Five Ways to Future Proof AV Technology Investments

Technological obsolescence is challenging enough in your personal life. At work, being an AV budget decision-maker really ups the obsolescence ante. Customers can get frustrated spending money on AV technology just to see it become quickly outdated. At the same time, they know that use of and access to innovative technology provides a competitive advantage. That’s why it is important to look at future proofing AV.

Investment in technology as a year-over-year line item is a given. That doesn’t mean the AV tech budget needs to be eye-popping. With forethought and planning, the return on investment can be maximized. Integrators can be an invaluable help to future proof client investment in AV technology. Here are five ways integrators can help provide valuable advice on AV tech investments:

  1. Scalability: A future proof AV plan will ensure that components can be added or subtracted depending on the needs of the organization. At the moment, maybe you need only a display screen in a vestibule – but plan to add several in conference rooms and other spaces in the coming months and years. Scaling up or down should be made simple and cost-effective. In a fascinating study on how to future proof a Buddhist shrine, sound was the main decision-making factor. The project included a speaker installation with an integrated processor and a mixing console. This allowed for pristine sound quality in the Lihn Phong Spiritual Dharma complex, while setting up the space for scalability into the future.
  2. Future Needs: Scalability is one aspect of attending to future needs. Beyond scalability, wider assessment is required. In assessing future needs, several factors matter. You and the integrator will need to discuss and understand the current situation and near-future plans. Are you looking at only current structures, or is construction a part of the overall plan? You will need to understand what kind of AV budget is anticipated. It is important to have a realistic picture of what is possible within budget and current technological constraints.
  3. Cloud Compatibility: More and more productivity and task platforms are cloud-based. This is especially true in AV, as conferences, one-on-ones, content viewing – all happen in the ether of the cloud. In future proofing AV outlay, cloud compatibility should be a standard for any purchase in the AV budget line. Integrators need to ensure that their clients are aware this is happening.
  4. Interoperability: The cloud is accelerating interoperability. To future proof AV investment, interoperability is a must. There are challenges on this front. Hardware and service providers all looking for market share have not all come together singing kumbaya; Not every piece of equipment will seamlessly play nicely with others. Integrators can help clients optimize in this area.
  5. Maintenance Plan: This is perhaps the most important piece of a future proof AV strategy. A maintenance plan should take into account the fixes, patches and preventive care needed on systems and equipment. Clients should see this not as a clever way of integrators keeping their foot in the door, but as a wise investment with a valued partner in future proofing their AV technology investment.

As a trusted advisor, AV integrators are the first line of future proofing defense for AV consumers. Future proofing will involve not just the tech, but evolving use of the space. Yesterday’s foosball lounge is today’s video conferencing room. What will that space be used for tomorrow? Integrators can work with clients to future proof AV budgets, from cloud platform fees to room re-purposing.

Staying ahead of the curve in AV tech deployment can be daunting. With good planning and nimble execution, it doesn’t have to be.

2018 AV Technology Showcase

Please join Backman Vidcom and friends at our AV Vendor Showcase on Tuesday, October 30th 2018, at the Hampton Inn Downtown Halifax.

We are gathering leading commercial and pro AV industry manufacturers to showcase the latest technologies for focused around Commercial Audio, Video and Data solutions and Unified Communication & Collaboration. Our exhibitor showcase format will feature over two dozen manufacturers and vendors of audiovisual equipment and services that specifically target technology professionals, facility and venue managers, academic technologists, AV & IT managers, and events professionals.

Our attendees will have the opportunity to interact and speak directly with AV representatives from some of the industry’s top suppliers and manufacturers, as well as learn about some of today’s leading trends and emerging technologies. There will be presentations throughout the afternoon covering related topics.

This free, by invitation-only, one-day event is from 12 noon to 4:30 pm, followed by a cocktail reception.  Please feel welcome to stop by the show anytime throughout the afternoon and enjoy complimentary access to a culinary-inspired, all-inclusive snack and refreshment bar across the exhibit space hall at the Connections Café®

  • Media Distribution via the Network
  • Unified Communication and Collaboration
  • Digital Signage
  • Control and Automation
  • Videoconferencing
  • Video and LED Walls
  • LCD Panel, Projection and Screen
  • Capture and Streaming
  • Security
  • Paging and Emergency Communications
  • Audio DSP
  • Classroom, Boardroom & Conference room
  • Broadcast and Production
  • Routing and Wiring
  • Wireless Networks
  • Cloud-based Solutions
  • Intelligent Power

For further details please contact Tom Murray, tmurray@bvcl.ca.

What is Your Video Conferencing Security Policy?

The high-profile hacking of a Canadian political party videoconference in 2016 was a wake-up call. The hacker eavesdropped on a video conference, then contacted a news organization. No actual harm was done, but it highlights the need for security protocols.

A STARTING POINT FOR SECURITY

We can help our customers establish a strong video conferencing security policy through:

  • System audit services – Video conferencing systems don’t age well. While there is a certain amount of maintenance we can recommend, old systems eventually need to be replaced. Audits and upgrades are a standard part of our service program.
  • Provide a domain-based approach – Domain-based security enables the system administrator to control access to video conferences through various levels of permission. Without the permissions, access will be denied. This is one of many systems we can put in place to thwart potential security breaches.

FURTHER BEST PRACTICES

Beyond the audit and domain approach there are a number of other best practices for helping clients develop excellent video conferencing security policy:

  • Establish a BYOD (bring your own device) policy – Allowing employees to use their own devices can improve employee productivity and happiness. However there are security considerations. We help clients navigate a comprehensive policy to guard against attacks via employee owned devices.
  • Secure networks and devices – Transferring sensitive information across unknown or unsecured networks is a dangerous practice. For instance, any device connected to a company’s network should be identifiable and authorized for access. In doing so, their network will instantaneously become safer.
  • Staff Training – A system of security protocols and device update protocols should be established and enforced. We offer a system of reminders and training as part of our service program.

STAYING COMPLIANT

If your work takes you into the healthcare industry, staying compliant with privacy regulations is something you need to understand.

Canada’s federal law, the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA), is a compliance standard that provides patients with the same level of privacy and confidentiality required for in-person visits. It is comparable in many ways to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) in the United States. Regardless of what industry you are in, PIPEDA is a good standard to follow when it comes to storage and dissemination of video materials.

Best practices for PIPEDA compliant video conferencing include:

  1. Use encryption and other security precautions such as authentication, access auditing and reporting, well-defined per-user access controls, etc.
  2. Secure prior approval for video transmissions. A video service provider cannot store video transmissions without explicit approval of the client.
  3. Consider a business associate agreement (BAA). Depending on the nature of the service provided, a good safeguard to ensure that there is an unbroken chain of responsibility for any information that may be “touched” by a vendor and/or service provider is to implement a standard agreement that all parties are required to sign.

Whatever sector our clients serve, a comprehensive video conferencing security policy is something they need, even if they are not aware of the need. With input and direction from our team of experts, systems will be more secure, staff will be better educated and security breaches can be prepared for and avoided.

THE TAKEAWAY

Video conferencing enables teams and individuals to connect and collaborate no matter their location. If you’re using video conferencing to discuss sensitive information or business, it’s imperative to ensure the proper security measures are in place.

 

The Importance of Cable Management

No one wants to detangle wires when a problem arises. It simply makes sense to invest in a structured, well-organized cable system from the start.

As audiovisual integrators and technicians, one of our most important responsibilities is addressing cable management, especially when it involves fixing a poorly implemented initial installation. We’ve all experienced the horror of arriving at a client’s business only to discover a rat’s nest of cables, cords, coax, and wiring connected to a poorly designed or maintained server network. We are then forced to immediately address these concerns and offer guidance on how and why the network should be improved to mitigate heat-related server performance issues and lost productivity.

 

Correcting this tangle of cables can be time-consuming upfront, but it will save precious resources and money over the long term. When we discuss cable management solutions with a client, whether it’s a new installation or update to an existing network, we focus on the equipment that will deliver the best access to maintain and modernize the system, adequate cooling to ensure optimum performance and meet the company’s efficiency objectives. Any downtime a client experiences directly translates to lost revenue and needs to be the top priority to address.

 

Cable Rack Management Solutions

According to PACRAD, the top five cable management solutions are horizontal racks, vertical racks, cable hangers and trays, data patch panels and fiber optic patch panels. Each one has a place and purpose within the server room or user platform. Our job as a professional AV integrator is to show our clients how this equipment will benefit their operations and save money over time.

 

Horizonal and Vertical Racks

Horizontal racks are ideal for organizing cables in a server room at the time of the initial installation. While there is an initial investment with lacing bars when opting for horizontal racks, the end result is a neat and professional looking data center which is much more conducive to subsequent maintenance and troubleshooting.

On the other hand, using vertical racks maximize airflow at network stations. Vertical racks also tend to take up less space leaving more room for future network expansion.

For more information about which type of rack is best suited for your system, take a look at Using a Horizontal vs. a Vertical Rack PDU. According to the article’s author, “knowing how to optimize your rack space is a matter of understanding trade-offs and being able to balance your actual requirements with the configuration of your cabinet.”

Note that both horizontal and vertical lacing management allow for bundling using Velcro strips instead of zip ties, which tend to pinch and compress cables. Velcro strips can also be reused or repositioned as needed unlike zip ties. We employ industry best practices of signal separation in racks when bundling cables and make sure to allow sufficient service loop length.

 

Cable Hangers and Trays

Cable hangers are used to organize cabling within racks. These cable hangers can be mounted either on the ceiling or floor and are excellent for organizing long cable runs.

According to the cabletrays.org website, “Per the National Electrical Code, a cable tray system is ‘a unit or assembly of units or sections and associated fittings forming a rigid structural system used to securely fasten or support cables and raceways.’” There are two popular types of trays: perforated trays and solid trays. Perforated trays provide superior air ventilation. Solid cable trays offer superior protection. For more information on cable tray use, check out Understanding Cable Trays by David Herres.

 

Patch Panels

Data patch panels consist of a board with multiple ports to connect network wiring. Using data patch panels is a great solution to label and consolidate cabling to ensure a tidy installation. According to the Firefold’s website, “Troubleshooting problems are [sic] simplified with patch panels since they provide a single location for all input jacks. They’re frequently used in industries that require extensive sound equipment because they work well for connecting a variety of devices…By centralizing cables in one place, patch panels make it easy for network administrators to move, add or change complex network architectures.”

Fiber optic patch panels, also known as termination units, are similar to data patch panels, but are designed specifically for fiber optic cables, according to PACRAD. These panels can accommodate connectors and patch cables. Integrators can easily connect cable fibers through cross connection, test and connect with other network equipment.

 

Rack Organization Matters

In The Art of AV Equipment Rack Design, Mike Tomei, an AV design and management consultant based in central New York and owner of Tomei AV Consulting wrote, “Paying attention to some basic rack design concepts early in the project’s timeline can prevent a handful of issues you’ll have to address in the future… Incorporate a couple internal rack shelves to secure all of your small items like twisted pair transmitters/receivers, distribution amplifiers, scalers, converters, power supplies, etc.” Labeling cables and wires accurately and thoroughly is a must as well as preserving easy access to the rear of all equipment within the rack for troubleshooting and maintenance purposes.

 

Promoting Cable and Wire Management

Effective cable and wire management benefits our clients in several ways. To this end, Cable Management for Server Racks presented by Middle Atlantic Products offers an important tip:

“Installation of cabling systems during building construction or renovation is significantly less expensive and less disruptive than after the building is occupied. The small cost associated with running extra wires for future expansion will save money down the road.”

Power use effectiveness (PUE) is affected by cable management in regard to data center airflow. Many clients simply do not realize that if cable management is improved, cooling unit fan speeds can be reduced and temperature controls increased. By selecting the proper equipment and organizing it to optimize airflow, there is an improvement in the ease of access thereby saving our clients valuable time and money.

 

Disorganized racks make it difficult for our technicians to follow the cable flow and test, install and remove or repair equipment. When you take into account installation and labor costs, a haphazard installation can easily double the cost to the client. It simply makes sense to invest in a structured, well-organized cable system from the start.

 

Case Study: Acoustic Issues Solved at Corporate Office

 

THE PROBLEM: Acoustic Challenges post-Renovation of Corporate Office

Our client, a prominent professional services firm in our region, recently underwent extensive renovations at their main office. From a very aesthetically pleasing and inviting reception area to boardrooms and meeting spaces with expansive harbourfront views, the refreshed interior design, look and feel of the renovated space is modern, impressive and truly cultivates the overall professional image of the firm.

While the visually appealing design elements made the new office space stand out, the use of glass and hard surfaces throughout – typical of today’s modern style offices – presented acoustical and noise control challenges in the public areas near the reception, elevators, and stairwell. Sound traveled freely creating echo and reverberation, and a noticeable distraction for those using the space.

 

THE TREATMENT: Sound Proofing using Acoustic Absorption Panels

After consultation with Backman Vidcom and the firm’s interior designer, the firm’s partners decided on an office sound-proofing plan that incorporated the following:

• More than two dozen 2’x4′ thick beveled sound panels mounted on the walls outside the meeting room areas, nine of which were paintable, and customized to match the décor in that area of the office.

• Over four dozen 2’x4′ thick beveled sound panels, placed on the walls and ceiling throughout the lobby, elevators and stairwell area.

The affected areas required a panel coverage of 15% – an acceptable level of sound absorption determined to make the overall environment acoustically comfortable.

It was not an easy task to determine the location and placement of the tiles as there was a need to work around an already finished space that contained fire suppression sprinklers, lighting fixtures and HVAC vents. Backman Vidcom worked closely with the firm’s interior designer to determine the placement of the panels in a subtle manner that allowed for them to blend in the environment while still achieving the intended technical objectives. It was of critical importance that the project team not compromise the existing interior design and infrastructure associated with the recent renovation.

 

THE RESULTS: Ultimately, the strategically-placed panels complemented the warm and inviting space and created an acoustically optimized office environment that decreased the echo and reverberation in affected areas by at least half.

While honoring the design aesthetics of the finished space and incorporating acoustic absorption at strategic locations, the panels solved the firm’s overall acoustic issues. The partners and staff, who were actively involved throughout the process, noticed a significant improvement throughout the office.

The end result was a lobby area free of noise distraction and offering a comfortable ambience where conversations can take place without any noise interruption or distraction.

In addition to achieving the desired technical outcome, the placement of the sound panels incorporated into the environment seamlessly thus keeping intact the attractive design features associated with the firm’s office renovation.

Cloud Security Breaches and How to Avoid Them

There have been more cyber-attacks in the past year than any other time in history and 2018 will likely match, if not exceed, that record. Adnene Guabtni, Senior Research Scientist and Engineer at Data61 states, “We are producing more data than ever before, with more than 2.5 quintillion bytes produced every day, according to computer giant IBM.” Because of increased demand, cloud solutions are evolving from simple online backup services to comprehensive storage services. Let’s take a closer look at how to approach the topic of cloud security and how we can help our clients provide the most current information and support they require to prevent attacks. (If you have yet to consider the topic or need help starting a dialogue, read the Top 5 challenges when moving your business to the cloud, and how to overcome them.) To help you begin this discussion, here is a list of the top five cloud security threats and what our clients need to know.

1. Data Breaches Leading to Loss of Intellectual Property

All cloud environments employ security measures, but these platforms are still subject to threats much like traditional networks. Although each cloud service implements its own security protocol, these are not all created equal. Data breaches can expose sensitive customer information, intellectual property as well as trade secrets and can have substantial consequences such as lawsuits, large fines and loss of trust in the brand by the public. Analysis indicates more than 20 percent of the data stored on cloud platforms includes sensitive information. Any cloud security breach can compromise this confidential information. In recent years, Target and Home Depot have experienced significant data breaches including theft of customer credit card and personal information. In his article, Hybrid Cloud Security: Achieving Full Protection, Daniel Newman states, “While the cloud offers numerous financial and operational efficiencies, the hard truth is those gains can be wiped out almost instantly with just one data breach.”

2. Poor User Credential Maintenance

Companies have a responsibility to encourage users of their online platforms to create and maintain strong passwords which can go a long way to prevent many security threats. Businesses also need to have proper procedures in place to identify critical changes made by other users that can adversely affect the security of their information. This is where multifactor authentication, which includes the use of smartcards, phone-based authentication and one-time passwords, is vital in helping to prevent unauthorized users from logging into customer accounts. Poor certificate and key management, weak passwords and inadequate authentication protocol are often causes of cloud-based data breaches. In addition, companies frequently fail to update or remove access privileges when a user changes roles or leaves the company. Disgruntles ex-employees, inattentive or incompetent users can cause a lot of damage unless you implement the proper security precautions and procedures.

3. Application Program Interface (APIs) Threats and Hacking

APIs, sets of programming instructions and standards for accessing a web-based software application or web tools, are used by cloud services to communicate with other cloud services. Consequently, proper API security directly affects the quality of the overall security of the cloud platform. When a company allows a third party to have access to an API, it can leave the corresponding cloud platform open to attack. In How to mitigate your cloud computing risks, Jason Parms writes, “To provide services such as platform services, application programming interfaces are made available to integrators and developers…Malicious attackers can access the service using an API, essentially building their own application, and use it to manipulate a customer’s data.” The best methods to prevent API hacks are to incorporate threat modeling applications and systems into the cloud development process and to conduct comprehensive code reviews to help identify and correct security gaps. APIs are fairly accessible via the Internet, so focus on a proactive security approach. Enterprises must understand that they, not the cloud environment, are ultimately responsible to maintain proper information security. As integrators, we should encourage clients to adopt layered security protocols that include encryption and multi-factor authentication. For more detailed encryption tips, check out Six Cloud Encryption Tips to Put in Place Now by Shelly Kramer.

4. Denial of Service (DoS) Attacks

DoS attacks, which monopolize server processing power and impede cloud availability and speed for users, are on the rise. While this type of attack has been around a long time, cloud services are frequently targeted due to the network of virtual machines and multiple points of entry common with these platforms. Our PSNI partner, HB Communications encourages you to “stay on top of your cloud provider’s security practices, be wary of any sudden changes to your account and protect yourself in every way you can.” Prevention, including regular security audits to identify vulnerabilities, is crucial. Once an attack occurs, the only option that remains is to wait for it to end. Companies must pay for the additional server load caused by attacks, and in severe cases, can result in substantial financial losses.

5. Regulation and Compliance Violations

There are many types of compliance requirements, including HIPAA guidelines in handling private health information and federal regulations governing student information. Enterprises need to make sure their cloud storage and application service providers adhere to regulatory directives. Business leaders risk loss of important data, loss of revenue as well as a hit to their reputation when they neglect compliance monitoring and maintenance of their cloud services. According to Dan Newman, a well-developed cloud security monitoring solution offers businesses more control over accessibility, improved regulatory support, better reputation management and faster threat response times.

Robust cloud security is essential in today’s business world and it is everyone’s responsibility. Our clients need to be equipped with the most current knowledge and tools to prevent common security threats and attacks. A proactive approach is best including regular monitoring and maintenance to ensure the best possible protection against an unwanted breach.

If you want to continue the conversation and learn more about cloud security breaches and how to avoid them, be sure to contact Backman Vidcom today.

Keys to Collaboration Spaces – Here’s Why They Work

Collaboration spaces are here to stay. Shared desks and open workspaces that promote employee creativity by giving them spaces to brainstorm as a group and making working as a team easier are proving to be more and more successful. As an AV Integrator, we can present companies with several options for collaboration technology that will not only enhance their space but give their team the most effective tools for sharing ideas and creating visions.

We consider a lot of things when assisting a client in creating the perfect collaboration space for their employees. These spaces – when developed correctly – foster friendships and camaraderie within the workplace and improve productivity as employees work together to reach common objectives.

 

Meshing of Personalities

One of the best things about the collaboration of employees is that they all bring different ideas to the table. We know from our own company that having fresh ideas has great advantages when it comes to problem solving. However, these personalities often need different things from a collaboration space in order for them to do their best work. There are a lot of different types of personalities in an office environment and the type of space they need isn’t always the same.

Introverts need the option to have their own space for down time and will need to access group documents and plans in their own independent workspace. Extroverts can live with no walls and thrive where they can be in the hub of work life. That means that creating a network that allows both introverts and extroverts to do their thing is ideal in every office environment. Here are some of the things to consider as you strive to create their perfect mix of open and private spaces.

 

Using Technology in Collaboration Spaces

The most important thing you will be doing to create the ideal work environment for your employees is setting them up with the most up-to-date technology for their collaboration spaces where everyone can thrive. Creating a space where the technology isn’t intrusive – but perfect for their needs – is a great place to start.

 

Brainstorming at its best

Consider an area with camp-fire like seating and digital whiteboards. With a whiteboard available, everyone would be able to share information through their own devices which is key to collaboration. Having that type of technology available in a comfortable setting allows for the sharing of ideas that will ultimately benefit the entire company in a relaxed environment that promotes creativity. It’s a win-win situation.

 

Including the remote worker

The number of remote workers has increased over the last several years. Many organizations have team members that live out of area or even out of the country. Because there are often members of the team that won’t be in the physical space, conference rooms need to have the capability to include telecommuters in the conversation. There are several video conferencing options available as a way to include these employees. Having the perfect setup for all devices to be able to see everything at the same time, is also key. Collaboration technology ensures that everyone is on the same page no matter where they are in the world which should be a very attractive option for companies with remote workers.

When the intent of an office space is to foster collaboration, that space must optimize teamwork, especially in today’s environment of the office with no walls. Telecommuting is the new collaboration space because the office essentially has no walls. Collaborative technology works well in this type of environment, and it can be seamless if all the pieces are in the right place.

 

Consider the introverts

Not everyone is comfortable sharing their ideas with large groups of people. For a space that is set apart and affords some privacy, there are huddle rooms. These smaller rooms can be fitted with a digital display and can allow about five people to meet and collaborate in a more intimate setting. Connectivity, printer hookup, and plenty of outlets will allow for this to be a comfortable room for mini meetings.

 

More reasons for collaboration spaces

If you are hesitant (for whatever reason) to create a space where employees can congregate and work as a whole, consider the following benefits of collaboration spaces to help understand the value:

  • Collaboration spaces create an environment of teamwork over a feeling of competition among coworkers
  • Collaboration spaces will prove to be a melting pot of new ideas that may have never developed without the space to share them
  • Collaboration spaces increase the energy in the company by serving as a place where employees can become excited about new ideas and working with others
  • The team atmosphere created by a collaboration space will increase morale and decrease the amount of stress and incidents of depression in employees by giving them the opportunity to build friendships and share ideas

There’s no doubt that a lot of companies are looking for new ways to increase employee productivity and creativity. Collaboration spaces are key in order for this kind of teamwork and idea sharing to take place. The available technology to assist organizations only adds value to these spaces.

To learn more about how collaboration space and technology can help your organization reach its business objectives, contact us today.