End users in the AV industry are a unique group that should not be ignored, and last week’s End User Day of LAVNCH WEEK was specifically created for them and only them. The final session of LAVNCH WEEK End User Day — and of LAVNCH WEEK overall! — was our panel discussion. The panel, “Insider Tech Tips From Industry Experts,” was moderated by Joe Way, Ph.D., and it included a fantastic group of AV industry pros and just excellent people.
Despite the promised title, I actually found this panel to be more like therapy combined with education combined with a virtual happy hour but without the beers. Anyway — the conversation flowed so naturally, and there were so many great nuggets of information that came out of it (successful in part, I think, because of Joe Way finding an expert from every vertical). I left feeling smarter and uplifted and more empowered — which speaks to how wonderful and powerful this panel was.
But enough about me. Here’s who our panelists were, along with the highlights of their discussion.
JOE WAY, PH.D.
Director of Learning Environments, Information Technology Services, University of Southern California
As mentioned, Joe Way, Ph.D., was our moderator. He’s also the director of learning environments in IT services at USC (the one in California). Aside from being a fantastic moderator, Joe brought great energy and insights as the conversation flowed. Joe gave us a lot of standout quotes throughout the day, but one of my favorites (in response to BC Hatchett’s intro): “What does the future look like? We’re lucky to know what the next five minutes looks like.”
Associate Director of AV Design & Support, Vanderbilt University
Another higher-ed specialist, BC Hatchett is the associate director for AV design and support at Vanderbilt, which, alone, has more than 500 learning spaces. Hatchett said, much like other higher-ed verticals, they’re currently online and have been since mid-March — actually wrapping up exams as of last week.
On higher education:
BC Hatchett deals with the student experience. He adds that we’re playing in uncharted waters — not just students, but faculty too. When students go to an onsite college, they’re often looking for a certain experience — interaction with peers, the fun of sporting events, being able to face-time with faculty. So when you pull the rug out from under that, all in three days, it takes a lot of pivoting. (By the way, Hatchett had all of three days to get his university set up and operational online.) The tools that were optional before quickly became essential. Right now, Hatchett shares, their students are still learning online using Zoom and other teaching tools, but that in-class feel and look — and what usually comes with the in-classroom experience, like faculty being able to read the room — isn’t possible. We should be mindful that students come from many backgrounds, and we shouldn’t assume everyone feels comfortable using tools like video in the confines of their homes. Hatchett predicts we aren’t in a position right now to know what we’re dealing with this fall. We’ll just have to draw plans, throw them away, then redraw them again.
Group Leader, MITRE Corporation
Nyere Hollingsworth is a group leader at MITRE Corporation, responsible for (put simply for the sake of this intro) ensuring people in the corporate space can see and hear each other through technology and have all the right tools to do it. One of the things that’s changed a lot lately, Hollingsworth said, is the speed of execution — a lot of his projects and deployments went from a three-year outlook to a three-week project.
On technology for corporate:
A lot that Hollingsworth has been wishing for the last decade, technology-wise, is finally coming to light. Other organizations are in the same boat. The things that were once nice-to-haves are now must-haves. Hollingsworth adds, “Now is our time to shine.” AV and IT are the ones putting in the extra hours to drive the train and make sure it’s all running correctly, so when Monday morning rolls around, it’s business as usual. Hollingsworth points out the need to be more platform-agnostic and platform-diverse, meeting people where they are in their technical capabilities.
MEG SCIARINI SMITH
AV Systems Engineer at “A Silicon Valley Tech Company”
As an AV systems engineer, Meg Sciarini Smith bounces around to a few different areas within the company but has a heavy focus on events with experiential design, and designing AV systems for the experience of the audience. Smith said it’s been fascinating taking that experience into the virtual space. She adds that it’s an exciting time because this is something unknown, and we in AV really get to define what that experience should be. It’s a lot of creativity and a lot of problem-solving.
On experiential & events:
Meg Sciarini Smith pointed out that there’s an interesting human element to all of this — especially, as we’ve seen, how relaxed working from home can be. Videoconferencing gives us a peek into people’s homes lives, and these conditions have made us realize we’re all human as our jobs and personal lives intersect. The positive side, Smith has seen, is that a lot of people are exercising patience and humanity. On the experiential side of things, yes, we have to look at the current subpar experience in terms of how we interface with tech, because we have not had a real chance to flush out what the ideal experience should be. There’s the opportunity for a lot of experimentation here: What do we want “an experience” to be? Smith said that, in XR (extended reality), people often say it’s a “solution looking for a problem” — she thinks we just found the problem. Now, how do we take things like XR out of people’s individual experience (by nature, you’re isolating yourself in an experience like VR) and bring a community element and human nature to it? Could we marry those two? It’ll take a problem-solver to figure that out, she argues.
Courtroom Technology & Network Security Administrator, U.S. Federal Courts
Based out of Charlotte, North Carolina, Dean Wentworth manages technology within the U.S. district courts. A big task for him lately has been figuring out how to handle trials and court proceedings in the middle of a pandemic, and also trying to define what the technology in courts looks like in a post-coronavirus world.
On technology for government:
Related to courtroom proceedings and the prospect of virtual trials, courts have had a tough transition since COVID-19. Wentworth says he doesn’t think we’re really going to understand future implications until some of this has settled down and we can get back to reality. Wentworth thinks our new norm will actually come after all this — right now, it’s a game of what is/isn’t and what should be/could be. In courts, it’s definitely a state of “everything’s on fire,” with big learning curves and the added complexity of dealing with government mandates like the American Cares Act. There are some serious questions still — largely related to consent. Also, juries — how do you do those correctly in a virtual space? Currently, many jury trials are on pause ’til June. Judges are rotating between when they handle court cases on-site, so staff are stretched out. Technologists are a critical piece of keeping companies together. “All eyes are on us as technology professionals that deliver these solutions. It’s game on,” Wentworth concludes.
DR. S. ANN EARON
President, Telemanagement Resources Int’l Inc.
In addition to serving as the president of a 38-year-old management consulting practice, Dr. S. Ann Earon is the founding chairperson of the IMCCA (Interactive Multimedia & Collaborative Communications Alliance). She works with a variety of end users and vendors.
On collaboration within collaboration:
Dr. Earon asks that we, as an industry, step back and look at it from the standpoint of our users; don’t assume they all know how to use technology well. We also have to set expectations — Earon argues we don’t have to do every meeting with video; it’s exhausting, and it’s not always necessary. Ask, Is video always the answer? Are there other ways I can work? We should assume people AREN’T always comfortable with these technologies, that they need a little practice and guidance. Smith strongly agreed with Dr. Earon, adding, “Just because we have it doesn’t mean it’s making more effective communication or more effective interaction between human beings.” We in technology need to understand what’s going to be effective and serve the most purpose. Lastly, Dr. Earon points out, collaboration systems need to stop their bickering and work together better, like, now.
Co-founder and Product Owner of Intel Unite
Brian Cockrell is the Intel Unite solution’s product owner and cofounder. Prior to March, Cockrell shared, he was quite often traveling around and visiting with customers and partners to grow the platform. That traveling is now video collaboration, now that priorities have changed. Cockrell shared that one of the biggest changes in work-life culture is that customers need solutions now. Not in a month or even a week. It’s been busy for his development team, he said.
On collaboration and ProAV:
Brian Cockrell sees a new hubrid future related to how we work — this could mean three months until a return to the office, or it could mean 18 months. People will come back to work on different, phased timelines. People who return to offices may really want to be in those collaboration spaces again — but the new rules on occupancy after COVID-19 will matter. As an industry, Cockrell adds, we can help people return to work safely, and we can do it with the technologies we have. For instance, that could look like a display showing occupancy limits in rooms, using webcams to count attendees and reminding people of occupancy limits through automated alerts. The point is: with the tech in our hands today, how do we use our technology to get people back to work but feeling safe? How do we ensure there’s interoperability and that our end users are comfortable with audio and video or XR or AR or what have you?
Technical Director, Saddleback Church
Saddleback Church in Southern California has 18 locations (four international) — Greg Baker builds and maintains the AVL systems for all of them. For the house of worship (HoW) market, Baker shares, a lot of facilities were fairly well prepared in certain regards (e.g., they already had online services at Saddleback) — but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s been a strange environment for churchgoers, as well as the pastors who are used to talking to live audiences. Baker’s optimistic that the HoW market is benefitting, as organizations will see the need for more sophisticated two-way communication to promote fellowship online.
On houses of worship:
From the perspective of the house-of-worship market, Baker shares, the church was always more about people than it was buildings — people want connection; how do you get that social distancing? There will have to be a new strategy on crowds in churches, and people will be looking to AV/IT for ways to connect and build community creatively. For now, digital platforms like Zoom have made two-way communication possible, in addition to the livestreaming they were already doing (sans an audience). Houses of worship are getting some interaction through chat rooms and comment streams on live video. Baker shares that their church has actually even started to use more traditional means of communications — direct mail, personal letters, etc. — to rebuild that connection.
Director of Market Strategy, Production Resource Group
As the director of market strategy for PRG (Production Resource Group), Mark Consiglio sits on the sports and entertainment side of things. Consiglio adds his perspective from this view of the market — things have been so crazy with sports, as one of the first things to get canceled when the pandemic started. It’s been difficult trying to figure out how to pivot with the changes, Consiglio shared. One of the things that PRG did was temporarily shift its focus to building face shields and masks within its production facilities; they’ve also started enhancing their streaming and live-stream-at-home kits.
On sports & entertainment:
Arguably, there hasn’t been a vertical impacted, economically, as much as live events and sports. Consiglio says that it’s ever-changing — there’s really no way to forecast live events and sports, in a sense of trying to figure out what date or time we’ll be able to welcome players and fans back. He predicts that there will be condensed seasons and post-seasons. One thing’s for sure: We won’t be going back to packed stadiums anytime soon. Consiglio added that the short-term idea is to shift everything over to a streaming format of sorts, perhaps using mixed-reality or augmented-reality technologies that could fill in some of the gaps before live broadcasts come back. The challenges to overcome by doing sports this way: 1. Players don’t have the energy of fans to play off of. 2. Fans aren’t getting the same engagement at home as compared to being there live. Consiglio shared that, to fill in the gaps, players and leagues like the MLB, NFL, NHL and NASCAR have done a great job giving us entertainment and engaging fans while at home. Sports will soon be ready to entertain us again; but will people be ready to enter stadiums and arenas anytime soon? Likely not — therefore, new technology must be embraced in sports going forward.