Planning for Change in an Evolving World

Oct. 24, 2005

By Alan C. Brawn

The only constant in this world is change. To do nothing in the face of change is at the least counterproductive and at the most disastrous. In the realm of technology, a variation of the often-quoted Moore’s Law suggests that every 18 months technology will change. Over the last few years Moore’s time frame has compacted to 12 months or less. For those of us dealing with technology, and more specifically those of us tasked with designing structures and integrating technologies into various environments, dealing with change becomes an everyday task. The issue at hand is how to embrace technological change while promoting our clients’ best interests.

Architecture as a profession is grounded on the fundamentals of foundations and structural design. The variables plus the risks lie in the ancillary items to the basic design. Too many times a beautiful design is “violated” by the intrusion of technologies such as displays, screens, electronic boards, and audio systems. Once again we encounter that scary word, change. By embracing elements of change in the early stages of design, we mitigate our risks and ensure the look and feel are what we intended and the customer expects.

One way to handle change is to hire AV or IT specialists who keep up with the latest developments in their fields. Just as physicians refer to nutritionists or more specialized doctors on occasion, so, too, can architects rely on “outside experts” for supplemental support.

Another way to address change is with continuing education. Both doctors and architects are required to take continuing courses to maintain their professional credentials. In the case of architects, one area of concentration should be AIA-certified courses concentrating on the basics of audiovisual and IT technologies and integration. Most of the top AV and IT integration firms in the country offer these courses and, in many cases, they can be done on-site at the architect’s place of business at little or no charge. But what’s in it for them?

Potentially, quite a lot. Just like the medical and architectural professions, the AV and IT integration communities seek knowledge and support to add value to what they offer. They are not an architectural firm and do not pretend to offer what a licensed architect can provide. All too often they are invited into a project after the fact or at the end of the design and implementation phase. The inclusion in projects at the later phases can cost the client additional dollars in “redesign fees” and may appear added on or, in the worst case, improperly integrated. This may reflect poorly on the original architectural design.

The top AV firms are addressing this dilemma by offering AIA-certified continuing education courses to architects in order to create a relationship of trust. Their goal is to be included in the earliest phases of the architect’s design process and provide both expert consultant and integration services, ensuring that the AV and IT design will be smoothly blended into the original drawings and that the final integration is faithful to the original architectural concept.

In addition to courses, a key part of staying abreast of change is attendance at trade shows such as those put on by the National Systems Contractors Association (NSCA). Such shows offer numerous courses, many AIA-certified. They provide a showplace for viewing technologies and talking with manufacturers. Finally, shows provide invaluable networking opportunities.

The bottom line: You do not have to be “the” expert in all areas. By properly leveraging resources, you can embrace change. This quality is something that can differentiate you from your competitors. In a day of commodity products and “me too” services, the firms with a full portfolio of services and a veritable army of expert support will more often than not win the day. By understanding and embracing change in AV and IT and incorporating it into designs from the start, you can guarantee that the final project is as wonderful as you and the client envisioned.

Alan C. Brawn is a partner at Telanetix Inc., a videoconferencing technology provider, and a principal at Brawn Consulting, a Pro AV educational development company. He is an AIA-certified instructor.

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