AV Police Squad

Maintenance VS. Commoditization

If the bridges and roads we drive on begin to look like Swiss cheese, it’s because they were not maintained. In fact, the relatively high taxes levied on gas is supposed to cover these costs. Nowadays, it doesn’t even come close, and most of the cost for infrastructure maintenance comes out of a general tax fund. So, if it’s not a priority, it just doesn’t happen. Roads are literally driven into the ground, taking several tires and cars with them in their death spirals. In fact, the American Society of Civil Engineers currently rates US infrastructure with a “D+” on its infrastructure report card. Have we forgotten how to make things last?

It is oftentimes quicker, and maybe even cheaper, to replace a non-conforming device rather than deal with the repair/service process. This is as true in AV as in many aspects of our lives. Part of the cost of ownership of anything used to include some money for repair and/or maintenance over its lifetime. If your television started acting up, you took it to the repair shop. Now, we just toss it out, and go buy a new one. I see the same thing happening with systems.

AV systems are installed and operated with little thought given to maintenance. After a few years, the wheels start getting loose, and instead of laying out a maintenance plan and some simple upgrades, we want to replace the whole thing. I see the logic. There are newer technologies. There are larger price tags for the designers and installers. If the system really started to act up, putting in something shiny and new may appease many of the more vocal complainers on the end-user side. Systems used to last 10+ years, and their lifespans are definitely trending down. Some universities even claim systems last as little as three years! Replacing them may seem like a good thing to do. But, is it the best thing to do?

I completely understand that it makes good sense to replace a failed device rather than try to repair it. Repairing something takes service labor costs, which can be hundreds of dollars, to come in, diagnose the issue, pull the equipment and then reinstall it a few days/weeks later. There is also the time lost during the repair itself, where the room, or at least that particular aspect of it, can’t be used. It makes sense to just overnight a new device and put it into the system. On paper, labor is cut in half (no need for two trips), time is cut (no service and repair time, just get the new device in) and room down time is kept to a minimum.

However, on the system side of things, I wonder if the users’ needs can be better met with upgrades rather than completely replacing the system. I can see both sides. On one hand, older technology rarely plays nicely with newer technology. It may be cheaper and better for the client to replace everything to assure a smooth installation instead of putting Band-Aids on things here and there.

On the other hand, how often do these incredible new features we put in sit unused because the client just needs to show their laptops on a screen?! Further, even though upgrades might not carry the same overall price tag of a new install, they might actually be more profitable for the company. Less risk and a higher labor-to-kit ratio is never a bad thing.

I don’t have an answer. I’m not even sure I have an opinion. I do like to think about these things, though. In general, commoditization never sits right with me. The hoarder in me has too much respect for “stuff” to simply throw it out instead of trying to fix it. However, the technologist in me wants to be sure my clients are ready for whatever new requirements their users might throw at them. I guess my final thought is as long as we can justify our recommendations and keep our clients’ actual needs in mind, we’ll be in good shape. And for Pete’s sake (you know Pete!), try to convince your clients to AT LEAST do a quick function test every now and again to protect their ROI. I see systems as family. It’s a shame to see them wither away to nothing prematurely.

Previous ArticleNext Article

Send this to friend