compromise features required in your meeting space, then write another list for some nice-to-have extras you may want to add if the budget allows. You could even ask your AV dealer for multiple quotes – one on a bare minimum cost-effective solution, and one “shopping list” quote with some bonus gadgets for interest. It is essential to let the professionals educate you on the brands that fit your budget, so don’t be secretive about this matter and make it known to them what your spending limit is, as this helps them to narrow down which brands to go for in order to get you the best value for money.

Speak to your integrator about rental agreements that are available.  When you move the AV budget from your capital expenditure to your operational expenditure, some companies might benefit from the fact that they get to rent a fully kitted conference room for 36 months and have the option to either buy, remove or exchange the technology when it comes time to renew.