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Season 2, Episode 8 – Pro AV Requirements Capture: Are You Asking the Right Questions?

In the design of complex systems (like AV distribution, for example) there are rarely clear and uniquely correct answers. Every decision involves tradeoffs and compromise. Ultimately the goal is to design a system that will satisfy the needs of your end user. Meeting those needs begins with understanding those needs, so how can you make sure you do? In this episode, our guest Paul Zielie teaches system designers—and their customers—how to ask the right questions. Learn to turn questions like “Can this thing do streaming?” into “How can we easily share content and collaborate between two conference rooms and a home office?”  Also learn what it means to “draw a box around your solution” and how that will ultimately benefit your customer, and your bottom line. Watch the episode!

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Episode guest

Paul Zielie

Paul Zielie is Consulting Solutions Architect and owner of AVCoIP LLC. Paul is an industry luminary and multi-disciplined generalist whose 30 years of experience comprise designing and integrating IT, telecommunications, and audiovisual (AV) solutions. What he really does for a living is solve problems, little or big, with appropriate technical solutions. He espouses the philosophy that technology is in service to organizational goals and work flow, and not an end in itself and uses that as a guiding principal in his design efforts.

Episode Transcript

Justin Kennington: 00:02

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I had a week full of ups and downs. Remember that thing going around the globe right now that we’re not allowed to talk about on air because Google AdWords will detect it and not let me put the show on YouTube? Well it ripped through my house this week. It started out a ton of fun and by the way, the whole family’s okay. Everybody’s okay, so don’t worry. My son got it first and that meant he and I locked in a guest room in our house with nothing to do, but build Legos and watch old re-runs of Adam West as Batman. It was possibly the best two days of my life, certainly the best two days of the year so far. Unfortunately, then the rest of the girls in the house started coming down with it, suddenly isolating and making my wife go and fetch us sandwiches whenever we got hungry, it didn’t make sense anymore.

In fact, she got sick and then I had to start making sandwiches for everybody, it became a complete nightmare, but it’s all behind us now, everybody’s okay and I got the Nintendo entertainment system Lego built. So check that one out, it’s a very cool one. We should build Legos on our show, what do you think Matt? Should we build Legos on the show next week? We’ll talk about. Anyway, this week our show is Pro AV Requirements Capture: Are You Asking the Right Questions? We’re going to be with our guest Paul Zielie, industry luminary can I say that? Matt can I say luminary? Industry luminary, Paul Zielie, he’s with and I realize I should have asked him before the show, is it AVCoIP? Is it AVCoIP? Anyway, he’s got his own company doing design consulting and it’s worth finding out how to pronounce it.

So we’ll ask Paul Zielie about that when he’s on. Meanwhile, maybe you have questions for Paul, for me, for Matt, get them to us at We’ll be taking your questions live in the aftershow, which is coming up at the end of this show. You remember how to get there? It’s so simple. Just sit right where you are and don’t touch anything when you see those credits roll and you’ll be with us in the aftershow about 27 minutes from now. So without further ado, let’s toss it to a quiz and get on with the show. All right, it’s my favorite segment of the day, it’s the hotline central. Let’s bring Matt in and see what’s going on over there. Matt how are things in the hotline central today?

Matt Dodd: 02:49

All great, luminaries we’re happy with, pretty sure though that the plural of Lego is Lego, but the jury’s out on that, so I’m just the messenger here.

Justin Kennington: 03:02

No, the jury’s not out, he’s absolutely correct I like to call them Legos just to find out who are the dorks that are going to correct me on that. So thank you for that, you are right.

Matt Dodd: 03:13

Non taken. Hi everybody, me again, your favorite English guy here correcting him with his English. English that’s right isn’t it? English. We’ve got a team of moderators here, all ready to go. Paul is here with Justin to give you some valuable techniques in capturing the pro AV requirements from the customer, very important, because that’s the bit that could go horribly wrong. Don’t forget, so get your comments and your questions in. You can email up here at or use the groovy chat window. There’s a link inside the academy page for those of you watching in academy, if not go over to academy and use the chat.

Also, we need you to give us your feedback on the show as well, really important, tell us how we’re doing. We have had a question already this time from this side of the pond, I mean the English side of the pond, not this side where you and I are. It’s from Sarah Joe Teasdale of Harfordshire, she here the United of kingdoms. She says, “what’s the best way to guide a customer who thinks they know what they want when in fact, I think it be better served with a different approach. So, what do we do with customers who think they know what they want but in fact they don’t know what they want at all?” So there you go.

Justin Kennington: 04:27

The customer’s always right, huh?

Matt Dodd: 04:29


Justin Kennington: 04:29

Matt, why don’t you set that aside? We’ll ask Paul that question. Get on in here in to the studio and let’s talk about the news. Get on in here, dear boy.

Matt Dodd: 04:59

Oh, it’s getting a bit chilly over there in moderator corner I have to say. You think it’d be warm with all those people, fending away all the questions, but it was a little bit chilly. Nice and warm in here though. So I tell you what, first of all I’m really pleased that you guys were all okay and you’re healthy and well still. So that’s very serious and anybody else out there as well, please stay safe, please stay well. I’m delighted to hear it because who else would I then have to jibe about the use of English? So that’s great news and I think it’s probably time, we should do some news.

Justin Kennington: 05:39

You’ll never sneak past the producer Paul again, you’ll never will, he’s on it.

Matt Dodd: 05:42

I know. So I’m not even teed up the next thing correctly, I’ve done it now. I’ll get you Paul I will, I’ll get you, I’ll beat you one day and I promise. First piece fantastic, workflows fighting yesterday’s war. You must read this because the opening section had me howling. It was where’s this going and then it just it’s brilliant. I won’t ruin it for you, but the whole article demonstrates the importance of using interactive technologies and now technology of today to support real time edits to important kickoff meetings to save time and maintain the correct design elements of any workflow that’s going on. The opening section made me giggle because it just demonstrates, reminds me back in my corporate days JK, you spent hours and hours of planning, creating charts, thinking I’ve got to put this to the boss and it’s all to be right.

You spend ages and ages till 11-12 midnight, one in the morning, getting it all right and then you start delivering it within five minutes, it just land the bombshell on you and that isn’t the punchline, but it’s true. It talks about today’s technology that can make workflows far more streamlined and save time and money. With some digging around there are some tools of course, that could perform far better than just the go to applications, which I currently use that everybody uses. Justin great piece, what did you take away from it?

Justin Kennington: 07:11

I thought it was right on point for this week’s topic. In fact, I noticed this article about three weeks ago when I was planning our last show, I saw this and I said, oh my goodness. I bookmarked it and set it aside for this episode because it’s so right on. I think it’s worth recapping a little bit of it, sorry spoiler alert. By the way, all these articles are available down in the resources section below our feet here, you can click them and read them yourself. It tells the story of an AV salesman going into bid on a job for the, I think it was the US Navy and he and some other salespeople were competing for the job and they were all told, we want such and such interactive whiteboards and interactive projectors and touch screens.

So, most of the salesman went off to go bid the prices on those items that the US Navy had asked for and instead the writer, our friend of the show, Mark Coxin, hung back a bit and said, can you tell me more about what you’re trying to do here? The captain in charge described the problem he had, where they were doing war gaming exercises, where they’d pretend to fight each other and work on different scenarios. He said, we would make our whole plan in detail and then it was time to call in the Admiral and present our war plan to the Admiral. We’d had a very detailed PowerPoint that we’d built with all the elements and all of those strategic pieces moving together. Within five minutes, the Admiral would come in and say something like, well you can’t use that sailing lane because country X has a treaty with country Y.

So now the whole plan is shot, they have to start over and he said, at that point, we’re in a hurry in this presentation. We get out the paper maps, we use erasers for represent ships and we start planning like it’s World War II again. So they wanted something that would use technology to enable them to have a better experience inside the workflows that they currently used. The punchline of the story, sorry Matt I’m blowing it for everybody is who got the job? The person who understood the workflow, who understood the problem and then presented a technology solution that was in line with helping to solve that. Really that’s what we’re here to talk about, that’s your responsibility as the system designer, whether that’s the front end of sales or the back end of system design or even the final implementation of the system. You really need to be focused on the customer’s problem and the customer’s existing workflows and how you can improve those rather than on what are the pieces of technology available and how can I give them to them and make them use it.

Matt Dodd: 09:44

Then of course, once you do understand them, then it’s the time to start applying that technology to the correct understood customer workflow because otherwise you’ll be in a quagmire, there’s so much tech out there is it actually going to fit the bill for the customer? Well done Justin for giving all that away, you don’t need to read it anymore, you heard it here first from him, but yes I’m kind of pleased he did give it away, because it is a funny anecdote. Okay the next piece, Justin, do we need trade shows? Respond.

Justin Kennington: 10:16

I had to throw this one in here honestly, just because personally and for anybody involved in trade show planning, which I am as the leader of SDVoE Alliance. The last two years have been so difficult, not because we haven’t had trade shows, but because maybe we’re having trade shows, maybe we’re not, maybe we are, maybe we’re not and we’re in this constant state of having to plan a trade show in case it happens, but also be ready for what are we going to do if it doesn’t happen. Clive Couldwell the author of the article concludes that we do need them, AV is a high-touch business, it’s a relationship business. My sales buddy, Charles always says, people buy things from people they like.

It’s true because you’re going to have to be with that person and interact with that person for the long haul in an AV system. They’re going to be there to support you and you’re going to need them to just be someone you like working with because it’s not a simple buy it once and be done transaction. So, trade shows allow people to get together, to know each other, and allows us to have hands on with the technology. I think it’s ironic that AV is in the place of enabling this new world of hybrid working environments and more working remotely in things, AV is at the center of enabling people to not have to get together so much and yet AV really benefits from all of us being able to get together. So with that said, we’re currently planning a trip to Barcelona in May and Las Vegas in June and let’s hope those shows happen this time.

Matt Dodd: 11:48

Fingers crossed and I love the fact that Clive makes clear reference to the range of environments which we need to be perfected to sell products outside of the trade show, such as and I quote, “broadcast quality programs, podcasts and seminars.” Well here-here to you Clive you. You have an interview to do, so I’m going to leave you to it. I’ll see you in a little while.

Justin Kennington: 12:13

I talked about our guest Paul Zielie, industry luminary, consulting solutions architect, you see it right there is that AVCoIP, that’s what I say. We’re going to ask the hard-hitting questions first. Paul come on in here.

Paul Zielie: 12:25

Hey, how’s it going?

Justin Kennington: 12:27

Good, how are you Paul? How do I say it? I should have asked this a week ago?

Paul Zielie: 12:32

I usually say AVCoIP, but it’s really a placeholder because I couldn’t get AV over IP without spending a lot of money for the domain. So, audio video control on networks, it’s really what you and I have been dealing with for a living for a lot of years and thinking about it holistically is important but that being said-

Justin Kennington: 13:01

Well, my inclination is to want to make fun of you for choosing an acronym that’s very difficult to pronounce series of letters for the name of your organization but something tells me I shouldn’t do that.

Paul Zielie: 13:15

It doesn’t really matter, I’m not out there dealing with the public. From that matter, my primary marketing is walking around trade shows and having people say, oh, Paul, we need you for something. So, you have to have a name and I picked it and I don’t really put a lot of stock in how people.

Justin Kennington: 13:45

Well as president of the SDVoE Alliance, I think AVCoIP is a great name maybe we should do a collaboration.

Paul Zielie: 13:54

I do spell it with a small O like you do.

Justin Kennington: 13:56

Oh, that’s right. See I’m telling you, there’s a collaboration here, it’s like SDVoE by AVCoIP, drops April an NFT. That’s what we need an NFT.

Paul Zielie: 14:08

You are a VoIP solution. So, it would fit into my general purview.

Justin Kennington: 14:09

There you go, let’s go solve some stuff. Let’s talk about some real things. Some things that people might be interested to hear, instead of you and me blabbing about the name. So asking the right questions at requirements time, at design time, what are the right questions?

Paul Zielie: 14:27

So this comes back to something that happened when I was at a previous employer and I usually try to avoid standing in Trade Show Booth but I was standing at Trade Show Booth filling in for somebody. A very senior marketing person came over to me and said, Paul, you’re spending too much time answering the customer’s questions and I said to them, no, I’m not, they’re asking the wrong questions. All this time is getting them to the right questions so I can give them a correct answer. It really comes down in a lot of cases to the right answer to almost any specific question initially, when you’re an engineer or designer is what are you trying to do? Because people will have a vision of a magic bullet in their mind and they’ll ask about that and that may or may not be the magic bullet.

So in order to correctly serve them in what they’re trying to do, it’s really important to always come back to that, and then start to qualify things. Often that question might be valid, but it’s not important. So pick on SDVoE, they come in and say, what’s your latency? You say practically zero and they say, perfect that’s what we want but if you said, what are you trying to do? They say, oh, we’re trying to send this to a campus a thousand miles away, you go, this might not be the right technology for you, because quite frankly, if those people aren’t in the same room, zero latency doesn’t matter, if they’re not interacting it doesn’t matter if that latency is 10 seconds.

At my house my TV in my bedroom is four seconds behind my TV in my living room because that’s where the DVR is and so everything loops through the DVR and that does not affect my life at all. If I’m in the bedroom, I happen to see the football game four seconds later, it doesn’t really matter. The only time I would ever notice is if I’m quickly walking from one room to another and they’re both on the same channel. So when they’re asking the wrong question, it might be that they’re completely asking the wrong question or they’re not asking the most important question and this really comes back to needs analysis.

Justin Kennington: 17:11

Tell us what you mean by that and I’m thinking this might even tie into that news piece we read.

Paul Zielie: 17:19

So under any of those things and he makes good points, but one of the things he didn’t do in that article was say, why do you have all of these things on separate boards and pieces of software? Because that may introduce a constraint saying, well those things exist on four different networks of four different classifications and they can’t all be on the same network at the same time. So I can’t have an automated means to do those overlays or but then you could look and go out. So you have to figure out what they’re trying to do. Ideally I like measurable goals because I like statements of work that guarantee that I get paid and you’ve got to consider the stakeholders and most importantly, the environment that it’s going in. So that whole thing about we want to send video to a campus across the country, that’s an environmental factor.

You have to coexist with a network that’s going thousands of miles, what’s appropriate for it? Then you’re looking at constraints and constraints can be good or bad. The system must do this or the system must not do this and you look at all of those things and figure it out. One of the problems people have when they do constraints is they might set a minimal value saying, it’s got to be better than this, but they don’t set up maximum value at which point that stops being a weighted measurement. So, if I was going to use the latency and going across country, and it was two-way communications, I would set that latency constraint at 50 hundred milliseconds, one way, because at that point, people can still talk and not have so much talking over each other. Once I get below 50 milliseconds, I’m not going to give any extra points for were being below that, I’m going to look at the next most important thing on my list and work on that. If I beat that, that’s fine, it just doesn’t get extra points for being better than good enough.

Justin Kennington: 19:44

Right. It’s no longer improving the experience at that point.

Paul Zielie: 19:48

Right. On the other hand, if they say we have a professor and they want to be able to interact directly with the screen using their PC and mouse, that required latency number moves way lower because a 50 millisecond latency will drive them crazy. That’s why TVs have game mode. They should be on for everything in pro AV but the game people got really mad when they dropped $4,000 on new 85 inch TV set and their first person shooter scores went down and it was because they were having that monitor lag that was happening because modern monitors often add a hundred to 200 milliseconds of delay in making your video perfect. Just trying to see where my air quotes fit on my camera shots.

Justin Kennington: 20:49

Let’s see. I can’t reach all the way, oh well. You started to touch on this, I want to talk about product specs a little bit. You mentioned SDVoE zero latency, of course and as you said, there are applications where that’s truly important and there’s many applications where a little more latency would be okay. Of course, SDVoE will sell on our other benefits like interoperability and multi viewers and things like that in those cases.

Paul Zielie 21:16


Justin Kennington 21:18 What are the ways that product specs can help and what are the ways that product specs might hurt in this conversation with an end customer who’s just trying to get their problem solved?

Paul Zielie: 21:31

Well, it would be nice first of all if they were accurate. I would love to see accurate spec sheets, as well as it’s very often hard to find out things that are important that go in constraints. So, for instance, I was working with a video encoder that was just for IPTV, just a H964 coder, and it could send out unicast or multicast and my question was, how many unicast streams can go out before it starts a breakdown? Obviously there’s going to be a limit, I need a screen for each one, it’s a device, it’s probably not network speed. What’s that limit? They’re like, well, what do you need it to be? It’s more important to know what the number is than what the number actually is, because I just need to know at what threshold I have to go to a different technique.

So if it’s only ever going to go to two displays, I’m going to opt for unicast because I don’t have to worry about the network it’s easier. If it needs to go to 20, I’m obviously going to go to multicast because I’m sure that little cheap, inexpensive encoder’s not going to be able to support 20 simultaneous unicast displays. It’s also important to think about that ahead of time as a potential, because in this particular case, the sports bar world they’re not going to notice that that doesn’t work until the super bowl, because they’re never going to have it on more than three screens at a time until the super bowl when suddenly 40 screens are on it and nothing works, and you get those calls. So getting back to those specs and the customers and the previous question is really coming back to, what are you trying to do? What kind of constraints do you potentially have? Then you explain to them why what they want, isn’t actually going to work.

Hopefully they’re rational and I’m not a big believer in the customer is always right. I’d go further in saying the customer is rarely right and that’s why they hire people to explain things to them and to do this due diligence, it gets really easy to fall under the marketing FUDD or where a single metric is pushed. I pick on the zero latency because it’s one of the most misunderstood things in network distribution. In 85% of the cases, it’s not the most important constraint, I would put interoperability and multiple transports and that sort of thing way above latency in most installations. The latency number becomes easy for somebody who doesn’t think deeply to compare two things and get a number and at a previous employer, one of your previous employers kicked my butt with the simple concept of four’s more than two.

Justin Kennington: 25:11

We don’t need that many pixels, you’re setting too far for them to display, four is better than two. Paul hold that thought, I want to bring you back for the aftershow. I’ll see you in four minutes, you hang right there. You guys wait for a fact check.

Matt, did you know that four is more than two? It’s true.

Matt Dodd: 25:55

According to my sources.

Justin Kennington: 25:56

Can’t argue with that.

Matt Dodd: 25:59

You’re absolutely right, good interview. You revved him up, you couldn’t stop him, we can look forward to the aftershow where we hear some more from Paul now. Thanks to your questions so far, don’t forget there’s resource links on this page, including some great related course ware. You’ll see the selling fundamentals, which has been a really popular course, it’s all about asking the right questions. Let’s face it, we’ve been hearing a lot about that today thus far. Stick around, because you’re going to hear some more. You’ll also find our latest course that we’ve uploaded in there SDVoE in Broadcast and Media Production. This is all about thinking out the box, out the box solution for your client, making sure that you are not missing out on any opportunities, because it’s broadcasting.

So what? There Is still huge amount of benefit and opportunity there for SDVoE. So make sure you check it out. In fact, when you’ve done that, then check out the Zurich Opera House case study, because that is a really good example of exactly what thinking out of the box does for you. So check that out, you’ll also see the news articles that are just below us here as well, so you can have a read through those. For now, we are going to head back to Justin just to find out what’s just to close the show and find out what’s happening next week and get ready for the aftershow. So make sure you stick around for that.

Justin Kennington: 27:26

Stick around indeed, we’ve got more with Paul Zielie, we’ve got your questions and answers, you’ve still got time to get them in So send those on over. Catch us on social media too, #SDVoElive. You can give us your feedback, you can send us questions for next week’s episode, you can send us questions for this episode right now and we’re monitoring those channels in the hotline central. Our next episode is called AV Disaster Prep, How Ready Are You? How’s that for a scary name? Our guest is going to be Rachel Harris, a new friend of the show, I’ve only just met her a few weeks ago, but she’s got some very exciting perspectives.

We found that we shared several things in common, including we have the same Star Wars cat calendar. That’s cats fighting with light saber in a calendar and also a love of infrastructure and seeing infrastructure as a method of preparedness. So, we’re going to talk about that, we’re going to talk about my and fireproof filing cabinet, that’s part of my preparedness infrastructure and I love it and it’s going to be a very interesting show. So thank you everybody for tuning in, stay right there for the After Show and we’ll see you there. Good night.


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