How to overcome challenges with managing AV

NATIONAL REPORT—Managing AV solutions isn’t always easy for properties, especially when professional help isn’t available onsite. Even though there are challenges, if properties stick to a few guiding principles, they’ll be able to keep their customers happy and equipment protected. 

“Depending on the size of the property, the biggest challenge is simply the act of managing AV systems located throughout a hotel—having to send technicians to each room to troubleshoot AV gear, maintaining a complete picture of your technology infrastructure, and tracking service tickets so you know that when an event is scheduled for a space, that the AV systems have been fixed and tested,” said Brad Grimes, senior director of communications for the Audiovisual and Integrated Experience Association (AVIXA), an international trade association representing the audiovisual industry. “Today, most AV equipment can be monitored and managed from a central location over a network. There are even platforms specifically tailored to hoteliers.”

The global professional AV industry is expected to grow to more than $325 billion in 2024, from $247 billion in 2019, according to the 2019 AV Industry Outlook and Trends Analysis (IOTA) Global Summary, published by AVIXA. The need for qualified professionals in this market is clear, especially when it comes to professionals in this field in hotels.

“Most hotel brands do not have any formal support for AV services above the property level like they do for other operating departments,” said Eric Bracht, managing director of AVaStar, an event-technology SaaS solution designed to provide a comprehensive suite of services for self-managing a hotel owner’s AV technology investment. “That means that each property is left to figure it out for themselves, with varied and inconsistent results.”

AV shouldn’t be anything properties shy away from; the demand is clear. For example, in the Americas, the AV market represents $89 billion in revenue for 2019, according to AVIXA’s report. Additionally, this region is expected to reach $112 billion in revenue in 2024, with a CAGR of 4.7%.

“A hotel’s AV needs can vary depending on planned system uses, or whether the users are staff-only or guests as well,” said Greg Wright, senior manager, hospitality and MDU Sales, Control4. “Regardless of the plans, hoteliers handling AV needs can ensure success by focusing on ease of use, reliability, and service and upgradeability.”

Not all properties are ready for AV. “Whether designing a new hotel space or in a renovation, AV should be considered just like any other design element,” he said. “The sooner it is incorporated with lighting fixtures, artwork, furniture, new walls, etc., allows for the most personalization and concealment of the system. For example, if designed in advance, custom speakers can be designed to fit behind bars or furniture, or installed within the walls.” Without experts involved, many hoteliers are unsure of how to incorporate AV into design, but this doesn’t have to be challenging for decision-makers in the industry, as long as AV isn’t an afterthought; the sooner properties connect with AV designers, the better.

“The key is to engage an AV designer from the beginning,” Grimes said. “When the AV integrator is the first ‘remodeler’ on a project, incorporating AV is likely to cost more and run into limitations based on the finished space. You don’t have to commit to specific technologies early in a design. After all, technology changes quickly. But an AV designer can help build in the proper infrastructure to support whatever AV systems will meet hoteliers’ needs, from grand opening to several years in the future.”

Sometimes the best way to work AV and design together is to be creative with what’s available. “AV and automation can be incorporated into more fixtures than you would think; while lighting, temperature and shade automation are valuable features for both hoteliers and their guests, there are even more devices that can contribute to the experience,” Wright said. “Displays, speakers (even in-pool speakers and lights), security cameras, door locks, sensors and more can be incorporated for more control and more dynamic scenes. In a bar, signage, lighting, displays and music can change depending on events or the time of day, and tables sitting near windows can be automatically shaded when natural sunlight rotates through.” Not everything with design has to be standard either; sometimes AV solutions can work with the design for the better.

“The more out-of-the-box AV and automation scenarios can enhance the space, provide operational benefits and delight guests,” he said. “Hoteliers can lean on their installer for ideas of features and scenes to enhance the system.”

After taking design into consideration, the next step is developing a set of procedures for running meetings using equipment—not every property has a specialist who’s available during scheduled events. Additionally, not every meeting is set up the same way, so preparing a set of procedures ahead of time can assist properties with using AV for varying meeting scenarios. 

Protocols should be established sooner than later, to ensure whatever’s needed, especially from a technology standpoint, is available. “Coordination is key,” Bracht said. “Technology, whether it’s AV or IT, should be discussed early from a capabilities standpoint. It’s often difficult to know what the specific needs of a meeting or event is during the initial sales process—but parameters shouldn’t be ignored.”

Even when protocols are in place, there needs to be someone operating the equipment.

“When a hotel self-operates, it may not hire a dedicated technical staff and have the expectation that the AV equipment will be set up by the same staff that handles the tables and chairs and/or food and beverage,” he said. “If it does hire technical staff, it tends to start with an AV technician who is responsible for setting up the equipment. This person is typically not involved in the sales and planning of events and has little responsibility for managing costs.”

If properties cannot hire internal staffing, there’s always the option of outsourcing; however, typically, the third-party provider takes a different approach to managing and deploying AV solutions. 

“The reverse strategy is employed by outsourced providers, who start with a supervisory/management position to ensure that technology for events is addressed in the planning stages, revenue opportunities are maximized and costs are managed,” Bracht said.

When it comes to AV equipment, many properties face the same challenges, one of which is maintenance. “They don’t do preventive maintenance,” he said. “AV systems are only serviced when they have failed—and at that point, a customer is typically impacted.” This is a common mistake many properties make when it comes to AV equipment—and it can be a damaging one, too.

“An AV system is obsolete if it’s not reliable,” Wright said. “Any user, whether hotel staff or a guest, must be able to walk into a room and use the desired features with one to two button presses. Or, even better, the system is automated to provide ambiance and features in the space to enhance the experience or facilitate operations. When working with an installer for the AV system, hoteliers can review whether the equipment has special considerations for working in hospitality environments to ensure that it is suited for the ease-of-use and reliability needed. Reliability can also be ensured through service from the installer. Both service and upgradeability are also important to ensure the maximum ROI from an AV system.”

That’s why properly taking care of AV equipment is essential to a property’s success with maintaining AV equipment. “The biggest mistake when it comes to system care is no care at all,” Wright said. “An AV and automation system is not like an appliance or light fixture; it’s more like a smartphone. Both the hardware and software elements need to be maintained and upgraded over time to keep the experience dynamic and relevant. If a hotel is making an investment in a new AV system, it’s less costly to keep the system maintained over time than to make a full replacement down the road. The right system can become the infrastructure of the hotel, which can be expanded with new features and into new rooms over time. Considering technology as the beginnings of a smart building instead of as a stand-alone appliance can give hoteliers the right mindset to plan and upkeep AV and automation systems successfully.”

To elongate the life of AV equipment, properties should regularly perform preventive maintenance on equipment. “Some preventive maintenance can be performed by local staff, such as keeping the AV equipment racks free from dust and debris,” Bracht said. “Other maintenance should be performed by qualified service providers—and a service contract is recommended.”

Even when maintenance is believed to have been done, someone else should follow up to ensure everything was completed. PurpleCloud’s Adria Levtchenko, CEO and co-founder, added, “High priorities pop up all of the time, and preventive maintenance often gets put on the back burner. Ensuring these tasks are getting completed is critical to maintaining this equipment properly and extending the life span.”

There are solutions properties can use to keep a maintenance schedule going. “You can best avoid these common pitfalls by using a preventive maintenance software program that removes the tedious paperwork and manual scheduling components and can remind you of when tasks are due, overdue or not completed properly,” she said.

Other solutions program can assist with guidance. “AVaStar supports self-operated departments by providing the guidance, resources and tools to better plan and sell technology services, manage the portable and built-in systems and equipment, drive revenues, manage costs and ensure that the staff is well trained and supported,” Bracht  said. “Professional services also assist with finding qualified contractors in the area to support service, maintenance and provide additional equipment and services to enhance the capabilities of the property.”

Hiring experts to handle AV is typically recommended. If a property doesn’t enlist the help of an expert when it comes to AV equipment, there are things that can go wrong that could’ve been avoided if an expert was available. For example, a common mistake is purchasing the wrong equipment. 

“Self-operating departments often have to rely on themselves to decide when it is time to purchase new equipment, and they may make purchases based on price rather than understanding what will provide the best ROI as well as accommodate current and future technologies,” Bracht said. 

Properties without in-house AV professionals can ensure success by following a few basic guidelines, the most important of which is this: Get the fundamentals right.

“At many venues, 70-80% of all presentation support needs are computer display and voice reinforcement,” Bracht said. “Ensuring that you are prepared for that means having the right equipment and training the staff in the proper ways to set it up correctly. They also need to have access to consistent training to ensure that new employees can be trained correctly,” he said. “Employees are often left to figure things out on their own, and this leads to passing down misinformation and compounding errors.”

Despite the challenges properties face with AV, the future of AV solutions is bright, with many new features and solutions designed to enhance experiences for hoteliers and guests on the horizon. 

“New software features are making the AV and automation system more delightful for hoteliers and guest users,” Wright said. “Control4 has seen hospitality systems increase in the last few years as demand for technology has been growing quickly. Whether adding an automated AV system to facilitate ballroom, conference room, and restaurant space management and coordination, or adding automation systems to guestrooms, hotels can experience both operational and experiential benefits. When designed with the right equipment, ease of use, and upgrade path, an AV and automation system is an investment that can grow and continually benefit the hotel.” HB