CIOs Riding High On AV-IT Convergence

IT Convergence
Prashant Govindan, ,
Senior Director, India Operations, Engineering / R&D, Harman Professional Solutions

The Audio Visual (AV) and Information Technology (IT) convergence is already underway, thanks to the connected and scalable internet technology becoming more pervasive. CIOs/CTOs and professionals working in IT and AV industry need to better understand the impact of the convergence on their business, in order to plan effectively for the future. Prashant Govindan, Senior Director, Harman Professional Solutions, India Operations, Engineering-R&D discusses the current trends and challenges observed in this space.

CT: What are some of the current trends that you have observed which are happening or shaping up the sector?
Govindan: In the corporate AV sector, we are increasingly seeing most end customer organizations embracing convergence of audio-video-data on IP networks. As audio and video in corporate spaces increasingly gets digitized and with the maturity of IT networks both in terms of bandwidth and ability to handle time sensitive data, as well as being able to provide highest levels of security; we are seeing that corporate customers are open to the idea of AV and data residing on the same network.

CT: In light of the convergence of AV and IT, how do you think that has changed your sector or industry as a whole?
Govindan: Previously, customers’ IT departments would insist on physically separating enterprise data and AV data on their corporate networks. This has changed in the last decade with two things: the ability of enterprise switches and other hardware being able to support higher bandwidth, typically 10 Gb/s and above; and the ability to segregate, prioritize and manage AV traffic more intelligently through software. Another interesting development is that IT managers are supportive of allowing AV data on their networks and are increasingly enthusiastic of convergence than a few years ago. This I believe has happened as some of the early fears of security and manageability have been addressed, and we see many more IT personnel, CIOs and CTOs embracing AV-IT convergence.

CT: In your observation, what are some of the other industry-wide shifts in the last few years that have affected your company business decisions?
Govindan: The use-case of conferencing technology has seen a paradigm shift – from large corporate boardrooms and conference rooms to smaller, nimbler “huddle spaces”. This is also indicative of the way teams communicate and collaborate in the corporate space. I call this the democratization of the video conference room which has been brought about by web-conferencing apps like Skype and Google video. This has spilled over into the corporate domain as well with most video conferencing hardware codecs being replaced by software codecs running on regular computers.

What used to be the domain of the CXO club is now easily accessible by smaller teams quickly getting together in huddle spaces and calling their counterparts in other parts of the world, all this with the ease and convenience of a phone call. While the industry as a whole continues to offer “enterprise grade” conferencing solutions, the huddle space and the small meeting room concepts have opened up the market to a greater number of players than in the past. Consequently, we too as a company have come up with innovative solutions for these new meeting spaces. Another significant shift is witnessed in work culture especially amongst the GenY and millennials entering the workforce. These users need quick, workable and fun to use products that fit their ethos. The “gamification” of the workplace is also necessitating a need for “cool, fun gadgets” and technologies. The ability to pull up an app on your smartphone that connects with the enterprise conferencing solution or the ability to control the ambient environment through a smart device is changing the way enterprise AV products are used.

We at HARMAN continuously track these trends and work on building exciting, fun products. We introduced a new suite of products from AMX called “Ascendo” incorporating the best-in-class conferencing audio, video and control technologies coupled with the ease and convenience of a plug and play solution to address this very space. These products cater to the new and evolving themes in conferencing and presentation systems.

CT: What are some of the challenges you can foresee lying ahead of us?
Govindan: Some of the challenges, especially for emerging markets such as India remains the pace of adoption of AV technology. While we see that in the metros and the Tier-1 cities, corporates and multinationals have adopted new technologies and in many ways are at par with their counterparts in North America or Europe, there is a need to take AV to the “other India” which is the Tier-2 and 3 cities. As an industry, we are myopic on building products and solutions for the first world, while the next wave of growth will be from the emerging markets. Most technologists translate this into developing low cost, maybe slightly lower spec products for these markets, which may not always be the correct approach. The solution lies somewhere in between and has tremendous scope for innovation and creativity. For example, in the rural and semi-urban areas access to quality healthcare is still a problem. Patients have to travel hundreds of kilometers to consult specialists in cities for diagnosis and treatment. A solution that enables the patient to be examined remotely using high definition video conferencing cameras and for the doctor to access reports and patients’ history through a simple document camera interface would be incredible. Similarly, smart classrooms in remote locations would be a huge area for primary and secondary education. As an industry, if we recognize that this is economically viable to invest into these areas in collaboration with NGOs and local governments, this would open new doors both for business and would end up enriching communities. These are some of the challenges unique to India, which we can help solve through use of AV technology.

CT:How has the company benefitted from taking part in InfoComm India?
Govindan: Infocomm as the industry’s leading body for professionals has taken massive strides in making India one of their destinations for development. They have invested in a country office who have a team of very competent and capable individuals. This involvement is showing great results not only in empowering the community with trainings and certification; but also in educating the end-user community on the importance of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) and AV. The Infocomm India trade show is an important step in this development. The show has brought together buyers, influencers, policy makers, end-users, distributors, system integrators and manufacturers on a common platform. This forum has truly broken down barriers and has all the stakeholders talking to each other. This is the single most powerful achievement that Infocomm India can boast. As the world’s leading manufacturer of audio, lighting, control and video products and technologies, HARMAN professional has been one of the earliest supporters of InfoComm’ presence in India and for the trade show. We as HARMAN have benefitted immensely from the Infocomm show over the last couple of years. The show has given us an opportunity to engage and network with our community of system integration partners, consultants, architects, interior designers, & end-users and has provided a platform for us to highlight application-oriented solutions in the corporate, education, government, hospitality, retail and house of worship spaces.

CT: Going forward, what do you think would be the role of InfoComm India in the Industry/Sector?
Govindan:Infocomm as an industry body is uniquely positioned to create an ongoing dialogue between all stakeholders in the technology space. This includes influencers, system integrators and technology vendors and manufacturers. Real world problems can be addressed and solutions can be arrived at; especially for an emerging market like India though InfoComm’ intervention, as Infocomm presents a vendor neutral forum for Information & Communication technologies (ICT). This is a powerful and highly responsible position to be in and can present the industry-view. This can be undertaken by building a case for ICT, which can be as transformative as IT and ITES was for India a couple of decades back. The ICT sector, which includes AV as a subset, can be a huge employment generator by providing talent to adjacent geographies as well as for large-scale public ICT projects.

CT: What will the marketplace look like in 5 years’ time?
Govindan:I see a very exciting and vibrant time ahead. In my last couple of decades in the industry, I have seen technologies emerge in the AV world and I have seen through the lifecycle of some of these technologies. What has remained constant though are the nature of problems we are trying to solve. Be it connecting people or groups of people through audio and video conferencing, collaboration, or achieving efficiencies through smarter asset management or providing solutions for entertainment and leisure, the dimensions and the scale of the problems may have changed; but the problems essentially remain the same. Combined this with the commoditization of IT hardware, bandwidth and computing power; we now have opportunities to solve these problems more efficiently and improve ease, convenience and in the end, delight the user with simplicity and aesthetics. Also, emergence of powerful voice recognition technologies combined with artificial intelligence will make products more intuitive and simple to use. I think user interfaces will undergo a revolution with voice recognition – just as touch revolutionized how we access and control devices and technologies five years ago. IBM, Microsoft, Amazon and Google have all invested billions of dollars in perfecting these technologies and we will see a lot of that spill over into the IT-AV world as well. In the enterprise hardware space, I foresee audio and video products being IT appliances with significantly reduced form factors, most end-points being no larger than the palm of your hand; with audio, video, control and even power being transmitted over a single CAT-6 cable. In terms of system architectures, processing is moving from being centralized to decentralized; into the cloud. For manufacturers, I see the future in building products and technologies that use commodity hardware with the true differentiator being the intelligence built into it through software. Consequently, the hardware itself may not need significant expertise to be installed and may move into the IT integration domain with system integrators presenting the differentiation through software and intuitive user interface design.

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