In part 2 of the Exertis Almo Tech Tips with LG video, Tom Kehr, Systems Designer & Trainer at Exertis Almo, and Dan Baker, Technical Business Development Manager at LG discuss savvy solutions for conference rooms, education, and work spaces.
43″ 3840 x 2160 One Quick Series LED Backlit LCD Large Format Monitors
LG’s 43HT3WJ-B is the all-in-one display for simple and quick video calls. With LG One:Quick Flex’s 43-inch all-in-one display complete with built-in camera, microphones and speakers, there’s no need to stress over online meetings and calls and no more inconvenience of connecting to and setting up video conferencing. Simplicity meets effective collaboration with touch and drawing. Equipped with In-Cell touch technology, the One:Quick Flex turns ideas into reality. With a dedicated touch pen, taking notes and drawing is easy. Work can be saved as files, and easily shared via mobile phone. On the move? This monitor is easy to transport with a movable stand. The One:Quick Flex can be used anywhere indoors where it can be moved by wheels.
In Part 1 of Exertis Almo Tech Tips with LG video, Tom Kehr, Systems Designer & Trainer at Exertis Almo, and Dan Baker, Technical Business Development Manager at LG discuss how to achieve less hassles with all-in-one video conferencing solutions.
Less hassles with all-in-one video conferencing solutions from LG.
55″ 3840 x 2160 One Quick Series LED Backlit LCD Large Format Monitors
Video conferencing setup doesn’t need to be stressful. This all-in-one solution features a built-in Windows PC, crisp 4K UHD camera, microphone, speaker and a digital whiteboard. Experience clear video and sound qualities in your meetings.
An interview with Sam Taylor, Senior Vice President and COO, Almo Professional A/V
With 2020 in the rearview mirror, we are settling in and setting our sites on new goals in 2021. And yes, while 2021 is already starting with its share of challenges, there is a bright glimmer of expectation for the future, especially in Pro AV!
With recent AVIXA reports showing 7-8 percent growth this year, the Pro AV market continues to march ahead. In fact, according to AXIXA’s 2020 Industry Outlook and Trends Analysis, North American Pro AV revenue is expected to grow to $78.5 billion in 2021, up from $74.3 billion in 2020.
There are other glimmers available to small businesses in our industry. The latest COVID-19 Relief Package signed into law on Dec. 27, 2020 provides a second round of assistance to companies in need. See the see the full article from NSCA for complete details.
Many lessons were learned in 2020. Like most companies, the Almo Pro A/V crew was also challenged with cancelled events, the work-from-home learning curve, and moving quickly to offer new ways to keep reseller and integrator partners learning, working and relevant.
We sat down with Sam Taylor, Vice President and COO for Almo Pro A/V to get his perspective on the highs and lows of 2020 and what to expect from Almo in 2021. Here’s what he had to say:
Q: What was the single greatest challenge for Almo in 2020?
Sam: The most difficult part was the inability to begin or complete installations due to facility closures. We’ve experienced a “W-shaped” business cycle with projects at a hard stop in the spring, only to come roaring back in the summer, then closing down again in the late fall with re-opening starting to happen again now.
Q: How has Almo responded to this challenge?
Sam: Two primary ways, by keeping our partners educated on new trends and opportunities in the industry and providing them with relevant products/services/support they need to keep their business moving forward – either with existing opportunities or with new ones. While many markets like hospitality and onsite events were paused, others like distance learning for education and working from home for corporate businesses had urgent new AV needs.
Q: How is Almo keeping partners educated?
Sam: For the first time in 11 years, and after announcing and preparing for our regional E4 Experience education and networking program to travel to Washington, D.C. and CA last spring, we cancelled our live events and introduced a new virtual platform called E4 Evolution (E4v). E4v was met with such success that it has become a permanent part of the E4 program. With fully curated live and interactive AVIXA-certified sessions led by all-star educators on relevant topics to help attendees thrive, E4v has become the next evolution in live education experiences.
We are soon announcing the next E4v, which will take place in March! Stay tuned for details!
Q: What other measures has Almo taken to support integrators since COVID changed our world?
Sam: We are constantly evaluating and changing direction based on the industry and the needs of our partners. We now offer PPE, disinfectant fogging kits, hand sanitizing kiosks and other point-of-entry products. We supply work-from-home bundles and lecture-capture devices for educators and business professionals. We’ve even entered an exclusive relationship with ARHT Media to offer holographic telepresence technology, which is the next best thing to being live!
At the same time, we’ve expanded our managed services offering, particularly for labor and installation to include drafting and engineering options. So many spaces have to be reworked to accommodate COVID restrictions, like restaurant build-outs and restructured office and educational facilities and most of these changes must be made quickly. Almo provides these services so integrators can use them without having to worry about hiring the experts or managing the overhead. We are ready for you now.
Q: How have you handled shipping and manufacturing delays due to COVID?
Sam: The most common delays we have seen are with cameras and USB audio products due to high demand, particularly for education. We offer multiple manufacturing lines so that if one is delayed, there is usually another to access. We help our partners lock down on product allocations early and build flexible options into their P.O.’s to provide the best possible outcome. Offering managed services to help get those products installed quickly and effectively has also helped our partners complete their projects.
Q: Looking on the bright side, what are some of the positives that emerged as a result of all the challenges in 2020?
Sam: It’s been interesting to see how some of the changes we’ve been forced to make have actually been beneficial. We have the technology to make working from home a professional, productive experience. Our E4v has enabled partners to participate in more educational sessions worth AVIXA CTS renewal units from the comfort and safety of their remote workspace. New projects and new ways of conducting business have created exciting new opportunities for our industry that we have been able to immediately embrace.
What are you looking forward to the most in 2021?
Sam: I cannot wait until I am seeing our customers and our vendor partners in person, and getting back to the business of being together as an industry face to face for business and pleasure. While some things may permanently change, many will stay in a “hybrid” mode for some. As COVID vaccines and treatments become more widely available, public spaces will continue to open, making way for existing projects to continue and new projects to begin. The future is bright!
DO YOU HAVE ANY QUESTIONS FOR SAM? IF SO, TYPE THEM IN THE COMMENTS SECTION BELOW!
2021 is here, which means we have had a chance to say goodbye to what was a challenging 2020 officially. We are all hopeful that 2021 will be a year filled with opportunity. But it will not come without some uncertainty, and that will hold true for the AV industry as a whole. As an integrator, this does not mean you can’t plan to scale your business. Yet, prediction and preparation are not mutually exclusive!
There is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has affected your business in some way, shape, or form. For some, the impact may not have been as severe, but for others, tough decisions were made to keep businesses alive. Those decisions were likely in the form of reducing headcount, most often from the outsourced technicians.
Now that we have rolled into 2021 with some optimism and renewed energy. It’s time to start moving into growth mode. One of the fastest ways is by augmenting your staff through outsourcing and reduce risk. This is the simple practice of augmenting your labor force to help assist your skilled W2 technicians/project leads out in the field.
This form of outsourcing has become very popular in recent years. The need to augment technicians through an outsourcing program was accelerated due to the pandemic’s impact. With technician augmentation capability, you no longer have to pass on jobs due to lack of employees, keeping your calendar full for 2021.
Now is not the time to lose control!
You have spent a considerable amount of time and effort building your business, so it is understandable that the reputation you have made through your relationships and proof of performance means everything.
They are possibly the biggest reasons for your success. By using technician augmentation it could be perfect for your business as you wade through uncertain times. Let me explain: Augmentation and supplementation are two very different things.
Augmentation gives you access to technicians that will work alongside and take direction from your on-site staff members, whereas supplementation is relinquishing an entire job to be outsourced.
It is often vital to consider technician augmentation rather than supplementation to ensure that specific processes are followed, control is maintained, and the project outcomes are as you desire. Technician help allows you to perform the job YOUR way.
We all understand the importance of kids being in school from an academic and social perspective, and it’s clear an aggressive effort is being made to get kids back on the school bus! In preparation for the upcoming school year, technology implementation will be crucial to accommodating in-room distanced and virtual learning.
So what does that have to do with technician augmentation? Well, it’s simple. Whether public, charter, or private, most schools have at least a handful of classrooms and often hundreds, if not thousands per district. Most of these classrooms are cookie-cutter in terms of technology deployment for clear reasons.
Teachers and students are trained on how to interact with the same systems, no matter what room they are in. An assisted technician staff best fills this type of repeatable work. From wire-pulling to display mounting to disposal of waste, outsourcing technicians in multi-room environments can prove to be very cost-effective and very efficient—no more hiring and firing based on a single job.
You can take comfort knowing your organization can complete the work without incurring any unwanted pre and post burden. We should all have a shared enthusiasm for what is next in our industry. The collective ability to adapt and overcome in 2020 has been remarkable, but there are more audible calls to come. The AV industry will continue to shift and change rapidly, as it did in 2020 (let’s never speak of it again). I cannot stress enough the importance of making sure outsourced Technician Assistance is a Key Part of Your 2021 Business Strategy.
As the trite saying goes, the only constant is change. The trials and tribulations of COVID-19 underscore this idea by testing our ability to navigate uncertainties, a continually evolving “new normal,” and pivoting business models. Our schools are among the hardest hit in all three of these areas. Safety, new teaching and learning methods, unfamiliar technology, and daily go/no-go uncertainty of in-class instruction dominate many teachers’ and students’ thoughts. Simultaneously, many speculate on the potential long-term emotional impact on children of the COVID generation.
I am mostly optimistic. One life-skill contributing to long-term success is adaptability to change, and now is the perfect time to master this skill. I am not a child psychologist and expect to get some comments on how feeling safe and other factors shape the young mind. While I agree, I also believe we have an opportunity to favorably influence the long-term implications while building resiliency in our children through the example we set in our responses to our circumstances. A vital part of the modeling includes the attitude teachers demonstrate for students in the face of challenges. But teachers need help too. The AV community can minimize instructor stress and maximize adaptability by suggesting distance learning solutions requiring limited teacher intervention or training. Having taught for many years at the college level, I know firsthand that instructors and professors have enough on their minds that mastering a new classroom tool can increase anxiety and reduce education delivery quality. In the process, this stress response potentially adversely impacts their ability to adapt to the new COVID-induced realities and negatively influences students’ attitudes and long-term adaptability. Conversely, if we maximize teacher comfort in their new HyFlex and distance learning environments, they are more likely to model the adaptability needed for long-term student wellbeing.
When we first moved to remote models, leveraging Zoom got remote classes up and running quickly. Many schools rapidly adapted, and teachers learned the new technology. But as time progressed, they discovered they needed something more. The wish list and questions raised included several of the following items:
Zero teacher interaction – Start class and the technology works. When teachers need to remember to start recording, then the recordings often do not happen.
Minimal training requirements for the teacher – The more training needed, the lower the retention, adoption, and proper utilization, and the higher the stress
Reduced resource impact on teaching computer – Who thinks their computer is fast enough? Presenter PCs sometimes bog down. Running capture, streaming, or soft codec software on top of presentations further stresses the machines.
If the instruction PC seizes or needs a restart, what happens to the stream and recording? Does the instructor need to remember to restart the application?
After class, how does content get to remote students? Does the teacher need to upload the lecture content to an LMS or provide a link to students?
Could the network experience bandwidth issues while uploading content to the LMS during peak times? Does this potentially interfere with live classes running concurrently with the uploads?
Does the recording contain tags to simplify playback and searches? If so, what are the post-production requirements to embed the information?
How can we create student experiences similar to the classroom, where the students can individually control what they view and when? For example, sometimes they want to see the teacher, sometimes the content from the presentation computer, and at other times the whiteboard. Globally switching the content may cause some students to miss content when they need to see a source longer than presented.
What if the teacher moves around the classroom? How do you maintain their image on camera while ensuring they have good audio pickup? Speaking of audio, how do you pick up questions from students in the classroom well enough for far-end participants to hear?
Each of the items above represents a potential stress-inducing pain-point, reducing instructional quality and the student experience. Finding an ideal solution that addresses all of these issues could take a rack of equipment, control systems, and programming. Additionally, while there are technical solutions to address all of the above questions, how do you do it all without breaking the bank?
Frankly, in some cases, you can’t do it all without the end-user spending money. But, there are methods to make it more palatable. First, identify the priorities. Sometimes schools want everything but are willing to accept some trade-offs. Understanding your customers’ priorities can save you time hunting for the unicorn solution that fits their budget too. Second, familiarize yourself with some of the potentially lesser-known options on the market with user- and integrator-friendly feature-sets designed to address schools’ preferences. Some of the items to familiarize yourself with include:
CatturaCaptureCast – A recording, streaming, and publishing appliance that automatically captures classes, tags the content, and posts to an LMS with zero teacher intervention or burden on the presenter’s PC. The choice of HDMI or SDI inputs makes them source agnostic, and student controlled multiview playback emulates the classroom experience from the far-end. Remarkably affordable for the value.
Stem Audio ecosystem – Broad coverage or a controlled, narrow pickup area, Stem provides ceiling, wall, and table, mics with speakers and integrated DSP, in a simple to design and implement format. A couple of units cover most classrooms, while PoE convenience, USB connection to a soft-codec, and system self-tuning help the budget while ensuring intelligibility for all participants.
VDO360 AutoPilot and CompassX – An auto-tracking camera that does not require a lanyard or third-party control, along with a decent conventional PTZ camera. With the Autopilot covering the teacher, the CompassX on the content and connected, to a CaptureCast (with Stem Audio), provides the “killer app” in lecture capture.
It seems like I have the same conversation with integrators daily. They have a school system that tried the lowest cost mic and camera connected to the presenter PC, but now they need something better. They need something easy to integrate and low stress for the teacher that provides a positive learning experience – and all three of the items above, along with new other options, frequently receive favorable responses from all parties. Most importantly, however, is the impact on students. As a father of three remote high school students experiencing varying Covid-19 outlooks, and teacher influences, I appreciate students’ need to see role-models successfully navigating today’s challenges. Technology in the new-classroom can enhance or impair the teachers’ experience, and by extension, the students’. So, the next time you are working on classroom projects, remember your design may impact the teacher experience, and by extension, the long-term resilience of the students in their charge.
I welcome your insights. Please share your thoughts on balancing quality distance learning solutions with teacher comfort and budget constraints. What are your views on how the teaching experience can impact student adaptability and the long-term resilience of the COVID generation? Feel free to comment below or reach out to me at [email protected].
Sharp thinks AV/IT integrators can offer data & analytics to improve meeting rooms using its Windows Collaboration Display and IoT sensors. Find out how.
The impact of COVID-19 on the ProAV industry has gleaned mixed results: Rental and staging markets have been hard-hit, but collaboration and UCC verticals are booming. While continuing to support its partners in entertainment and live events, Almo Pro A/V has doubled down on supplying solutions in UCC — answering partners’ much-needed demand this year.
A collaboration solution delivering on this demand is the 70-inch Windows Collaboration Display (WCD) from Sharp. Almo is no stranger to the Sharp product line — the two have partnered for years. But Sharp’s WCD is a next big step for all of us in AV. Sharp’s not-so-secret sauce — an IoT sensor hub that provides data and analytics — is what sets this specific WCD apart from other WCDs and interactive flat panels.
The mindset of adding data and analytics is still fairly new in ProAV. To dig into this and learn more about the Sharp WCD, I talked to Mehryn Corrigan, associate director of alliance partner marketing at Sharp. The conversation winds from BYOD to IoT to AV-as-a-Service. And then some. Read on!
Note: This is the start of an interview between Almo’s Darren Altman and Sharp’s Mehryn Corrigan. It has been edited for grammar and clarity.
Darren Altman: Mehryn, it’s great to talk to you today. Like many, I’m excited about a collaboration product that’s gotten a lot of attention — the Sharp Windows Collaboration Display. I’ve heard about some of the features that make it such a forward-looking UCC solution. Aside from the 70-inch ideal size that’s gotten so much positive feedback, I’d love to hear more about how the product was designed: How does the Sharp Windows Collaboration Display handle and address the needs for multiple operating systems and collaboration platforms like Zoom and Microsoft Teams?
How does the Sharp WCD handle and address the needs for multiple operating systems and collaboration platforms?
Mehryn Corrigan: It made sense to create a collaboration device that was built on an open platform and could evolve with the changes. For instance, my own laptop has all different kinds of software on it. With the Sharp WCD, it’s so nice to be able to bring all the things I know and love (the programs and applications on my computer, for instance) with me. Through the BYOD (bring your own device) style of collaboration that the Windows Collaboration Display offers, my device can drive my meeting — instead of the other way around.
Darren Altman: I definitely agree that the office, no matter where your “office” is today, should cater to people’s preferences as far as what they use and how they want to connect. Speaking of connecting, and before we get into the big differentiator regarding the Sharp Windows Collaboration Display, the IoT sensor hub, tell me about the integrated hardware.
What hardware is included in the Sharp WCD?
Mehryn Corrigan: You’ve got it all in one product, so the complexity of pairing the best microphone with the best camera — that all goes away. It’s just one device. Sharp’s WCD includes not just the multi-touch screen but also the 4K camera and the audio system. Even the built-in microphone arrays are all integrated. There’s also your more traditional interactive flat panel feature — multi-touch ink — for digital annotation. And the display is certified as Crestron Connected. Ultimately, all this benefits the end user — and even those you wouldn’t initially consider, like facilities and building managers — in a great way. That’s in addition to benefiting the people in the actual room who just want things to work the way they expect them too.
Darren Altman: We’ve all experienced that struggle with multiple devices. Back in the day, when I was traveling, I used to keep a work bag filled with tons of adapters, or all sorts of connectors, to, hopefully, make meetings go off without a hitch. I remember all the struggles with connectivity between laptop and display resulted in meetings just being delayed. How does the Windows Collaboration Display address these common connectivity issues and save us all valuable time?
How does the Sharp WCD address common connectivity issues?
Mehryn Corrigan: This is so relatable. But, you know, realistically, not everybody’s an AV guru like you and me. For the average user, it takes around 10 to 12 minutes* to start a meeting — that’s significant. There are a multitude of things that lead to this delay, and a lot of times it’s because you’re trying to connect to a meeting that’s hosted on a different platform than the one your room is built for. Sharp worked with Microsoft to make our version of the Windows Collaboration Display incredibly simple to connect for BYOD environments. We standardized it around a USB-C input. What’s so great about USB-C is that it has audio, video, power, touch. Previously, you had HDMI, the touch panel, power for the laptop — that’s three cables right there. Or you’re maybe running back to your desk to get your power cable because you forgot it. We also have HDMI and wireless connectivity built-in so you have multiple options.
Darren Altman: From a generational standpoint, there are five generations in the workplace right now. We know some people prefer wireless over wired. Others will take wired any day. How does the Sharp WCD touch on this?
Mehryn Corrigan: There’s no need to download anything. No drivers, no dongles. Connectivity is so simple: a right click on the corner of the PC and it automatically converts your audio and video to room scale on the device. In a room-based meeting space, you typically have to look for these settings (like audio and video) on your laptop to be able to sync them to the front-of-room display. With our WCD, that happens automatically. The whole premise of the Sharp WCD is to keep it simple.
Darren Altman: Right, like the laptop I’m working on has USB-C and DisplayPort — that’s just another connector for me to shove into my work bag. So there’s a ton of excitement around the Sharp Windows Collaboration Display, and one thing that’s quite unique and significant is the IoT sensor hub. What was Sharp’s thought-process behind adding it?
What was Sharp’s thought-process behind adding the IoT sensor hub?
Mehryn Corrigan: Microsoft has put a lot of emphasis into Azure — it’s a whole digital transformation with everything moving to the cloud. Microsoft Azure Digital Twins is an IoT platform where data from multiple IoT sensors is stored in a secure cloud database. Then the data can be analyzed, for example, by a smart building dashboard solution to help optimize the management of office space. This is significant in the AV world, and specifically for AV/IT integrators, where AV-over-IP is growing and systems are more connected. In the next year or two, the collaboration space will change dramatically.
Darren Altman: Can you give me an example of what that change looks like?
Mehryn Corrigan: Picture us all going back to the office; what we’ll start to see, if you’re not already seeing it, is a lot of meeting spaces converting — maybe your huddle spaces become one-person offices. Maybe your large conference rooms that used to seat eight now only seat two or three. At first, a lot of these meeting rooms were (or are) not equipped for video, so integrators are now getting that set up. But there’s another opportunity here — while you’re adding collaboration capabilities like interactive displays and videoconferencing devices, why not add IoT capabilities at the same time?
Darren Altman: What are the benefits of adding IoT — as opposed to just adding in an interactive flat panel or creating a Zoom Room?
For AV/IT specifically, what are the benefits of the IoT sensor?
Mehryn Corrigan: Adding IoT has three major touchpoints notable for the AV/IT manager.
With IoT, you’re able to get data on how the spaces are being used — and with this data you can improve functions and processes in that room. This is an opportunity for the AV integrator to create a new revenue stream, one that’s recurring.
Two, there’s the element of measuring productivity in the physical space — the IoT sensor hub measures specific elements, enabling integrators to connect their clients to powerful data that can improve the overall meeting experience. Take various elements of the physical room — at what temperature is the room set? What is the oxygen level in the room? Does air quality fluctuate throughout the day? And what about cooling down buildings when no one is even there? The sensor measures these elements to improve efficiency.
The third touchpoint is around room utilization. How many times have we had to say there are not enough meeting spaces available? An IoT sensor hub gives integrators the tools to help customers optimize the space by measuring room occupancy and motion. For instance, that could mean measuring the amount of people who were in the room that day so we can provide proper cleaning and sanitation between meetings.
Darren Altman: Right. In short, connecting data to these spaces is an amazing way for the AV community to service them beyond just the initial install. In AV, we’re already managing the devices in the room, so why not make sure the room is optimized through data, as well?
Mehryn Corrigan: There is a lot of opportunity for integrators with the IoT element of the Sharp Windows Collaboration Display. We’re still at the very beginning stages of the technology, but the possibilities are exciting.
Darren Altman: So do you think IoT data can now be part of an AV organization’s managed services platform?
Could IoT data be part of an AV organization’s managed services platform? Does IoT as a category have the potential to really impact the AV industry?
Mehryn Corrigan: We’ve definitely started to see it — especially as we get further into the network where we’re managing uptime. AV integrators are already asked to design the conference rooms. I’m very hopeful that AV integrators will consider adding data and analytics on top of all the new conference-room integrations (like video) in the pipeline. I recently learned that around 80% of companies wished to have an IoT strategy but less than 50% actually have one. Everyone is already thinking about adding data, but we’re not really sure how to manage it yet. The Sharp WCD opens the door to get AV and IT started.
Darren Altman: Doesn’t it also grow with you over time? Regarding the evolution of the sensor hub and updates over the air?
Mehryn Corrigan: Yes, take the AI camera that’s built in. Over time, with more developments in the Azure platform and cloud firmware updates, you can enable more feature sets that help the device measure room analytics. The Sharp WCD is a simple door opener with the possibility of much more long-term.
Takeaway: AV/IT Should Invest in the Sharp WCD — Here’s Why
My interview with Mehryn shed light on a lot of great features of the Sharp Windows Collaboration Display that I hadn’t considered. It also reminded me how important it is to specify a product that grows with you over time and doesn’t force end users to use it one way or the other.
For instance, along with being Skype-for-Business-certified, Sharp’s WCD comes as a Microsoft Office 365–ready product. What’s great, though, is you’re not just limited to Microsoft; via USB-C, a connector used with both the latest Windows and Apple Mac products, the Sharp WCD allows you to operate in any “world.” In other words, you’re not limited to one operating system even though it comes Windows-ready. All you have to do is connect your own device and the display’s cameras, microphones and speakers automatically appear on the front-of-room device. The benefit? Users can get the same collaboration experience on the room device as they would on their own devices.
After talking to Mehryn, here’s what I realized makes this product different: Times have changed, and collaboration boards are no longer just interactive displays with a nice touch interface. End users are demanding all-in-one collaboration solutions that can literally “read the room,” providing data to the customers. AV integrators are finding that they are the ideal people to help customers attain this data through the collaboration technology itself.
Notably, this is something integrators have been catching onto as the news makes the rounds. If given the capability to manage that data (to keep servicing the Sharp WCD product as it grows over time), integrators could have a brand new managed-services offering on their hands. In our minds, AV/IT postures should definitely be straightening at the idea of this, because this isn’t just an idea or dream anymore; it’s actually a reality.
On Aug. 26, Commercial Integrator held a great webinar, “How Analytics are Driving Digital Transformation in Today’s Modern Office,” featuring Almo and Sharp. It was a great follow-up to the discussion we had here. Register and view the webinar here.