We were recently contacted by a friend who is the Chief Technology Officer for a large hospital. He became involved with a major renovation project on his main campus. Having been involved with the Design/Bid/Build process many times before, he was caught off guard when his project team told him the AV in the huddle and meeting spaces would be provided by the IT staff. He was provided links in an email directing him to consumer electronics manufacturers’ websites and was assured that this would provide major savings. He asked for our opinion on the matter, as we have been friends for decades.
We explained that the audiovisual system requirements for a facility vary from project to project. We asked him to imagine the importance of reliable technology in a 911 emergency operations center compared to teleconferencing requirements for a single conference room. The requirements for each of these systems would be significantly different and yet very much the same. Each system would require an understanding of the client’s needs and objectives, a detailed design, and a competitive purchase process.
These audiovisual systems have, historically, been acquired for a building project by one of two means:
- Design/Build (DB): This is a more expedient, but more expensive method that may or may not provide the owner the best possible system. The DB process also tends to be a day one solution and does not consider what might be needed for day two.
- Design/Bid/Build (DBB): This is a more thorough and overall less expensive method, though there are often greater upfront design costs. The DBB process protects the owner by providing the best possible completed system, agnostic of the installing contractor’s sales margins. When we have had the opportunity to review DBB vs DB the total cost from Design/Bid/Build is less than the Design/Build cost.
We are now seeing a rise in the popularity of a third option for commercial projects: Do It Yourself (DIY). DIY in this instance extends to either the owner or the general contractor (often via the electrical contractor) with the assumption that AV systems are now as simple as plugging in some USB devices and turning it over to the facility IT team. There may be a small aspect of truth in this, but it is not the whole story.
Current trends in technology make it simple to provide small conference rooms and huddle spaces with reliable AV functionality using USB “plug and play” devices. Where there are only one or two rooms of 5 people or less that need to be serviced by a single IT person or even a part time staff member, this type of solution can work well. However, these systems do not scale well. When there are more than one or two rooms of this type, the amount of desktop support time significantly increases. Further, these solutions offer no advanced management capabilities for the service staff and very limited functionality.
These very simple systems are reliable when used as intended. And when we consider that the intended use is simply to make a laptop effectively “big” enough for a small room of people to be seen and heard, that is an excellent solution. Switching presenters, changing sources on the display, integrating with other soft or hard codecs – these are not a part of the intended use of these USB devices.
The architecture and construction industry has seen a trend of users or contractors optimistically assuming that these systems function beyond what they were designed for. This is, in no small part due to manufacturer advertising. Marketing efforts usually exceed or exaggerate what the product is designed for. The primary problem with these “prosumer” systems is there is no support in a meaningful way, which is why we do not see widespread roll out of these systems on an enterprise level. The “sweet spot” of these systems will always be in the small office scenario.
For advanced functionality, or even basic functionality at scale, a fully designed AV system will be the standard for years to come.
For smaller and less complex facility installations Design/Build can get the job done. But when robust planning, systems integration, acoustics, and lighting needs are required in a space or campus, Design/Bid/Build will always provide cheaper and higher quality results.
The answer, as we explained to our friend, is “it all depends” on the needs of the client, the system requirements, and the support staff available. Please reach out if you need help with your next AV/Technology system design. We can also help with acoustics or lighting design needs.