Time To Put On Your Big Boy Pants

One of the obvious and often dismissed facts of our industry is that the quality of some of our work is awful. Inevitably, it all boils down to bad management. How many times have you walked into a room with a dead monitor, unintelligible speech or push buttons that don’t work?

Longtime readers might remember my fascination with the Brewster Buffalo, the US Navy’s first monoplane fighter. In Finland, one version still holds almost mythical status, having a 26:1 kill ratio over Russian fighters. The Finns nicknamed it “The Pearl of the Skies,” and they attempted to build their own version of it.

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The story is somewhat different in Malaya, Java and Midway. Suffice it to say, under British and American management, slightly different versions earned the title “The Worst Fighter of WWII,” according to Smithsonian Magazine. A Midway squadron commander famously wrote, “Any commander that orders pilots out for combat in a Buffalo should consider those pilots lost before leaving the ground.”

The Brewster Aeronautical Corporation was headquartered in Long Island City NY (now JetBlue’s home), with manufacturing facilities in Newark NJ and Warminster PA. Now, one might think that, if you’re building the Navy’s frontline fighter in wartime, the following things should not happen: your CEO being sued for fraud, the firm being under congressional investigation, your sales staff being imprisoned for gun running in Bolivia, staff striking constantly, workers having sex inside your product, and production quality being so poor that a special tool was needed to turn aircraft upside down to shake out loose bolts and tools. Nevertheless, all of that happened. The party ended on April 18, 1942 (seven weeks before the Battle of Midway), when the Navy seized control of the company and, eventually, it was dissolved. Essentially, the whole mess was covered up for decades.

Stories not all that dissimilar in the audiovisual industry used to be commonplace. Some manufacturers had a long history of sending product out the door that they knew didn’t work. In order to meet production and billing milestones, product was shipped under the assumption that it could be fixed in the field. That was especially common when the relationship between manufacturer and integrator was less than professional. I can recall projects where hundreds of amplifiers and video players left the factory untested, and they were doomed to failure.

Integrators should insist that their products be fully tested and documented prior to leaving the factory. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen that requirement included on a purchase order; however, it should be commonplace.

What is the state of systems integration? One marketing firm’s analysis indicated that 54 percent of its respondents claimed that a lack of systems integration was a big challenge for marketers this year. More than half of the people selling our product think their own firm is a major impediment to their own success. It is unlikely many will dispute that claim.

So, what must be done?

The audiovisual industry has to grow up. All of our components should automatically report their failures and real-time performance back to industry-standard Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP)-compatible management products like SAP and Microsoft Dynamics. Our end customers, via their computer dashboards, should be able to encapsulate the overall system performance of our hardware and software within seconds.

It should be noted and applauded that the security part of our industry has provided many of those capabilities for years. They have no problem remotely dialing up a CCTV camera in Poughkeepsie NY and watching from their desk in Detroit MI or Bangkok, Thailand. Alas, the same is not true for most of the audiovisual world. A school principal is not able to tell from his or her desk that the system for the annual holiday pageant is ready. Only a unique few systems even report failures back to the integrator—let alone total system performance, in real time, to the end client.

How many AV firms provide ERP data to their clients? My guess is zero. I truly hope I am wrong, however, and that someone has already blazed the path. Virtually every major company uses ERP dashboards now to manage their other disciplines—to manage their cash flow, meter their progress and maximize the efficiencies of their resources. Imagine if our systems automatically reported what messages were sent and the quality of them, as reproduced in the actual space!

An audio/video dashboard that indicates system uptime and failures (especially across an enterprise network), tied to standard management tools, would prove both enlightening and useful. Our systems need to account for imperfect processes, people, technologies and designs, as well as specifications that do not actually exist. After all, imperfections will show up…and presumably at the most inconvenient moment.

We have to accept that our end users are autonomous, behave under the influence of internal and external drives we can’t possibly imagine, have limited knowledge of our systems and limited insights about their system impact, and often do the unanticipated or the unexpected. But most are creative.

It’s time to put on the big boy and girl pants and make our systems work properly for years to come.

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