The Rise Of Analytics: What’s With All Those Numbers?

Checklist Item Under Test: 6.59: Verify that all IP information provided by the client is loaded into the system, including IP address, network IDs, subnet masks, default gateway, timeserver, Gatekeeper, alias, hostnames, etc. All network functions specified by the customer are shown to function properly on customer’s LAN. These settings are listed in a report that will remain with the system.

Reasoning: Technology managers are spending incredible amounts of resources on their AV systems. In order to maximize the return on their investment, they want to be sure their resources are spent wisely and are meeting the needs of their users. Control systems and individual devices are now equipped with data-logging capabilities that can tell us (the technology managers, the designers, the installers, the programmers, etc.) how users are really using the system. However, these system tags are rarely taken advantage of to their fullest extent.

The Story: I am a huge Freakonomics fan. I love their books. I love their podcasts. I think they are the bee’s knees. So, when I heard Stephen J. Dubner was giving the keynote address at InfoComm16 in Las Vegas, I was stoked. And he did not disappoint at all. His talk was poignant, funny and, although not directly associated with the AV industry, it still had a lot to offer about gleaning information from people in general.

The gist of the talk was how difficult it is to gather accurate information from people. Do you simply ask them? Do you monitor them 24/7? Do you employ a team of watchers? How do you ensure that the information is accurate? Dubner discussed an Australian study about how often doctors wash their hands before touching a patient in the germ-growing-boxes we call hospitals. When the researchers simply asked the doctors, they would get a number close to 73%, meaning hands were washed before touching a patient roughly three out of four times. However, when they monitored the doctors with a third-party network of nurse spies, the number was actually 9%. That’s right. One out of 10 times! You can imagine the cringes in the crowd.

So what does this have to do with AV? Think about how the AV design process happens. We ask user representatives of the clients what they need. We look at their existing systems and ask what is used often and what is rarely used. We ask how many conference or huddle spaces their users need. And we take their word for it. My question is, “How many of those user representatives actually know?”

That brings me to the show floor. I saw lots of tweaks of existing lines of equipment. I saw some incredible displays. In my humble opinion, however, the takeaway from the show was in the analytics realm. Manufacturers have offered data-logging features in their enterprise-wide remote monitoring products for years, but I feel like they are finally starting to mature. I also feel like the industry and users are starting to catch on to how useful and powerful they can be. We had several new manufacturers bringing control solutions to the market with powerful usage analytics automatically built into their products. We had one major manufacturer that had analytics built into its line for years take the capabilities direct to the users. The point is, users are screaming for this information and the manufacturers have delivered in a big way (and have been for a while, honestly). But, have we integrators, designers and programmers been meeting the needs of our clients with these tools?

If you want to know how often a particular source is used, the systems will tell you. So, do you really need that Room PC or DVD/VCR? Now you have an answer based on data: “The DVD/VCR has not been selected in six years.”

If you want to know if the number of conference spaces are adequate for your users, the systems will tell you. So, if all the conference spaces on the floor are at 110% capacity, you could probably do with a few more. If Room 321 hasn’t been used in a few months, you might be wasting resources.

If you want to know if the room scheduling is being abused, the systems will tell you. So, if you call up the Booked vs. Occupied metric, you can look for trends in how the rooms are reserved. You can even drill down a bit further to find out that Lucas in accounting is a habitual overbooker who only physically occupies 55% of his booked meeting spaces, wasting company resources. It gets very exciting. However, it is only exciting if we build these tools into the systems and teach our users how to glean meaningful information from them.

What does this mean for designers and integrators? I see some incredible business opportunities in the rise of analytics. With much of the industry going to “conference rooms in a box” (CRiaB for the IT folks), with little in the way of design and installation costs, we can shift the services we provide our clients. What if we link these CRiaBs with an occupancy sensor and analytics engine? Not only can we add a tremendous amount of value, but it’s a (relatively) new service that can be provided easily to all levels of clients. We can set up their analytics in their new and existing spaces. We can interpret their data on a monthly/yearly/recurring basis. We can offer this interpretation as part of a continual improvement design service as we maintain their catalog of standard systems. There are many additional and new services created in spite of these CRiaBs “taking over” our share of the conference-space pie. Like I said…it’s very exciting.

However, we have to get hip with the language of the users and manufacturers so we can do a better job of integrating these features into our projects. Instead of just a single line item in a design spec (“the system will have a server-based analytics engine to gather room-use information”), we have to get much more granular. We have to describe and list exactly what we want included in that analytics engine. Instead of just enabling these metrics in the system menu with a checkbox during the installation, we have to spend time with the client (at a given hourly rate) to discuss what they mean and what they can do for the client’s company. Then, maybe even at the six-month visit, review how the data collecting is coming along and see if any surprising trends jump out at us. (Who knew the laptop input was going to be more popular than the wireless collaborative WAP?! Maybe the users need more training!)

We should trust our users to an extent, but now we can have the numbers to validate their “gut feelings.” We have these tools at our disposal, but we are not doing a good job at leveraging them to add value for our clients and add new services to our product offerings. These metrics are what those IT and real estate decision-makers are very, very interested in. These metrics will help us speak their language at a level that will enlighten some as to how important the AV industry can be to the facilities-management culture.

So, Stephen J. Dubner did a spectacular job of setting the tone for another incredible InfoComm show. And perhaps more importantly, Dubner’s talk also touched on a currency study that witnessed monkey prostitution. (Did I mention how much I love this man?!) The world’s oldest profession might be older than we think…by millennia! So, there’s that.

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