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Season 2, Episode 9 – AV Disaster Prep: How Ready Are You?
March 2020 brought major disruption to all our lives, and to businesses everywhere. Suddenly, enterprises, houses of worship, schools, and others were looking for their pivot. This week, our guest Rachael Harris argues that the organizations who navigated the past two years most successfully did NOT pivot—they merely adjusted. What allowed them to manage the transition to a work-from-home world more easily? Preparedness in the form of infrastructure. We will discuss what that means, and how we can all lay the groundwork personally and professionally to be ready to succeed regardless of what the world throws at us next.
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Rachael Harris, Sr. Infrastructure Engineer – Event Video Streaming
Rachael Harris is a livestream operator and audiovisual infrastructure engineer currently working for a large financial institution. She started in corporate audiovisual as a Technical Manager for C-suite events and videoconferencing endpoints. Originally, she began her career as a theatrical lighting technician and has since explored live production in many roles, including: Production Manager, Venue Manager, Venue Salesperson, Technical Director, many flavors of Stagehand, and more. She brings a showbiz lens to every project and strives to furnish both colleagues and clients with streamlined, approachable solutions that deliver smooth shows and communications.
Justin Kennington (00:06):
Man, every week. Guys, I love that intro music. Do you love our theme song? Write to us and tell me how much you love our theme song email@example.com. But who are we? Well, I’m your host, Justin Kennington, and this is SDVoE LIVE! TV for pro AV. I’m going to say it’s the show I’m most excited about for this whole season. This is a topic utterly fascinating, interesting, and central to me. It’s something I love to think about, something I love to plan for, something I love to talk about, and yet most of you think it’s so boring that we had to disguise it in the title. Today’s show is AV Disaster Prep: How Ready Are You? But really, it’s a show about infrastructure. I love infrastructure, how about you? Can I get a hand for like category cables in the wall, for filing cabinets? I told you guys at the end of the last episode, like literally as we were wrapping the show, my new fireproof, waterproof filing cabinet was being delivered just upstairs from the studio. I was so excited, it’s in my office now, it weighs 250 pounds. All my files are in there and I love it. I get excited about that sort of thing because I am a goofball.
Our guest today, Rachael Harris, is joining us. She is herself a streaming event engineer. She works for one of the major financial institutions, one of the big end users in our space. It was fun to prepare for this show with a real live engineer sitting in the guest seat. You’d think she’d be sitting there thinking like, “Wow, these guys really have no idea what they’re doing. How are they prepared for this?” But no, she was actually really cool about all of the goofy stuff that happens at one of our tech rehearsals. Anyway, very excited to talk to Rachael about infrastructure because I love infrastructure.
And what we’re really going to talk about is how infrastructure is readiness. Infrastructure is what’s going to be there when the stuff hits the fan and you have to go to plan B all of a sudden. It’s your infrastructure that’s going to be there for you to build your next response on. And if it’s solid, then you’re going to have a chance to make it through some kind of disaster. If your infrastructure isn’t solid, then you have nothing to stand on and you’re going to be in big trouble. We’re going to talk with Rachael a lot more about that later. Email your questions for Rachael to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. And next, we’re going to go check in with the hotline central after this Q&A. Oh, Mathew, are you in there?
Matt Dodd (03:03):
Ball, that’s a real American phrase, isn’t it? Goofball.
Justin Kennington (03:07):
Yeah, we say that mostly to children. I’ve been hanging out with children all week so I say things like that. Is that not something we say in jolly old England?
Matt Dodd (03:15):
Well, no. We use a whole myriad of different phrases. But I have to remember the goofball, that’s a good one. How are you? You okay?
Justin Kennington (03:24):
You can have that. Doing very well. Enjoying my new filing cabinet. Just thinking about infrastructure gets me excited.
Matt Dodd (03:29):
Fantastic. Well, we’ve got a team of moderators as we always have every time we come to the show. You can hear them busy in the background. Rachael’s here with Justin to check in on how prepared your AV projects are in the event of a disaster striking. This is going to be a great show. I can’t believe people think this is boring, it’s going to be fab. So get your comments and your questions in, you’ve got to do that. Justin’s already said email email@example.com or use the chat window. If you’re watching this in academy, pick the chat window and get stuck in. We need to hear from you. Give us your feedback on the show as well, don’t forget. And by the way, as we always have, Justin, we’ve got a question in already from Janet Newcombs, she’s a bit cheeky, Janet.
Justin Kennington (04:14):
Matt Dodd (04:14):
Wait till you get this. Do you seriously think you can make an interesting show about infrastructure?
Justin Kennington (04:25):
Well, I guess we’re about to find out, Janet.
Matt Dodd (04:27):
Cheeky, Janet, cheeky. So keep them coming in. We want to hear from you, do it now.
Justin Kennington (04:33):
Matt, why don’t you head on out of the hotline, come join me in the studio and let’s look at some news.
Matt Dodd (04:38):
Great idea. Oh, I do like it here.
Justin Kennington (04:38):
There he is.
Matt Dodd (05:07):
I miss the studio. It’s great in my little room back there, but this is where it’s at, isn’t it? This is where it’s at.
Justin Kennington (05:14):
Well, it’s also 22 degrees cooler in here, so I can imagine you prefer this.
Matt Dodd (05:17):
Well, yeah. But we don’t let heat affect us in the slightest. Some great news articles, so let’s do some news. One day, I’m going to catch him out, I’m going to catch producer Paul out.
Justin Kennington (05:31):
It still gets me every time.
Matt Dodd (05:33):
Brilliant. So first stop.
Justin Kennington (05:34):
I never catch him.
Matt Dodd (05:37):
Peach County, yeah, yeah, yeah. I’ve been watching some stuff on these guys. They are really, really future thinking. These guys are fantastic. I want to go to this school. Peach County high school are leading the way with AV technology classes, which ultimately lead students to become certified in TV production, which is so cool. Robert Hill, the teacher there, he’s tipped my scale, the world’s coolest teacher. I really do wish he was a teacher when I was back at school with our ink wells, et cetera. It gives students a really insight as to how programs are made. And they spend hours really getting behind the scenes with this whole thing. It’s fantastic and it’s really encouraging as well to see AV tech training taken really seriously at this level, it’s fantastic. There’s an awful lot of creative technical talent out there. We live in this world over here in this side of the studio and I speak from experience really, it really helps to leverage that talent. And they’re doing a load more stuff as well. It’s great piece this, it’s a video.
Justin Kennington (06:48):
It reminded me of a couple of things. Number one is our second episode this season, when we had Alexis La Broi join for our unplugged episode. We were talking about what are the things that we as an industry should be doing to draw in and recruit young talent? Well, it doesn’t get much better than high school programs built to teach kids about the technology in and around audio video. Of course, it seems like their curriculum is based particularly around broadcast technologies. But, of course, there’s so much overlap. Fundamentally, these kids are learning that audio and video are a real career that they might undertake. And the fact that they’re also learning some of the technology and how to use it as a baseline, that’s all fine and can only help too.
But really, I think it’s about teaching them that there’s a career path here. So many people, we talked about this with Alexis, and it’s my experience and I think many of yours, so many people who’ve made successful careers in AV just ended up here one day. Somehow we were studying something else, we were working on something else, and we found a way in here and it was cool and here are. But if we can bring it more like how kids know that being an insurance salesman is a job you can have, well, let’s teach kids that being an AV professional is a job you can have. I think that’s a key part of the value here.
It reminded me also of my own high school experience. I worked on the high school newspaper staff. I remember being probably more engaged than I was at any other point in high school with that for me, from a perspective of the technology. I would help to set up and manage the computer lab that made our newspaper and all that sort of thing. And it was a way for me to engage with a learning environment in a way I wasn’t really interested in for traditional history class or something else. I did okay, but I wasn’t really paying attention. When it was time to put my hands on some technology and make it go, I was paying attention.
Matt Dodd (08:53):
I bet you were a nightmare at school.
Justin Kennington (08:56):
You have no idea, actually.
Matt Dodd (08:57):
Justin Kennington (09:00):
Ask me the time I was actually editor of that high school newspaper, at one point the staff attempted a coup.
Matt Dodd (09:06):
Justin Kennington (09:07):
I say attempted.
Matt Dodd (09:10):
These guys at Peach County as well, it’s not just AV, they also do a criminal investigation course. How cool is that? Learn criminal investigation. Got to go here. I’m moving to Peach County. Is that right?
Justin Kennington (09:27):
It’s Fort Valley, Georgia where the school is. I’ve got my background notes right here.
Matt Dodd (09:32):
Moving on, second news item. Brilliant this. Really comprehensive report from RH Consulting, which this year includes networked video and some control protocols. Over to you JK, some good stuff in here.
Justin Kennington (09:48):
It’s such a simple thing really. For 10 years, RH Consulting, headed by Roland Hemming, has been putting out their networked audio products report. And here’s how it works, it’s very simple. They go and count all of the networked audio products on the market and they make a report. It sounds simple, of course, counting products can be tricky because what do you mean by a product? Is that something somebody listed on a website? Is that something that I saw at InfoComm? Is that something that was shipping three years ago? RH’s definition is included in the article linked below, so check it out. Oh, sorry linked below, so check it out. Their definition is basically a shipping product, a product I can go to the manufacturer, to a distributor and buy now, that’s a product we’re going to count. And then they sort them into bins.
They’ve been all about networked audio for the 10 years. So it’s been how many products support Dante? How many products support AVB? How many products support CobraNet? And so on and so on. And they track the changes over time. Today of the, let’s see, I got the numbers here, of the 4,142 products they counted, audio products, 3,300 of those, that’s 80%, support Dante. I think it’s fair to say by this count and many other measures, Audinate and Dante have won the networked audio battle. The reason this caught my eye is that this year they’ve decided to start counting video products. And of the, these numbers I didn’t write down. Oh, actually I know them though. Of the 420 video products they counted, 267 of those support SDVoE. So to me, that’s a massive endorsement of the ecosystem that we’re trying to build here. And I’m very proud of that. In fact, to learn more about this, tune in two weeks because Mr. Roland Hemming is going to be our guest on the show. We’re going to talk about the trends he’s uncovered and where they might lead us.
Matt Dodd (11:42):
Awesome. What a great segue. Listen, I’m going to head off because you’ve got an interview to do. So good luck with it all. It’s going to be fab. Pay attention everybody and I’ll catch you in a bit.
Justin Kennington (11:52):
See you, Matt. Thank you. All right. Well, our guest, Ms. Rachael Harris, she is an infrastructure engineer. She does video streaming all day, every day, and for quite a large financial institution. So the pressure’s really on her when it’s time. Not like our little TV show here, that we know you’re all enjoying. Rachael , why don’t you come on in and let’s say hello?
Rachael Harris (12:15):
Justin Kennington (12:16):
Hello, Rachael . Welcome to the show. How are you today?
Rachael Harris (12:20):
I’m fine, thank you. Thank you so much for having me.
Justin Kennington (12:22):
How are we doing so far? What’s our rating here? We’ve never had a streaming engineer on the show before, I’m nervous.
Rachael Harris (12:29):
No, I’m really proud of you guys. I’m really proud of what you’re doing here. I love that you’ve got your set so beautiful. And this is great. I’m happy to be here. A plus.
Justin Kennington (12:42):
Thank you, thank you. It took three years of construction to build this very real facility that we have here. So let’s talk about infrastructure because I know that you’re the other person in the world that thinks it’s interesting. That’s you and that’s me. So we may lose the whole audience here, but I don’t care. I care very much, I want you to stick around. When I think of AV infrastructure, I’m thinking about the category cables in the walls, maybe I’m thinking about a few of the boxes that plug in there. But I think it might be bigger than that. For you, what is AV infrastructure?
Rachael Harris (13:18):
So Cat 5 in the wall is definitely not what comes to mind for me. And I should always just say that whatever I say is only what I think. All of my views are my own and I do my best to share them. But that doesn’t mean anybody else [inaudible 00:13:38] the same thing.
Justin Kennington (13:38):
We don’t even know who else you might represent. So of course you’re not representing whoever that could be.
Rachael Harris (13:44):
Exactly. Thank you. But I’m learning about infrastructure, my background is theatrical performance. In that, we worked on… You get the things that you need to complete what you want to complete. But the way that I’ve been involved in it since being in AV is there are so many more pieces of infrastructure than just the wires in the wall. There are all kinds of, I don’t even know the names of all of the nodes and services and help, assistants, people who are a part of your infrastructure that you have to rely on. I think it’s more than equipment, it’s systems and how do the equipment and the operations come together. I think that’s infrastructure, and you have to look at it all together in order to have a smooth product at the end.
Justin Kennington (14:45):
That’s great, people as infrastructure, I get it, I understand, and that makes a lot of sense. Does infrastructure get overlooked? And if so, by whom?
Rachael Harris (14:55):
All the time by everybody until they need it. I think that we saw everybody need infrastructure that they didn’t have at the same time. And who pivoted easily? Here’s one example, the churches, why were they ready to do that? Because they had already been doing the outreach where they had to go to their audience. So I don’t know if that was descriptive enough, but I think we all know what I’m talking about.
Justin Kennington (15:29):
You’re talking about March 2020. Everything’s going along smoothly, we’re living our lives, and then suddenly, nobody ever come to the office again, just stop. That’s what you’re talking about.
Rachael Harris (15:39):
That’s what I’m talking about. And there were very few organizations who were-
Justin Kennington (15:43):
Rachael Harris (15:44):
… ready to already do that. But I think churches are a great example because they had already built out the personnel, the operation, the equipment that they needed. Everybody was scrambling looking for ATEMs and switchers and things like that. It was all gone, but they already had it. So what was the question? But that is what I think about infrastructure.
Justin Kennington (16:10):
Well, we’re talking about who is overlooking infrastructure and who’s not overlooking, who was getting it right? So the follow one to that… Go ahead.
Rachael Harris (16:20):
Oh, no. I was going to say-
Justin Kennington (16:22):
Go ahead, tell me who got it wrong.
Rachael Harris (16:24):
Literally everybody, everybody else. Any sector you want to talk about is still figuring it out.
Justin Kennington (16:33):
Yeah, absolutely. So nobody involved here is stupid or wants to be caught off guard and not be ready to handle whatever comes their way. But given that, why does infrastructure still get overlooked? Why do we not end up preparing our audio video systems for whatever might come?
Rachael Harris (17:02):
This is a question I think about all the time and battle with. Part of it is I don’t know. But the other part is I think that organizations, and I speak mainly about smaller to medium size organizations, let’s take for instance museums, schools, churches, who again we already said did fine because they’ve been working on that. But other types of businesses like that don’t have someone at the table when it’s time to make those decisions who is educated about how video and audio communication works. And they don’t often prioritize that skillset as something that they want to have on their team when they’re at the builders meeting or looking at the budgets for how they want to create whatever space they’re creating, and things get left out.
Most processes don’t bring the end users in until the design process is over, the construction process is over. And then it’s up to the end users to try to fill the gaps that were left in the design process. I love designers, many of them are never end users, and that’s normal, that’s how the process works. They put the buttons there but they don’t necessarily always put them where they need to be. And then it’s a question of, can you change them? Can you not? Or somebody on the organization’s team might say, “No, no, we don’t need that.” That happens all the time. And it goes all the way through until the same person turns around and says, you know what we want to do, and then it’s the end user to deal with that. So that’s why I’m in love with infrastructure because if you put it there before I get there, now I can do what you want to do.
Justin Kennington (19:18):
So maybe infrastructure is really, of course, it’s people, it’s equipment, it’s a plan, I think, for how to use those things, but maybe it’s mostly about the anticipation of what your needs might be in a way that’s not necessarily fully hashed out and implemented. Because of course, we could just implement everything for everybody all the time, all we need is an infinite amount of money and time. We do have to, at some point, choose what are we actually going to build? But maybe the infrastructure is the core of your system. And I don’t just mean technology system, but technology and people together, that allows you to be flexible.
I’m reflecting right now, as you spoke about that, on our last episode with Paul Zielie, when we talked about how to capture user requirements. And that was a lot about understanding the end user, understanding the workflow that they’re trying to get through, and then building a system with what I call user empathy. Understanding what they’re trying to do and building a system that can do that. It’s funny that I’m hearing the very same thing about how designers benefit from being better connected earlier in the process to the end user. And they benefit that way for designing systems that fulfill their needs up front. That was what we talked about with Paul. And maybe that yields better systems for when that flexibility is needed down the road. Just got real philosophical there.
Rachael Harris (20:47):
It is. It’s taking me to the concept of vision quest. That can be a part of your process, just taking time out. I don’t know if people still do this in… Well, nobody goes on any kind of retreats or anything. But when you get the team together and just brainstorm and vision quest and figure out, what do we want this to look like? And how do we want it to be? I feel like so many designs. And this is not… I say the word design, it’s not about designers because I think everybody is a designer, the client is a designer, the AV designer is a designer, the system engineer. But taking the time to brainstorm what your big, giant, no restrictions of time or money vision is.
And then working toward that with the way that you plan your resources I think helps people to helps people systems to get on the road to getting ahead of those pitfalls. There’s one thing to not be able to do something that you didn’t know you were going to have to do or that is not possible to do yet and the world hasn’t invented. But it’s another thing to not have the resources to do something that you want to do because you never took the time to think about whether or not you want to do it, something that’s already possible. I think that happens all the time. And really push for that. Just taking that time to meet with your team and ask everybody what their dream is, and then see if you can put that together with the resources you have.
Justin Kennington (22:50):
What I’d love to get to is some useful advice for people, how do we plan our infrastructure so that we’re best prepared for whatever comes. And I’m wondering if, you give the example of churches that were already dabbling or more in streaming their services. And when things went crazy a couple of years ago, they were ready to just more easily switch to an all online model, for example. But I don’t know, was that really good infrastructure planning or was that just getting lucky in the sense that what this disaster demanded was an ability to transition everything online suddenly. In the corporate space, was what this disaster demanded was suddenly the ability for almost everyone to work remotely. And so everything needs to switch to Zoom, to Teams, et cetera.
What if the next disaster is, I don’t know how this will work out, but that’s the nature of weird disasters, is you don’t understand them. What if the next disaster means, oh my God, we’d need huddle rooms everywhere. No more 12 person conference rooms, we need four person huddle rooms, that’s it. We need them everywhere. How do we prepare in a way that’s flexible for whatever the demands of that disaster are? As opposed to, like I said, people who were already headed to, let’s use Zoom and Teams all the time approach happened to be in a good spot. But was that good planning or was that good fortune? And by the way, you have about 40 seconds to answer that, but we’ll take it to the after show.
Rachael Harris (24:22):
No, that’s a good one because I have tried to spend time figuring out what the next disaster could look like. If I could invent the thing for the next disaster now, I could just wait until you all need it and then sell it to you. But I don’t know.
Justin Kennington (24:44):
In fact, right behind here, have a look.
Rachael Harris (24:49):
But I think that’s the whole thing. I think a lot of it is getting lucky in the case of what we went through as a globe recently. However, now that we’ve seen it, there’s no excuse not to get your infrastructure in check for what we know could be the problem. And everybody is not swift to do that, lots of organizations are quick to rely on things opening back up and leaving Zoom rooms in the past. I think that that’s, it’s optimistic and it’s good, but why wouldn’t you want to add this technology to your portfolio?
Justin Kennington (25:33):
Let’s put a pin in that because I want to explore the thought of, maybe the most we should be preparing for is smaller disasters. Maybe those are more predictable, understandable, and better to be prepared for. But let’s look at that in the after show, you sit right there, Rachael , and we’ll be back with you in about four minutes while you guys have a fact check. All right. Matt, are you there? Are you there or do we need to go to our backup?
Matt Dodd (26:19):
Yeah, great interview. Brilliant. Looking forward to hearing all from Rachael , as we all are, of course. Thanks for your questions and comments so far, Lloyd, you’re a star, some great comments there. We’ll bring them back up in the after show. Just to let you know that there are three courses from member presenters actually below us here, a review of AV over IP infrastructure options, which include some pretty eye catching commentary on how important it is to prepare your infrastructure for new applications. And down there, you’ll also find a case study which features a massive infrastructure upgrade and all the great things that brought to the end user. So keep them coming in. We’re heading over to the after show pretty quickly. Let’s head back to Justin now to find out what’s happening next week and then get ready for the after show.
Justin Kennington (27:07):
All right, let’s wrap this thing up. I’m wondering, Matt, think about this, we’ll talk about it after the show, should we do the show every week? Because you and I always talk about next week and last week, even though, of course, we do this every two weeks. I just think maybe there’s something in our subconscious mind telling us that this needs to be weekly. Maybe our audience demands it. Why don’t you let us know your thoughts, would you tune in every week? Would you tune in twice a week? Would you tune in every day? Oh my goodness. Would we have time for that? I don’t know. Anyway, next week or in two weeks, depending on how you count, we’re going to have Roland Heming on. Or as I call him, Count Von Count. One audio network product, remember that guy? Sesame Street, no, nothing?
Anyway, the show it’s called Video is the New Audio. And I’m going to let Roland explain that to you soon. But that’s about the fact that he sees that video over the network is in a very similar position to where audio over the network was 10 years ago. So we’re going to ask him, “Okay. Well, then based on what we’ve learned from networked audio in a decade, what does that tell us about the future of networked video?” Should be a very interesting chat. I certainly can’t wait to hear what he has to say. So please join us. Meanwhile, keep your questions rolling in to firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll be back with Rachael in the after show in just us a few moments. And tune in every two weeks, you can catch us in the SDVoE Academy, you can catch us on Ray’s launch platform, catch us on YouTube. If you miss an episode, go to youtube.com/sdvoealliance. And don’t forget to like and subscribe. Just everything you see there, go for it. So with that, I’m going to sign off and we’ll see you in the after. Goodbye, everybody.