SDVoE LIVE! on demand
Season 2, Episode 7 – AV and IT Problems – Human Solutions
Without the network, that AV equipment is just a hunk of metal screwed into a rack,” says our guest Tom Norton. Today, every device is network-accessible, and the bulk of AV signals traverse the network, too. Technology offers us the tools to deliver amazing—and manageable—user experiences at scale, but ultimately it’s people who have to design, connect, configure, and operate these complex systems. In this episode, we speak with Tom Norton, manager of AV services at Boston Children’s Hospital about how to successfully integrate AV and IT as organizations. What has changed for BCH in the past five years, and how do those changes reflect the wider world? Which organizational strategies have worked, and which have not? Find out when you watch SDVoE LIVE! season 2 episode 7 on demand.
Thomas Norton is the Manager of Audio Visual Services at Boston Children’s Hospital (BCH). Tom has been in the AV industry as managing director at BCH for 15 years. Prior to joining BCH, Tom worked as a commercial photographer in the Boston area for 20 years.
Justin Kennington: 00:06
Hello, and welcome back. Welcome everyone to SDVoE live. I’m your host, Justin Kennington and this is TV for pro AV. I want to welcome everybody who’s watching on the SDVoE academy, everybody who’s watching on rAVe’s Lavnch platform. Thank you all for joining us, and we’re glad to have you back. Today, we’ve got a really interesting show. We’re going to turn our attention to the people side of the AV and IT intersection. Our guest, Tom Norton, is in charge of audio video systems for Boston Children’s Hospital. For those of you not familiar, that is a very large institution. I’ll let Tom tell you about the size and scale of it and how the IT department and the AV department work together. So that’s what we’re going to talk with Tom about. I also want you to remember to stick around for our after show today.
It is so easy to join and all you have to do is wait for the credits to roll at the end of this show. And then sit right there. Don’t move a muscle and we’ll have Tom back on where we’d be answering your questions. Get them to us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or if you’re in the academy or you’re on Lavnch right now, find the chat box down below my feet somewhere, hang out with your fellow audience members, and send your questions in. Matt Dodd will be monitoring the situation in hotline central and let Tom and I know what questions that you have. So get those in. Don’t forget. I say let’s get to the show. Why don’t we throw it to a quiz and then we’ll go check in with Matt in the hotline central.
Well, we’re back at the desk. Let’s bring him on in. Matt, are you there? Are you with us?
Matt Dodd: 02:04
Of course, yes. I’ll be with you shortly.
Hi guys. Hey, hey, hey. It’s me again.
Justin Kennington: 02:15
Busy day again?
Matt. Well, I told them about the questions I wanted. I invited them to get them into us because we were want to hear, what are you wondering about the intersection of AV and IT? How’s it going in there? Are the phones ringing yet? It sure sounds that way.
Matt Dodd: 02:31
Yeah. The phone’s ringing, the emails are going mad. We have a team of moderators here and ready to go, JK. Agony uncle, Tom Norton is here to help. Do you like that? Agony uncle with your AV and IT woes, and there are a few out there, but don’t worry. We can fix them. Get your questions in to ask Justin and Tom here, live. You got to get your questions and comments in, though. We’re not mind readers, you’ve got to get them in. And to do that, as Justin said earlier, you get the comments and questions to email@example.com. Or, you can use the chat if you’re watching here in academy, there’s a click link button there. So, please, get your questions and comments in.
Please also give us your feedback on the show as well. That’s important, right, Justin? It’s important to get everybody’s feedback on the show. Without that, we would have no idea if we’re getting it right, wrong or indifferently. So please get them in. Now Justin, we have already had a question in. You want to hear it?
Justin Kennington: 03:31
What is it?
Matt Dodd: 03:32
Well, it comes from Janet from New Brunswick. She asked, well she’s actually asking two questions. So thanks, Janet. “What happens when things go wrong in an AV and IT world?” I hope you’ve got your popcorn ready there. Janet. What happens when these go wrong? And how do you manage ticketing and troubleshooting when the problem might be from AV or IT. So ticketing and troubleshooting conundrum there from Janet. So good questions. What do you think?
Justin Kennington: 03:58
I think let’s ask Tom he’s the guy who who’s living this every day, so we’ll bring it to him and find out. Meanwhile, why don’t you come on and join me in the studio and let’s take a look at some news.
Matt Dodd: 04:08
I will indeed. Hello, hello. Here I am.
Justin Kennington: 04:38
Here we are.
Matt Dodd: 04:39
Back in here again. Sorry. I’m just having a little bit of a problem with my hearing here, but I’m sure we’ll get there in the end. How’s things?
Justin Kennington: 04:48
Will it help if I speak louder?
Matt Dodd: 04:49
Perfect. I’ve got you loud and clear. Almost too loud, but loud and clear. Thank you, Justin. How are you? Haven’t seen you for a little while. Are things well over at that side of the studio?
Justin Kennington: 04:59
It feels like it’s been almost exactly two weeks. Doesn’t it? Things are great over in this side of the studio…
Matt Dodd: 05:05
Justin Kennington: 05:06
… With us a mere feet from one another… meters.
Matt Dodd: 05:09
That’s it. I know some people have even been commenting that potentially this might be a fake CGI studio. How dare you? How very dare… You come over here and see this lovely studio, except you can’t because you don’t know where it is. Why don’t we do some news?
Was that dramatic enough?
Justin Kennington: 05:30
I love the news thing. It is my favorite part of the show every week.
Matt Dodd: 05:34
Do you want to hear it again? No, no, you can’t have it too many times. Video conferencing platforms are leading to more support tickets. Now this is a really good one. This talks about the sudden surge of video conferencing usage that has obviously happened over the recent past. And it’s caused an awful lot of extra support tickets to be raised with IT departments, over half of which relating to what we call UCC. And if you see the acronym about, UCC is unified communications and collaboration, so it’s the typical video conferencing and collaboration apps that people have been using. And there’s some interesting stats along here. I mean, it is a survey, so it’s not really telling people what to do. It’s just giving you some findings. And I found one of those findings very interesting, that Microsoft Teams seemed to be favored by the IT leaders. It’s the IT leader’s preferred platform with about 43% of the vote. Did you see that, JK?
Justin Kennington: 06:28
I noticed that, and yet it also said that very large companies, I think that’s over 10 billion in revenue is how they defined that, preferred zoom. I wondered if that speaks to… I don’t know they have to be 10 billion for this, but I feel like there’s a stratification where the largest companies are those who have dedicated AV departments, right? Whether that’s a part of the IT group, or separate from it. These are organizations large enough to have specialists like many our audience dedicated to that AV user experience. I wonder if that’s who’s preferring zoom and then the medium and smaller organizations, who there are many of, who may not have dedicated AV staff on call, are the ones with the IT department leading. And those are the organizations that, at an organization level, prefer Teams. I don’t know if that’s the case, they didn’t delve into it, but it jumped out to me to wonder that.
Matt Dodd: 07:25
We use zoom in my company and I’ve been checking my P&L every day. And I can’t… It’s disappointing, it’s not over 10 billion, but you know, we’ll keep trying, we’ll keep checking every day. Interesting, lots of support teams field tickets about poor audio and video quality on calls, poor delays, and the ability to log into certain house services, which I thought was quite interesting. It kind of brings it back to our world and the importance of having crystal clear audio/video. Latency isn’t the thing, you’ve got to get over these things. These apps will remain critical for organizations, but there obviously are still challenges presented to both end users and IT people.
Justin Kennington: 08:14
Well, and what it touched on for me, and you just almost got there, is, this is a show about the interaction between an AV team and an IT team. And I think this space UCC is exactly where it’s the leading edge of that collision these days, right? These ticketing systems that we’re talking about here, the people responding to this survey, are IT teams essentially managing user support, that’s grown out of desktop support and network support. Now there’s UCC support. And I think the successful teams are the ones doing a good job of integrating the AV function and the IT function, which UCC is exactly half and half of each.
Matt Dodd: 08:57
And that is a good segue, great segue!
Justin Kennington: 09:02
Matt Dodd: 09:02
To our next piece, 80… Oh my goodness me, people. I do apologize. I seem to have dropped my words all over the place.
AV and IT must collaborate for successful IP network convergence. This is from our old industry buddy, [John Henkel 00:09:17], if you’re out there, John, thank you for this, and thank you for being with us tonight, today, this afternoon, nearly. He explains how AV and IT teams can work together, or need to work together for more efficient AV-over-IP network deployments. This is a real piece about convergence, JK.
Justin Kennington: 09:37
Yeah. Yeah. And, to me, it breaks down into three kind of easy steps. I mean, it’s easy to distill anything and the devil’s in the details. But first, it was, to me, about: let’s speak the same language, right? AV folks can be experts in AV and IT can be experts in IT, but let’s find the common ways to communicate about the needs of the user. Then, let’s work together to make sure we’re planning these systems, from a user experience perspective, as well as a network performance perspective. And then finally at the end of the article, he talks about joint ownership, right? And needing to be very clear about who owns which part of the system, who’s responsible for the maintenance of what and for the support of what. And I think with those steps in mind, we’ll hear from Tom if he agrees, but with those steps in mind, that’s how you have successful rollout of today’s AV systems, which are IT systems ultimately.
Matt Dodd: 10:34
Do you know what? You’re right, but I take that a bit further. It challenges the concept of us and them, and quite rightly. I think the collaboration we talk about convergence, there is going to be an awful lot of cross pollination here. It’s not entirely which bits of it are your responsibility and which bits are ours. I think John’s trying to get rid of this us-and-them potential of somebody saying “Is that your part of the AV network that broke?”
I’ve said this all along, being an educator, AV people, AV guys, you need to know your onions when it comes to IT. It’s as simple as that. There’s no shortcuts here. True convergence of networks, and of course we’ll hear from Tom, but true convergence networks means that people need to know each other’s stuff and be cognizant of each other’s arena so that they can support each other. That’s convergence. It’s not just the technical convergence, it’s the mind share convergence and the skills convergence as well. And I love John’s reference at the end to joint custody. I don’t love it, I mean, it’s a horrible phrase of course, but it’s a good phrase. It makes you remember it. That the IT… The AV and IT, if I say that again, you must kick me, both owning the network and both taking responsibility.
Justin Kennington: 11:48
Well, let’s talk to our guest about that.
Matt Dodd: 11:50
I think we should, I’ll leave you to it, and have a good one.
Justin Kennington: 11:53
And a question for you in the audience: did he say “know your onions”? Our guest today: Tom Norton, manager of AV services at Boston Children’s. Let’s bring him in. He can tell us a little bit about himself. Tom, are you with me?
Tom Norton: 12:08
Know your onions. Interesting.
Justin Kennington: 12:11
You heard it too, right? I’m not crazy.
Tom Norton: 12:13
I heard it. Yes, I did. Hey, Justin, good to be here with you today.
Justin Kennington: 12:18
Thank you, Tom. Thank you. So tell us a little about Boston Children’s. I told everybody here that it’s a very large organization, but paint us a picture.
Tom Norton: 12:26
We are a large organization, indeed. I am manager of audio visual services here at Boston Children’s, I’ve been here for about 15 years. Some of the things that we do in our department: we manage about 250 conference rooms and conference spaces, and that number is growing. We provide event support, collaboration support, employee training. We are tier one and tier two support for zoom conferencing. We are a zoom house here at Boston Children’s. We act as zoom administrators, we manage the in-house TV network. We also manage both content management and digital signage systems throughout the hospital as well. A lot of what I do is I work as a project manager for the AV portions of new construction and renovations.
Audio visual services is part of a larger group within the institution. And that is information systems department, or IT. So, our AV group has always been part of the IT group here at Children’s. We, oh boy, we’re probably, I don’t know, 13 or 14,000 employees with campuses around Boston, Waltham, Lexington, Peabody, Weymouth. So we are spread out over a large geographic area. So, that’s a little bit about the AV department. And most importantly, we are part of the IT group here at Boston Children’s.
Justin Kennington: 14:13
I’m curious to hear from our audience, Tom just mentioned that his AV services group is a part of information systems group, I think.
Tom Norton: 14:21
That is correct. Yeah.
Justin Kennington: 14:23
How common is it for those of you out there, and talk to us at firstname.lastname@example.org, to see AV as a component of the IT group? I’d like to hear about that. And so Tom, with that in mind, how does AV and IT, how do those teams interact today? What are the structures built at an organizational level, the procedures, the processes that make sure that a new AV install is going to be IT friendly? And conversely that the IT network is ready for the AV needs?
Tom Norton: 14:55
Yeah, that’s a good question. Our information systems group is a big group. It takes a lot of people to keep a hospital of this size running. So that division is responsible for, basically, all areas of technology: network, security applications, voice engineering, AV collaborations, server infrastructure and management, network infrastructure throughout the institution. So, all of the AV systems that we have, and we’re lucky to be part of such a large IT group, we have specialists within that IT group that weigh in and help us out. We have AV standards and protocols in place. So when we bring systems online, we have immediate help from those specialties in IT that help us be successful in launching those systems. For example, in a complex room where we are integrating VoIP dialing, we have VoIP engineers and we have a protocol to bring those AV VoIP systems online, and get registered. So we are really able to reach out to specific specialties within IT as an AV group, as we need them and as we bring systems online.
Justin Kennington: 16:35
Okay, that makes sense. Just speaking roughly, about how many employees are there in in the information systems group, and how many of those are AV services? Rough figures. I don’t need the exact org chart.
Tom Norton: 16:49
I’ll start with the very small number. Our AV staff is less than five, and our IT staff in information systems I think is probably 300 or 400 employees.
Justin Kennington: 17:06
Tom Norton: 17:08
Justin Kennington: 17:08
So, it must be critical to have the kind of support that you mentioned, whether it’s a VoIP expert to reach out to, or I’m assuming maybe you’re doing a new AV-over-IP install and you need some network architecture expertise. Are there people that are in the IT group who understand some of the AV components and are able to reach towards you? Or is it all you reaching towards them, in terms of understanding IT?
Tom Norton: 17:36
Well, we have a really great collaborative environment where that reaching goes both ways. So again, everything that we do in AV that requires IT support, which is almost everything, we are able to reach out and they are able to reach back to us. For example, I managed the in-house TV network, and the last layer that I added a couple years ago to the network is IPTV. So we are now delivering our IP, our TV network, over IP. And that required quite a bit of collaboration between our IT and our groups, as well as our vendors that made that equipment. So everybody understood the requirements for the technology and the deployment, and it really made that deployment of IPTV really successful because of it.
Justin Kennington: 18:43
I think what we try to teach in the SDVoE academy is to become fluent in, what I think you’re referring to is, those requirements. Meaning, here’s what I want to bring as an AV system, here’s what it can deliver, but here’s what this AV system needs from the network. Here’s how it’s going to behave. Is a big part of your job just learning how to communicate that to IT? Here’s what the system needs. Here’s what it’s going to cause.
Tom Norton: 19:12
It absolutely is. And with any environment, but particularly in healthcare and an institution like Boston Children’s, security is a very large issue and brings up all kinds of conversations in how we can be secure in sharing information, both internally and externally as well. So, we really have a wonderful collaboration regardless of the type of project that we’re working on, whether we’re launching a new project or whether we’re maintaining systems that are already in place.
Justin Kennington: 19:50
Yeah. Talk about history a little bit, right? We talked about where we are today. Where were we 5 years ago, 10 years ago? How has this intersection of AV and IT changed in that time? Or maybe it’s always been AV and IT together, living happily for a century, maybe.
Tom Norton: 20:08
No, not at all. And if you know… How has the intersection of AV and IT really changed over the past 5 or 10, or even 15 years. And I’ll go back 10 to 15 years, and it has changed dramatically and completely in 10 to 15 years. When I first started here, we built our first H.323 video conferencing infrastructure. And that was a challenge, but it was very successful back then only because of the support that we had with IT. But I think the thing to note here is the single most important evolution and transition in the AV industry was also happening during that time span. And that was the evolution from analog to digital formats. And in that shift to digital, everything changed in regards to how we deliver, control and manage AV systems.
So all of a sudden we were sending audio, video and data over the network, and that really required a complete and very close collaboration between AV and IT groups, again, I mentioned even in the area of our TV network and launching IPTV. So that transition from conventional analog systems to digital formats really was kind of the catalyst, if you will, of, I don’t want to say forcing, but bringing and really drove bringing IT and AV together to make those systems work. So it’s an exciting time that we have been-
Justin Kennington: 20:08
It makes sense.
Tom Norton: 22:10
Yeah, it’s an exciting time that we’ve been able to work through in regards to that transition from analog to digital. And that conversation in terms of the technologies is a very big one. But that was probably the biggest change and really the driving force between AV and IT really becoming one.
Justin Kennington: 22:39
It makes sense, right? The IT department doesn’t deal with a lot of analog signals. I wonder if…
Tom Norton: 22:47
[crosstalk 00:22:47] I’m sorry, go right ahead.
Justin Kennington: 22:52
That’s fine. Reflecting on my own experience in the analog to digital transition, what I observed was that suddenly because of the digital technology that was taking over in the home, suddenly the executives, the decision makers, at enterprises and probably institutions like yours, turned to their AV department and said, “Why can I have a digital blu-ray player at home and I can’t have digital connectivity for my AV system at the office?” And it felt like this transition from a time when the AV professionals sort of dictated the state of the art and told the end customer, “Here’s what we need. Here’s how we’re going to do it.” to a world where suddenly the end user was a bit more savvy in saying, “Well, here’s what I’m accustomed to. This is what I want.” With about 90 seconds left, I wonder, do you think that had to do with accelerating, also, the transition to IT?
Tom Norton: 23:47
Without question, and we look at the advancement of systems and the sophistication of systems now, and really there isn’t much that we can’t do, and end users are very sophisticated, and they’re very savvy and they are recognizing what this digital world has enabled them to do. Just look at the amount of remote learning and remote working that we’re doing in all kinds of different environments now. So, it has really opened the doors for things that we never even imagined 10 years ago.
Justin Kennington: 24:33
Great. Well, I have a couple of other things on my mind I want to ask about, but I’m going to save them for the aftershow now. So, Tom, I’m going to say goodbye for now, but stay right there because we’re going to have you back…
Tom Norton: 24:33
Justin Kennington: 24:44
… with some questions from the audience as well. And now, why don’t we give you guys a fact check?
Matt Dodd: 25:11
Great interview, great interview. Really good. Keep your questions coming in. We’ll see more of Tom very shortly. Don’t forget the resource links the bottom of this page. There is a repeat from last week, actually, in those resources. How to talk to IT people. How to talk to IT guys. I know there are a lot of you out there, a lot of content. You already know there’s a huge amount of content inside the SDVoE academy that you can use to share with your IT colleagues. And the examples below explain things like how SDVoE interacts with the network. Very important. And they explain some interesting networking architectures as well, which can support AV-over-IP and furthermore, really push to this whole convergence piece. So keep your questions coming in. I’m poised. I’m ready to go. We’ve got some of you bringing questions in, some chat points and references. Love it, keep them coming in and we look forward to sharing it with the guys in the aftershow.
Justin Kennington: 26:16
All right, thanks for wrapping that up, Matt. How about that fact check, guys? Did you read that? Two thirds of AV integrators responded to the survey saying they are not ready for IT installs. You could look at that as scary. I would look at that, if I were an integrator, as a big opportunity, right? The more you educate yourself and become savvy about these IT systems, the more you have a leg up on two thirds of your competition. So get out there, get educated in the SDVoE academy and all the other great learning resources that are available today. Go find them and get yourself up to date. We’re going to bring AV to the next level using these IT systems. So, I want you to remember that we do this every two weeks. So join us again on… Goodness, can I do my math? February 9th? February 11th?
I don’t know. Two weeks from right now. And we’re going to be talking with my old friend, [Paul Zielie 00:27:09]. We’re going to talk about pro AV system requirements. Are you asking the right questions? Paul has some very interesting, and very distinct perspectives on this, so don’t miss it. Make sure you tune in. I’ve already told you we do this every two weeks. You can join us right back here on the SDVoE academy. You can join us on rAVe’s Lavnch platform. But I want to also invite you to check out any episodes that you’ve missed on our YouTube channel. Just head over to youtube.com/SDVoEAlliance. And you can see every episode that we’ve ever produced of this show. You can catch up on the back catalog before you see us again, live, two weeks from today. That is February 9th. Is that what I’m being told? Thank you. Thank you. Two weeks from today at 1:00 PM. So we look forward to seeing you.
I want to thank everybody for helping out put on the show today. I want to thank our guest, Tom Norton. We’ll have him back here in just another minute to talk about your questions. So keep those coming in, email@example.com is the email address. Thank you everybody for watching and goodnight.