Over the last few years, a revolution in teamwork and technical support has taken place in the installation portion of our industry. Once network ports began appearing on the equipment that we sold, remote administration, remote monitoring and remote support all became possible, but it really has taken a couple of years to convince clients that it should be done, and to educate both our clients and our personnel on both the techniques and software used, and the security issues that surround it. Then, it has taken time to think of creative and productive ways to use it, beyond the obvious “I can log into that piece of equipment and tell you why it’s broken” use. We have begun to use it (the network and network collaboration software) for sales calls, for ongoing project meetings, and to make our experts available in more places at more times, creating much greater staff flexibility especially with specialist technicians and designers.
Why did it take so long? Simple. Because our industry, for many years, tried to see videoconferencing as the answer to this. Being a major implementer of videoconferencing technology, I have often asked myself why we didn’t use it more within our industry, as I have always been a strong believer in drinking our own Kool-Aid. But videoconferencing, especially the kind that required large boxes with complex installation, just didn’t fit the bill for many parts of our industry — mostly because, for internal meetings, I really have no need to see my team members at the other end. Not only do I know what they look like, but if you knew my staff you would know that it would be a pleasant break not to look at some of them. (Kidding, guys… please continue to come to work despite my attempts at humor).
No, what I needed was to look at the project or problem at hand. And what came along to solve the issue were cloud-based solutions for collaboration and the VMR (or virtual meeting rooms).
Just as background, the two tools that we use most often over the last couple of years are our internal project management system, which is an incredible product from 37 Signals called Basecamp. I have talked about Basecamp in a couple of previous columns, so I won’t belabor it here, but it is the online system, cloud-based, in which we maintain all of our project files, schedules, notes and an online/offline thread about each project. One of the best parts about the system is that we can include clients in their projects, without allowing them access to anyone else’s projects, even though our staff can see them all. This is really useful in that it prevents time wasting calls and emails inquiring about progress on particular projects, as (if we choose to) they can see all of the daily notes from the technicians and managers assigned to their projects.
The other product that has come on fast in our organization, which we use both among ourselves and with clients, is Cisco’s WebEx. It allows us to hold convenient meetings between staff that’s at the office using a traditional videoconferencing room, staff that’s in the field on a laptop or tablet, and clients, wherever they happen to be. It allows us to take over each other’s computers for technical support or to provide hands-on assistance with specialized programming. And once we have clients using it, it saves us enormous amounts of time in attending their meetings in a VMR rather than in person.
(Please note that there are great alternatives, many of them, to these two systems. I comment on them only because they are the systems that we have been using the longest. The important thing about both of them, for what I am about to suggest, is that they are both cloud-based, use only a web browser, and are easily accessible from public networks.)
So that is what has happened among those of us who design and install systems. Over the last few years, remote collaboration has finally taken our industry by storm, which is finally justified the fact that we have been pushing on our clients for years now.
But stagers, well… we fly places. We get up early, we go to the airport, we drink too much coffee, we go straight to worksite, we wait for rooms to be available, we wait for crews, we wait for freight. Then we do a show, go to the airport and fly on to the next location.
Then we repeat the process. Because staging is not just a profession. It’s a way of life.
But in a world where qualified personnel become more and more expensive, and yet harder and harder to find, where travel is no longer considered a perk, and where clients’ attitudes about travel are changing, it only makes sense that the rental and staging portion of our industry will find it a financial necessity to begin using these technologies more readily than we have in the past.
Think about it, because next month we are going to examine a show and how the use of remote technology can change it. Because with the application of a little ingenuity, you can decrease your travel cost, and yet increase your billing for the things that you do off-site already but don’t normally get to bill for. I’m going to explore for ideas of my own, and a couple that have already been contributed by the stagers that I talked to about this article. So stay tuned.