Letting Go of Yesterday to Get Ready for the AV of Today
It was 1997 when AV entered my world through desktop videoconferencing. I was an ignorant twenty-nothing college student. On the invitation of a friend, I stumbled into an internship for desktop collaboration. I’ll save you the math, I’m 49 now. And in ’97, desktop collaboration technology was as immature as I was. How are people supposed to screen share over a 28.8 modem connection? This was the beginning of a long road that’s still unfurling today.
Things being what they were, I didn’t think of my internship as an AV specialty. I thought of it as telecom and networking. I was delighted with the microphone headset and the separate webcam — they didn’t come built-in yet. I practiced connecting to different types of computers across many kinds of connections. The herky-jerky screen-share seemed magical to me. I saw the possibilities that Citrix leveraged into standard help desk support.
When I parlayed my experience into a job supporting videoconferencing operations at Visa International, my ambitions were fulfilled past my wildest dreams. I supported VC operations for a number of institutions. I learned the skills of tracing cables and keeping documentation up to date — SPIDS and PRIs. It took a whole mindset to keep track of trouble tickets and a system of global connectivity. SLAs, change windows and wading through the phone trees of the network providers to get through to the right person to resolve a down circuit.
I was so proud to go work for a number of institutions as an operations engineer. I could fix any system across the world by talking to a local over the phone. As I become more and more skilled, I was able to get involved in more responsibility. As I got so skilled, the pain points changed from hardware and connection. The projects caused the most trouble in the operations. I took on more responsibility to help projects. I became educated about how projects work.
I got certified as a PMP and began to take on AV projects. I came to see that this was a whole different ball game. Operational work was getting too easy. I was ready to see if I could move officially into the role of project manager.
That was the hardest part of my career. I was really good at what I had done so far. I could troubleshoot in my sleep, but I couldn’t run a project like that yet. Projects were HARD. I couldn’t even convince a hiring manager to give me a chance with that job title. I had to re-package myself as a different kind of person to move into the new role of PM.
I’ve heard it said that the personal is universal. A lot has changed since I started my video conferencing — ahem, UC — career. That’s my personal story. The universal is that the world has gone through a collaboration revolution. Technology has increased its reach and the possibilities have expanded very far. We’ve left a lot behind with the lockdown, and a new normal is still emerging.
The ways and habits of business that AV integrators learned at the beginning are not what is going on now. Just as I outgrew my comfortable and secure knowledge of taking care of operations, the old faithful AV systems from before are getting outgrown and superseded by new demands from customers and new technologies. Repackaging the offerings and the pitch is not easy. Mindset shifts to see what the customer needs now is not easy.
One of the things I learned when transitioning to a new phase in my career is that I had to leave behind the habits that made me successful in the old role. I had to get my mind around a new set of priorities and look to the new key performance indicators. I had to dump and jettison the old ways and bend my mind around new expectations.
What is on the minds of those making purchasing and strategy decisions in this moment? Mobility, security and cloud hosting are expected in this current environment and cannot be ignored. The ease of administration from a remote location has to be part of any system that AV presents for sale.
The world is changing; it’s asking AV to level up. AV professionals have mastered the skills of what used to be. Just like the early days of my internship, the AV professionals became educated with the things immediately in use. There were easily identifiable outlines of basic skills and technologies to master.
That was yesterday. The shapes that were so easily categorized have become indistinct. What does this new environment require of business? There is a new world to occupy and conquer. Mergers, new customers and supply chain issues have changed the map. An inventory — both personal and business — is in order. I want to stock my toolkit for the job at hand, not the one from years ago.