Device monitoring and management are a vital part of any installed AV system. We’ve been taking a closer look at how management tools benefit AV and IT technicians in a variety of applications, talking with Michael Saadeh, Product Manager, Collaboration and Management Software from our Corporate, Education and Government group, and Bradford Benn, Senior Solutions Manager, Themed Attractions from the Large Venues group. In part one of this series, we discussed the ways AVL management tools help technicians proactively address problems and remotely troubleshoot them as they arise.
In today’s post, we’re moving on to look at some of the specific tools and methods that technicians can use to centrally monitor and manage their AV systems. Before we get to the different tools that are available, we first need to understand what can be monitored. As Bradford was quick to indicate, the list is fairly broad:
“The items being monitored varies by equipment and situation. AKG wireless microphones can be monitored for battery life and RF dropouts. AMX, BSS and Crown systems can make sure the analog and digital audio/video signals are present and being routed successfully to their destinations. Amplifiers from Crown can provide real-time load monitoring to make sure speakers are intact and use pilot tone monitoring to check the system—even when it isn’t being used. Most Martin fixtures support Remote Device Management (RDM), which offers a range of monitoring information. Even mixing consoles from Soundcraft and Studer have error reporting screens. There’s a huge range of monitoring capabilities for all parts of the AV signal chain.”
To monitor all of these AV devices—and other devices in the AV system—you need software to provide centralized management. This software communicates with AV devices deployed in the field and brings in messages and data from those devices to report status and alert on issues. HARMAN offers two main software solutions for central management. The first solution is AMX Resource Management Suite (RMS). Michael summarizes RMS by saying:
“RMS is an enterprise management tool designed for installed audio and video solutions. It’s available for installation on a server as on-premise software or as a cloud-based service, allowing administrators the option of bypassing hardware setup and software installation/maintenance if they wish.”
The other management tool available from HARMAN is Audio Architect, a PC-based software that manages all HARMAN audio devices and connections in the network, including wireless microphones, digital signal processors, amplifiers, speakers and more. These tools work in conjunction with AMX NetLinx central controllers and BSS Contrio servers, which offer overall room monitoring and control capabilities.
Management tools like RMS and Audio Architect offer the ability to actively monitor the entire AV system. Bradford clarified how this works by saying:
“There is a famous quote about technicians that says, ‘I have a pipe wrench and a screwdriver. One of these tools is going to fix the problem.’ Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case, especially when they don’t even know there’s an issue. That’s why the first step is to make the information you get from the system is as understandable as possible. Both Audio Architect and RMS have the ability to provide dashboards with red and green indicators of good or bad, making it easy to identify issues.”
Michael also stressed the importance of dashboards to easily present information, adding:
“Technicians can act on system issues as they arise, using a live hotlist with alert notifications for critical issues. In addition, rich remote debug and action tools ensure quick resolution times for maximum quality of service. The point is to resolve issues before your stakeholders even know they’ve happened.”
Ultimately, issue notifications allow the system to provide proactive management. Bradford explains:
“The largest impact that these tools have in helping venues succeed is proactive notifications of issues. The system can send alerts to people or systems automatically inform of issues, such as replacing a lamp in a projector. Plus, the system can not only tell you if there is a problem, so you can address it before a complaint, but it also helps you repair it and provides documentation, if needed, for tech support.”
These notifications can be customized to provide precisely the information you need, based upon the application. Since the tools aggregate a wide range of rich data, they are able to proactively address problems and provide the information technicians need to correct issues.
Some of that data includes information about the devices in question, which is vital for making repairs. The systems are even smart enough to automatically configure themselves and “self-heal” when there are issues. Bradford stressed this point, saying:
“Management tools make replacing hardware very straightforward. By adding a BSS Soundweb Contrio Server into the solution, a technician can simply disconnect the malfunctioning product and connect the new one to the same connections, and the Contrio server automatically configures the replacement device to function in the system.”
Configuration of video devices is also simpler with management software. Michael explains:
“With central management software like RMS, it is easy to install new equipment and add it to the system. In particular, AMX devices automatically register with RMS and share their control parameters, simplifying configuration of both new and replacement equipment. In addition, when you combine RMS with Rapid Project Maker, setting up RMS is as simple as clicking a checkbox.”
Of course, a management system can interface with more than simply the AV devices. This is important, because while some of the data the system collects will only be directly useful to the technician monitoring and repairing the system, there is other data, such as energy usage, that is important to the operation of the organization itself. Bradford explains:
“The amount of information it can collect and the ways the user can interface with that data is almost unlimited. You can even communicate with a building management system (BMS) for energy management and tie it into environmental services, like lights and HVAC control. This allows you to report AV energy usage up to a larger energy management system or control those environmental systems, using AMX automation.”
This connection with BMS services and other systems is helpful, because management tools like RMS collect a lot of data not only about the status of the equipment, but also about the overall system and its usage as well. Michael discussed the benefits of this, stating:
“Some organizations choose to simply monitor the power and online status of their AV devices, while others have more advanced monitoring of metrics, like lamp hours on projectors or the usage of each technology in a room. This allows them to understand technology use in their organization and learn more about how it operates.”
“For example, if meeting attendees typically use HDMI instead of VGA connections to their laptop, or a professor is typically using the Blu-ray player instead of VHS, then the AV/IT department can optimize future technology deployments to satisfy these methods of work and focus technology spend on the most useful features. RMS allows organizations to assess this data, using a rich dashboard as well as automated PDF reports with the ability to export data to third-party data aggregation tools as well.”
Since these tools can aggregate system data, simplify equipment deployments and monitor for errors, the benefits for enterprise, education and large venue deployments are clear. However, these tools can have a big impact for smaller applications as well, particularly if the local technology service provider is included in the issue alert process. Bradford gave this example:
“Imagine you are running a nightclub. A subwoofer is damaged during the Sunday night show. The venue isn’t scheduled for use again until Friday evening. The subwoofer problem is found that Friday during the 4 p.m. sound check, even though the speaker has been damaged all week. The challenge of getting it fixed at that point is much higher.”
“Now, take the same scenario and imagine the control system sending an email on Sunday when the incident happens. A service provider or management staff would know there was a ‘load out of range’ error for a specific amplifier channel, indicating the possibility that a speaker on that subwoofer channel is damaged. The venue’s management staff can do a check of the subwoofer on Sunday night. If they find a problem, they can email the service provider with a yes or no answer on whether the speaker is damaged (which can even be done by the control system). The service provider is able to look at the system documentation and order a replacement driver. They can also handle it in a timely manner, rather than in a mission-critical ‘panic’ situation.”
Ultimately, management tools are all about maximizing the effectiveness of AV technology in a solution and allowing technicians and service providers who are responsible for the equipment to be effective. Michael put it this way:
“The real value of management tools is the ability to reduce the total cost of ownership of your existing or future AV deployments. As you approach technology refreshes, it is important to evaluate your AV system holistically and ensure you also place value on partners who make it simple to monitor, maintain and upgrade over time.”
I would like to thank Bradford and Michael again for talking with us about managing AV systems. Do you have experience managing AV systems? Share your insights in the comments.