AV Budgeting: Reality Check

 (As appeared in AV Network)

Budgeting is not something anyone looks forward to doing. It typically means facing the reality of belt tightening by curbing spending habits or considering creative ways to stretch available funds. Neither of these options is pleasant as they often involve stress, tough decisions, and sacrifices.

However, budgeting for AV doesn’t have to be chaotic or stressful if you approach your needs with systematic and rock-solid strategy. Good decisions and wise spending habits can go a long way toward increasing the value of your investments while minimizing disappointments and difficulties.

Some people think it’s easier to make purchases of whatever you want or need when you have an “unlimited” budget. That’s not always the case. Often having unrestricted financial resources can be more challenging and produce a less satisfying outcome than working with a fairly tight budget. That’s because unlimited budgets can lead to impulse buying with less thought put into the need or problem that the purchase should address and how it fits into a bigger picture.

In the professional AV world, this type of spending frequently results in purchases of recently released, high-end, cutting-edge equipment with no proven track record. These decisions are often made with little to no consideration regarding the overall complexity of the system’s operation and programming, ability for the equipment to work together, and level of support or maintenance needed. It’s important for the purchaser to balance the urge of having the latest and greatest options with obtaining the system that satisfies their users requirements.

Sticking to a limited budget means compromising, innovating and analyzing potential purchases. In turn, this can lead to simplicity, efficiency, and better systems for the end users.

Although customization and personalization are key elements of what we do as AV service providers, it’s not necessary to reinvent the wheel from system-to-system or project-to-project. Taking the time to understand what is truly important to the user and usability of the space is essential for successfully delivering an effective system within budget.

As user needs are identified, it is important to establish standards for AV applications or systems by following these steps:

● Specify typical usage or system types. (e.g. presentation room, video conference room, huddle room, conference room, auditorium.)
● Define the specific requirements of each type of application or system. (e.g. technology capabilities like displaying multiple images simultaneously, making conference calls, recording, lighting requirements, size of the space, and how many people it can accommodate.)
● Create a mock up or wireframe of the user interface that defines the system operation from a usability standpoint.
● Identify a pool of approved or preferred equipment that meets the criteria for application, budget, functionality, and ease of integration.
● Create a typical design for each type of application or system taking into consideration all possible features which could be included in that system type (e.g. additional displays, more computer inputs, conferencing options, voice lift, recording, added cameras, lighting, shades.)
● Confirm the system design and equipment selection meet the needs, requirements, and operation of the system that has been identified. This is a critical step for a successful outcome
● Architect a control program that not only satisfies the system functionality requirements and user needs, but is forward thinking in providing field configurable and future growth options. This approach enables variable features in the program to be turned on or off during deployment, allowing system variations to be accommodated by one master control system program, which lowers the cost of implementation, scalability, and overall maintenance.

Following this process establishes standards for system operation, design, and equipment selection and makes it easier to address troubleshooting, management, and maintenance.

At the same time, it enhances the budgeting process by minimizing poor decisions and eliminating the need for re-design, re-engineering, and re-programming systems. Additionally, each system type can be approached as a replicable package that’s easy to install and commission.

AV standardization is a critical step for creating consistency of operation, maximizing usability, and increasing the efficiency of deployment and management of systems and applications. Although it seems like standardization should be the primary consideration because of the value it provides, it’s a direct result of working with budgets and doing more with less. So, stick to that budget. Great things will come of it.

Steve Greenblatt, CTS, is president and founder of Control Concepts, Inc., a leading provider of specialized software and services for the audiovisual industry, based in Fair Lawn, NJ.  Steve is currently a member of the InfoComm Leadership Search Committee and has served on the InfoComm Independent Programmers Council, Audiovisual Systems Energy Management Performance Task Force, and AV Systems Implementation Best Practices Task Force, and co-authored the white paper Modern Approaches to Control Systems Design.