However, these changes also bring security risks - just who and what have you got connected to the network? If it was simply a matter of traditional IT products and regular employees, that would be complicated enough, but now all manner of smart devices and itinerant visitors are connected.
In a concerted industry effort to tackle these types of issues head on, cyber security is for the first time going to form part of conference discussions at the forthcoming Audio Visual (AV) event, Integrated Systems Europe (ISE) in Amsterdam in February. The industry's two main associations, CEDIA and InfoComm have assembled an array of experts to discuss cyber security and the associated risks over a morning conference on Friday 10th February.
This initiative is to be welcomed as the security aspects of IT rise to the fore as technology is not only pervasive in working environments, but also an integral element of our home lives as consumers. Widespread use can breed complacency, so organisations need to ensure they have the tools, systems and processes in place so that technology can be used safely and securely in the workplace.
In many organisations cloud based services are simple to buy to extend a project without bothering IT and employees are used to bringing or wearing their own devices. This trend towards 'shadow IT' and BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) has few technical boundaries. So, when a meeting room screen needs to be connected or a video feed is required it is equally straightforward to buy a consumer AV devices or services.
This 'BYOAV' (Bring Your Own AV) might seem innocuous, but AV technology, consumer and enterprise, has followed the same trends as many other technologies. Cost reduced (so easily affordable), network ready, often wirelessly (so always accessible), and open (so should be interoperable). But it also introduces, often invisible, security issues.
What is worse is that AV equipment is frequently placed in locations where presenting and sharing involves third parties, either as recipients or co-presenters. Guest access to Wi-Fi networks is expected too and should be secured or at least managed in some way, but connections to AV equipment are more lax. Older systems may still rely on VGA connectors and cables, but sophisticated AV installations and the low-cost consumer options are increasingly wireless. Even if they include security, the chances are very high that it will be different to devices from other manufacturers in other rooms and different to what is in place elsewhere in enterprise IT.
Some control and consistency will need to be imposed, but historically, AV installations have been part of office management and facilities, often with little involvement from IT. The sophistication of current AV equipment, its potential impact both on fixed and wireless networks and the implications for security means that AV now needs to be incorporated and integrated into the IT management function.
AV also needs to be considered as part of overall enterprise security. Decades ago, some companies worried about the ability for snoopers to be able to pick up the signals from monitors from a car parked outside of offices. Today badly protected wireless devices and networks pose a risk, but so too do big bright screens that can be photographed surreptitiously by mobile devices.
Snooping by visual means or via an unprotected wireless network both constitute security risks when using AV, as does the way that users - employees and third parties - authenticate to use or access AV systems. Dial-in codes, logins and guest access should all be treated in the same rigorous way as any other IT security. As it becomes increasingly simple to seamlessly share content electronically, so it has to be managed.
This has to be done through a combination of polices and processes as well as tools, but the first step is to understand the scale of the problem. To do this requires co-operation and integration between those involved in AV and IT. It starts with better understanding of the current capabilities of products available and the direction of innovation.
The AV industry has undergone much recent innovation, and with large display technology becoming much more affordable, screens are popping up everywhere - ad hoc meeting spaces, huddle rooms as well as more formal conference rooms. Companies from Google and Intel to Barco, Sony and AMX are making these accessible and attempting to apply security and control through their own systems.
Each are all very well in isolation, but in mixed environments and with so many other elements to consider, IT security needs to consolidate across diverse technologies in as seamless a way as possible. If measures keeping AV systems secure become too complicated or restrictive, users will simply bypass them.
Hence in addition to AV/IT integration, IT security managers need to extend training and best employee practices for security to include the now essential visual and audible digital components of the enterprise. Unwanted data leakage is not just what is sent over the network, but may also be what is seen and heard.
AV security now needs to be taken seriously within IT. Given the current focus on collaboration and collaborative tools, IT managers would benefit from engaging with AV professionals major trade shows, such as ISE and perhaps take time to look in on the conference on cybersecurity.