By Llanor Alleyene

For technophiles and technophobes alike, nothing beats the ease of pressing or touching a button and having something happen. Able to pull disparate devices together by collating background processes and presenting them up front, dressed in easy to read labels and commands,control systems are one of the most accessible gateways toa variety of technologies. For systems contractors, control technologies and their continuous evolution have expanded business opportunities and increased the level of creativity and flexibility they can bring to their installation projects.

“There has been greater education and familiarity with product integration and control for the end user,” noted Mike Crisci, VP of operations for integration firm, Altel based in Brewster, NY. “As new products and services are offered, the end users are expecting to have integrated control systems as part of their system design. The market, therefore, follows these needs and its growth reflects the end users’ awareness and acceptance of these products and services.”

Great Expectations

Growing consumer awareness has allowed integrators to broaden the dialogue between control systems and the devices that come under their command. Moving beyond simple device on/off functionality, today’s control products are locking into networks and web-based interactivity, a progression that HB Communications VP of Communications,Kevin Collins calls exciting.

“AV and control systems used to be a luxury, but today they are a necessity,” Collins said. “Everything is on the network,and I can’t imagine an office, school or building being built today without ethernet, AV distribution, digital signage, and some sort of ability to control it all from a central location.

“In the past, clients may have wanted technology in just the larger boardrooms or auditoriums, but now every room needs to be connected on the network. IT managers and facilities managers can’t afford to have any rooms ‘off line.’They want to be able to control every device in every room on a single platform.”

With this new depth of connectivity and ease of use, commercial AV integrators are finding it a little easier to sell clients cost/benefit packages that address a wide range of application needs. Control interfaces are now expected to give system feedback and access to not only the components and areas under control, but to the integrator as well.

“With the implementation of networking into control systems, remote management and control have become key selling points for customized control systems,” said West Chester, PA-based Advanced AV president Michael Boettcher. “Customers are requesting the integrator to provide remote management and diagnostics to their higher end systems to provide full functionality 100 percent of the time. Automated email notifications, room scheduling, and industry crossover control (lighting, security, HVAC, etc.) is becoming a reality.”

Waveguide Consulting in Decatur, GA, is a good example of an integration company leveraging clients’ increased comfort level with more complex control screens to push usability innovation. Citing touch screens’ ability to now offer all-in-one control, the firm’s president, Scott Walker, has come up with a patent-pending way to harness all of that power.

“One of the most exciting capabilities is the ability to use a single large touch monitor for control, presenter display, and annotation,” Walker explained. “This has been something Waveguide has been working on for years and is now able to accomplish with the currently available products. Waveguide has patent pending on this technology to allow a presenter to not only view and annotate on one or multiple sources, but to control the system using a graphical user interface placed at the top or bottom of the presenter’s touch monitor that is not displayed to the audience.”

For The Greener Good

When it comes to pitching the glories of control systems it is wise to underscore how they can aid clients in monitoring their energy consumption and savings. In keeping with several State laws, commercial spaces are required to implement energy-saving products and best practices measures.Systems integrators are in prime position to help clients adhere to these requirements, though Ohio-based Radiant Technology Group’s president, Greg Myers sees room for improvement when crossing that bridge.

“We have been involved in several LEED projects over the past two years and it seems like, with the exception of lighting control, audiovisual systems have been overlooked by the U.S. Green Building Council and most ‘green’ projects,” Myers said. “More attention is being directed to the building core construction and waste material than the technology,but I anticipate that will change in the future.”

Still, integration teams are doing plenty to bring energy efficiency to fingertips. Remote energy monitoring is showing up on client briefs, and manufacturers are indirectly influencing green control design choices by creating products in keeping with changing energy rules.“

The arrival of Energy Star rated amplifiers, ‘eco’ modes on displays and projectors, power management in control systems, and the growth of HVAC and lighting integration all play a role in our greener system designs,” Crisci said.

At the same time, integrators are linking as many controllable components into their interfaces—including occupancy and photocell sensors, shade and natural light controls—while seeking partnerships to improve their direct influence in the greening process.“

InfoComm has a dedicated task force on the subject, and I do see movement coming, but it will take quite a bit of educating in the marketplace, from consumer to construction,for the concept to thrive,” Boettcher said. “We also have a hurdle of increased costs, so barring an outside force, many customers are not necessarily willing to pay more up front, at least at the moment.“

Since customer focus is on total cost of ownership,manufacturers are creating products that consume less energy,offer power monitoring and shutdown capability, and incorporate new technologies that reduce overall waste,”Boettcher continued. “Plus, there are lots of other ways that AV integrators can contribute, like increased remote monitoring,electronic documentation, and equipment recycling programs. Put it all together and we have the first chapter of our story.”

Selling Benefits

As control systems have moved beyond simple playback commands, it’s up to AV consultants and integrators to showcase the depths to which their interfaces can go. As mentioned before, ease of use and remote management has become a standard pitching mound, offering clients needed peace of mind as well as a panic button should components stop responding as planned. But for HB Communications’ Collins, convergence has become a key selling point.“

Since 1998 we’ve been promoting the convergence of AV and IT, and we’ve often said that we’re in the systems integration business rather than the AV business,” Collins said. “We demonstrate through our hardware and software that we can save time, money and resources by fully integrating all AV,lights, shades, thermostats, and security onto one platform;and then remotely and globally monitor, manage, and control all those systems from any laptop or computer anywhere in the world.”

However, in selling a total package, the client brief is still the ultimate arbiter and the ability to provide them with solutions that make sense will always be the winning bid.“

Our sales efforts focus on the business needs of the customer and gaining an understanding of their goals,” Myers noted. “If we can understand what helps our customers ‘win,’then we can develop a technology solution to help them get there. The combination of technology that provides a solution to the customer’s needs is our differentiating factor.”