Who Has the Control?

featured-how-trendsA presenter. A presentation. Audio. Video. Lights. Control. This is the staple scenario for corporate, education, government and military applications in our industry. In the house of worship market, it looks identical. A pastor. A sermon. Audio. Video. Lights. But no control.

In any other market, giving the presenter a control solution — from a touch screen to an electronic whiteboard to wireless presentation slide control — is quite normal. But in churches, it’s the exception to the rule. I’ve seen it twice — that’s two times, total — in the hundreds of churches that I’ve visited. The reason is simple: There’s simply not a true need for this level of presenter control.

Why This Matters

Even in smaller churches, integrating the complex synchronization of A/V/L — especially for volunteer operators — can include myriad interfaces, control points and even control systems is mandatory. Yet the power and responsibility of managing the tech is completely removed from the presenter (pastor) because the style of communication doesn’t require control.

This is not an article about control systems, per se. Rather, I am illustrating the reality of a unique vertical market that seemingly has the same needs and solutions as other vertical markets is, in fact, in need of a unique approach. Control is one of the more important trends in this market and it’s up to more than the third party guys to come up with a solution.

Churches will continue to need a combination of unit-specific controls and system-wide controls because the variables of staff, volunteers, venue and event/service type will change dramatically from day to day. However, the underlying statement – and bigger point – is not in which controls are used, but in where the controls are located.

Reverse Engineering

The right solution makes itself apparent when the desired outcomes, goals and application requirements have been clearly discovered and defined. My favorite simple example to illustrate this point is question: “Which car should I purchase?”

The answer, of course, is “it depends.” The dependencies include payload, passengers, driving conditions, mileage and a host of others that help the question make sense. Similarly, identifying the physical and electronic control mechanisms is only understood when the operational control purpose has been identified.

The consistency of weekend services happening every weekend like clockwork is run askew by the determination of who, when and where the service control will reside. Often, this changes from week to week with different operators and even different teaching pastors. No two weeks are really ever the same in today’s churches.

When a consultant, systems integrator or manufacturer begins the conversation with the end in mind for the church, the important considerations will rise to the top. Without this necessary step, the church market will continue to be underserved and replacing ineffective systems far too frequently.

Remote – Really Remote – Control

As I’ve written about before, church isn’t the same as it was even 10 years ago. From mainline churches adding alternative service options for younger congregants to mega churches adding multiple campuses and venues across town and around the world, there has never been a greater demand for more technology, more integration, more sophistication and more control than right now. And, because even the largest and most well-funded churches don’t rely exclusively on paid staff, integrating volunteer-operated systems has become more complex than ever.

Manufacturers: Are you seeing this trend? Do you understand the importance and high value of standardization?

Systems Integrators: Can you see the long-term business opportunities for repeat business with the same client and the word-of-mouth advertising that comes from this kind of growth? Do you see how your ability to make something complex more simple for operation is at a premium?

In a slow-recovery economy (heck, in any economy!), this kind of work is not only in demand and profitable, it’s also consistent. I am baffled why there’s not a much, much bigger emphasis on creating marketing, sales and engineering teams focused on this massive (330,000+ churches in the U.S. alone) market.

Sadly, I continue to see contractors put together proposals that only include line-item equipment lists. No scope of work. No defined expectations. No training and operations consulting. No emergency weekend loaner programs. And with all due respect to the high-voltage electrical contractors out there (I’ll gladly let you handle the 3-phase, thank you very much), boardroom low-voltage systems don’t belong in churches. This is where “contractor” means very little and “systems integrator” means a heck of a lot.

Where are the Mobile Apps?

Whether it’s a church with two simultaneous services in two venues (sanctuary/auditorium/fellowship hall/gymnasium) or a multi-site/multi-campus church, there’s still likely one staff tech person (often the technical director) that needs to be able to see top-level systems’ status on a mobile device. And while an AMX or Crestron control system can help, I’d push even harder on the individual manufacturers to give highly specialized control through mobile apps. Simple control, sure, but robust troubleshooting for remote diagnostics is long-overdue for far too many critical-function devices.

Broadband and Wi-Fi are ubiquitous, so this means manufacturers have the ball squarely in their court. However, savvy systems integrators should be building out custom applications for their installations that provide both the end-user with diagnostic and secure operation control via a mobile app and the integrator with a remote diagnostic/preventative maintenance opportunity (and additional recurring revenue).

For an industry fresh off of a major show (InfoComm 2013), the newest technologies are by and large still missing out on this kind of thinking. The House of Worship market is waiting. It’s your move.

A former staff member at three mega churches and church technology consultant, Anthony Coppedge has developed a respected reputation as a leader in technical and communications circles within the church marketplace. Reach him at anthony@anthonycoppedge.com or on Twitter.