It is apparent that developments in both audio visual (AV) and information technology (IT) are leading to a 'convergence' of the two sectors. This is similar to what happened with other markets as open, connected and scalable IT became pervasive and has far reaching consequences; in telephony, where voice has been subsumed into data services and apps; in the world of machine to machine communications where supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) has become the all-encompassing Internet of Things (IoT).
The reality in each case is not a simple coming together, but a more complex re-alignment of fundamental elements which creates new opportunities. This significant transition means that both the IT and AV sectors need to better understand each other's domains as well as the consequences of technology advances in each sector, in order to plan for the future.
Open connectivity and the Internet is the major technical catalyst in this shift, but it is also enabling social changes and more fluidity or flexibility in the way people work which, while beneficial, bring new challenges. These are embodied by increased workplace mobility, access to masses of information, and the need to cut through the confusion to communicate and work together effectively.
The workplace is no longer a fixed desk to support paperwork or a personal computer. Mobile working, wirelessly connected to IT assets from inside a flexibly configured office, campus or site; or externally from while on the move or ad hoc static points at home, other workplace facilities or public locations, is rapidly becoming the norm. These IT assets are no longer tied to the device, or server in the back of the office, but accessible anywhere on anything via a centrally managed service from the cloud.
Alongside all of this comes many new opportunities, options and choices. Masses of variety of data arriving in real time from a multiplicity of sources and sensors. These could be from (and in some cases going to) the IoT, wearable and mobile devices, tags and trackers. This cacophonous mix of data needs to be accessed and interpreted, and every part of the connected value chain wants to pick, choose and switch their personal preferences for how to do that across a wealth of access communications channels, devices and screens.
The workforce has expanded. It is 'blended' with contractors, consultants, customers and partners from across the extended value chain all needing to have access to common resources. There is more information to share and faster timelines, but to productively and efficiently achieve goals requires coordination and collaboration, and this elusive element is a top priority for IT.
Further advances in the technology landscape highlight some ways that IT and AV are becoming more closely integrated to better meet the changing needs of the working environment.
Software defined world - convergence of data, separation of control
As more things and devices are connected, the challenges of applying management at scale grow significantly. To achieve this, there is a shift towards 'webscale IT' of the sort typically employed by companies such as Google or Facebook. Here, as the number of elements grows dramatically, new architectures for connectivity are being developed such as mesh networks where intelligence is pushed to the edge and abstraction such as software defined networking is introduced where data control, management and flow are separated in a contextually intelligent manner.
Faster networks can then be deployed without incurring the high costs typically associated with higher capacity services, while still ensuring control, security and resilience. This offers better allocation of precious networking capacity, through centralised management, and is increasingly important for the incorporation, management and delivery of network hungry applications such as video, especially to remote locations.
This model of using cloud based software to centrally configure and control a network of devices is also highly relevant in the AV world, where much technology would historically be discrete, proprietary and self-contained. Managing a dispersed collection of smart display devices bears many similarities to managing a group of networking devices. As this trend continues, expect those tasked with managing both to increasingly demand open interfaces and a 'single pane of glass' or web console, to manage all the networked resources.
"With so many elements to consider, both at a management and usage level, it seems obvious to exploit the intelligence of the technology to mask or remove some of the complexity," comments Mike Blackman, Managing Director at Integrated Systems Events. The company's flagship event is ISE, a yearly show that combines the latest integrated systems innovations with education and seminars over four days. Mike continues: "The data volumes and chatter from social media, embedded electronics and connected sensors are increasingly being exploited by artificial intelligence and machine learning being applied to glean previously undiscovered insights to automatically streamline business processes or provide earlier and evidence-based guidance to users."
Integrated Systems Europe 2017 will be the largest show to date. Taking place in Amsterdam in February, the show has grown to become the most-attended AV and system integration trade event in the world. Delegates this year can expect to find more intelligence embedded within devices, to automate the use of AV equipment.
"Demand for this will grow as a mobile and mixed capability workforce needs to be able to quickly get the most value from the facilities around them in the workplace," Mike continues. Good architectural design can help, along with easier to use controls, but with a workforce operating in a mix of locations it is not possible to know how everything operates. "Sensors can indicate when and how many people have entered a room, light levels and ambient settings can be adjusted automatically as facilities and the workspace 'self-organise' around the needs of those currently using them."
The simple everyday occurrences of connecting a presenter's device or configuring a video conference should be routinely automated, still leaving plenty of smart capacity to drive smarter use of facilities and interactive, collaborative presentations.
"As the controls, sensors and things in every workspace become intelligent and connected, the need for smarter integration between what was once IT and AV only connected by a VGA cable, soars," comments Mike.
Presentation and digital blurring
Much of the connectivity and management is traditionally a strength of the IT sector, where the AV industry can learn from the hard-fought IT battles around open standards, interoperability and federated integration. The translation of the insight and intelligence embedded in IT systems into something people can understand, digest and experience, is the traditional strength of AV where the digital world blurs with the physical world.
The AV sector continues to make even higher quality display technology even more affordable, which will make it more pervasive. 15 years ago, having a single 40inch 'high definition' plasma screens was the expensive state of the art. Now the crisp, higher definition 4K has become standard, with far larger displays and increasingly innovative displays such as curved LED walls. These visually compelling screens coupled with image facial recognition cameras and high fidelity audio can now be placed in any room or huddle space where workers might congregate and wish to share digital content in an expressive or interactive way.
Controlling this increasingly rich and potentially complex environment requires increasingly sophisticated applications, which have long been available on proprietary touch screens and now wireless tablet style devices. A current trend is to open up and virtualise the control software so that it can be delivered as a service to any device belonging to anyone wanting to use the facilities in a similar way to how much of IT capabilities have been visualised over the previous decade.
As well as the trend increasing the quality, availability and use of AV, new tools are blurring the line between reality and on screen visual content. Interaction, not only with controls, but also with the content being presented is also starting to exploit visual feeds using cameras, other sensors and sophisticated IT to understand movement. Uses include the auto control of video camera pointing and zoom for video conferences up to almost sci-fi manipulation of data through gesture control. This visual input from AV blends effectively with powerful IT to enhance the experience of facilities and improve the user experience for interacting with and sharing complex data.
Virtual Reality (VR) creates an immersive environment, available from affordable cardboard headsets wrapping over mobile phones to high end immersive headsets. The applications that take advantage of this place an increasingly load on the IT infrastructure, especially as unlike the video conferencing systems of old, these high capacity use cases are not confined to the board room, but are becoming available to anybody, with usage expected anywhere on the network. Delivering reliable visual applications and presentations has a huge impact on mainstream IT.
Augmented Reality (AR) takes a step further in blurring the lines between physical and digital worlds. The Pokemon Go game was a sudden boost to AR awareness, but there are commercial applications that could benefit from overlapping real world imagery and computer graphics, from architectural visualisation to supporting maintenance operations through animated explanation. The integration and manipulation of data required to build and operate these hybrid applications again builds on a closer alignment between the visual and information skill-sets of AV and IT.
As mobile phones became sophisticated computing devices connected to enterprise IT, AV has also evolved from standalone devices into a sophisticated networked ecosystem. Trends in AV and IT now require a converged infrastructure, building on qualities from both sectors. Anyone with responsibility for gaining effective use from IT now needs a greater understanding of AV and how it has become an integral part of the IT landscape. Integrated Systems Europe 2017 presents itself as a great opportunity for CIOs and Enterprise Managers to find out more on the impact and benefits of this convergence, as well as experiencing the latest in integrated solutions for the workplace.