Getting What You Need in This Complex Age of AV & UC Integration

By Wm. J. Lawrence Jr., Executive Director, The Association for Quality in Audio Visual Technology

Effective communication is largely agreed to be the most difficult task in most, if not all, businesses. Even at its simplest level, face-to-face, one to one, the potential for confusion or misinterpretation is significant. That potential grows as group sizes increase, and multiplies exponentially as time and distance are added. This is true of active participation (discussion/instruction) and passive interaction (Advertising, signage, and large format viewing/listening). To reduce the risk, the end-to-end process of technological assistance must be as accurate and predictable as possible. How might this be achieved? Quality Assurance. It’s important to differentiate Quality Control (QC), from Quality Assurance (QA). In the first (QC), there is a valuable action at the end of the effort to make sure that what was promised was delivered. This is a good thing, but not good enough to mitigate the risk that exists in the early stages of any Technology implementation. QA systems break up that final examination of outcomes into smaller, distributed efforts that provide checks and opportunities for correction at each major step of the process. For instance, a functional requirement missed in the design phase may be propagated through to successful and demonstrable delivery, but not an outcome that meets the user’s true needs. QA starts with creating the functional narrative and scope, allowing for early detection of missed requirements, and corrective actions in the “paper phase” of the project. Each subsequent phase of delivery is checked for quality in turn, and any correction required can be implemented with minimal change and effort.

The reality is that in the Audio Visual and Unified Communications Integration space, and especially where the two blur together, there are a small number of delivery partners who have an established and practiced QA process.

This raises the question,” How can the End User/Customer/Responsible Party ensure that the outcome will meet their needs, and that the selected Partner or Provider is equipped and committed to a QA system that can achieve not only the right outcome, but also document and demonstrate it has occurred?

It all begins in the selection process. Asking for proof of relevant certifications is a good start but doesn’t ensure that the certified personnel will execute within the criteria of the respective certifications.

Similarly, a Company that promises they have completed similar work is not a demonstration of successful outcomes in those projects.

To have reasonable confidence in success, the QA system in place must be examined, agreed upon, and committed to action. This means being an active participant in reviewing each step of the QA evidence. It means the designer must be clear, concise, and complete in defining the feature, function, and performance specifications of the Project. Most critical is that all those attributes be demonstrable, quantifiable, and recorded throughout the progression of the project.

We sometimes hear things like, “It’s a simple project, QA is an unnecessary cost and burden”.

That could not be further from the truth. A good QA process doesn’t add cost or effort. It only quantifies and clarifies all of the steps and actions already required to reach a successful outcome. Let that sink in a moment. QA puts the required steps in the correct order, with defined methods, and demonstrable verification. All of those actions would need to take place anyway. Doing them out of order, or not at all, puts the “luck” factor into play for a successful outcome. Or worse yet, the missed steps must be performed under time and budget constraints, out of order, and likely requiring re-work, or possibly even major redesign to meet the outcomes promised. Although the legal responsibilities may be borne by the provider, the end users and project owners are inevitably impacted. Loss of time, cost, overrun of other trades, and impact on confidence can be staggering. This is true of large, complex designs, or the simplest ones, especially when a small mistake in a small system is propagated tens, or hundreds of times, possibly in locations around the globe.  

Evaluating, understanding, and aligning the delivering partners’ QA system and diligence to your project is the paramount focus toward ensuring success.

Dare to take a more objective view of potential Partners.

Challenge some of the common paradigms:

  • “Bigger is better.”
    • Maybe, but not always. Many large Integrators are built on loosely connected smaller entities acquired over time. Ask for proof that the QA system is a common standard across branches, areas, and even countries.
  • “Certifications = Quality.”
    • Simply not true. Certifications mean that someone learned and tested material. They are not a guarantee of its application. QA ensures the application of the required knowledge and approach is happening.
  • “I have a contract, so legally, they must make it right. “
    • Cost of failure comes in more forms than dollars. Delays, re-work, arbitration, or litigation have significant costs associated. An end-to-end QA agreement and performance data make this much less likely and provide clarity should things become litigious.
  • “They have offices where I need things done, so they are the best for the job.”
    • Possibly, but well-defined coalitions operating under an agreed and enforced QA plan can leverage deeply experienced, long-established business in the specific geography you need, and not just “an office” in the region for purposes of marketing.  

The reality is that in the Audio Visual and Unified Communications Integration space, and especially where the two blur together, there are a small number of delivery partners who have an established and practiced QA process. What can be done to integrate QA when the Partner may not be one of those few? Provide them with your expectations of QA. Point to the Available Industry Standards for skills training (the doing) and for Quality Assurance (The making sure it was done properly). Discuss demonstrable performance requirements, milestone QA reporting, and audit plans. And most importantly; be prepared to have an active role in ensuring QA actions are occurring at the right time, with the right outcomes.

This is the path to getting what you want, need, and paid for in this complex age of integration.