Published in December 2004

Asset Management
By Scott R. McLain, CTS and David A. McNell, CTS

A treatise on the benefits of selling service to your customer.

A control room can be used as an information hub of an enterprise wide asset management system where equipment can be centrally monitored, controlled and maintained.

      Asset Management. We know, it sounds like something only a bunch of MBAs would sit around and talk about, but it will not be long before everyone in the audiovisual community involved with large building systems will become very familiar with it. And this time, we really have a win-win situation for everyone. There is plenty of margin in the equipment and installation for integrators, and there is even more return on that capital investment for the end users. So, what is asset management? And, why will it be to your benefit to be the first kid on your block to wrap your head around all that it has to offer to audiovisual systems installed in large facilities?
     An asset management system is really a group of technologies and systems working in concert to improve efficiency by making various data readily available to managers and users. Inherent in the term “asset management” is the realization that the audiovisual systems we are talking about here are viewed as assets by their owners. Many audiovisual systems are viewed as pure capital investments whose only purpose is to make things look and sound better. However, large facilities such as multi-campus corporations and college universities have come to see their audiovisual systems like their telephone and computer networks: that is, as tools that improve the communications and efficiencies of their employees.

Time Is Money
     The adage that time is money has come to mean the tools that improve the productivity of personnel are providing a return on their capital investment. As our clients realize that their investment in audiovisual technologies can improve their bottom line, perhaps as much as their phone system or large multifunction copier-printer, the money they invest has increased, and their audiovisual system requirements have changed to reflect this return on investment in view of the technology.
     As the number of systems within a facility grows, the need to manage and support them has grown exponentially. The result is a need, experienced by these large facilities, for a more holistic, centrally managed system that will allow a smaller staff to more efficiently support the audiovisual technology. This need is fulfilled with asset management systems.
     An asset management system allows administrators and support staff to manage audiovisual resources, perform remote system diagnostics, track the usage of equipment and con-sumables, log activity and events, and automate tasks through scheduling software. Tied to automation systems and scheduling software, the management system can help prevent unauthorized use of equipment remotely. By logging event information, the asset management system can track any automated system usage, including lighting and audio levels for later recall, specific source equipment usage, network access, system errors and equipment failures, and potential security risks through basic device polling, motion detection and temperature sensing.
     Advanced asset management systems that are employed in a large enterprise are comprised of several subsystems, which together create an effective tool. The basic components of an enterprise-wide asset management system are the physical networks, automation systems, monitoring and scheduling software, and media management systems. In concert, these pieces form a powerful technology base for maintaining a large installation of audiovisual equipment.

System’s Backbone
     The physical network is the backbone of an asset management system and is comprised primarily of the Local Area Network (LAN). Today, every large facility has a LAN as part of its base building systems. The LAN is present to connect devices and facilitate communication, data sharing and resource sharing. One would hardly consider a large business viable if it did not employ a network to provide its employees with access to those resources. It is this very same framework, already in place, that can be used to connect other subsystems together and allow other resource sharing (in this case, audiovisual systems and resources).
     One of those subsystems is the automation or control system for each space. These systems typically consist of a central processor, a user interface and connections to all of the controlled equipment. The central processor is the brain of the operation, taking care of all the number crunching and translation of input from the user interface to output to the equipment and vice-versa. A significant part of a robust asset management system involves leveraging these control system components to accomplish broad, facility-wide status and control. By using the LAN to connect the various control systems together, holistic data can be gathered and the various, scattered subsystems can be remotely, and therefore centrally, controlled.
     Scheduling software naturally uses the LAN to connect users to a common database and calendar. Not only can the software simply keep who is using what straight, but it can also trigger various events to suit the current users and turn the lights out when no one is there. We will discuss the value added by scheduling software and some of the possible uses later.

Define ‘Asset’
     Now that we have outlined the basic building blocks in an asset management system, let’s take a step back and define an “asset.” In terms of audiovisual technology, an asset can be anything from a projector light bulb to the technician who changes the bulb. Assets related to audiovisual technology fall into four categories: the equipment itself, media or content, consumables such as batteries and bulbs, and maintenance personnel.
     The key to properly and efficiently managing a vast deployment of audiovisual equipment is a combination of information and control. The information has to consist of description, location and status. The control has to be automated and facilitate the management of both the information and the equipment.
     • Description: The description should consist of the make and model name (or number) for each component, the type of device and a unique identifier to set it apart from any similar equipment. The description can also be expanded to include original installation date, lifetime expectancy, outside maintenance contact information and other pertinent documents.
In fact, the ability to store and associate documents with devices can be a real time, and therefore money, saver. These documents can, and should, include owner’s manuals, system diagrams, cabling plans and other documentation that, when centrally stored, associated with equipment and systems, and made available to random electronic access, can provide instantaneous information to in-house or out-of-house maintenance personnel about the system and its configuration. Some of the benefits are obvious immediately, but we will discuss both the obvious and the perhaps not so obvious advantages of storing and associating these documents later.
     • Location: Obviously, knowing where the equipment is located is always important, but this can also include mounting information, letting personnel know, for example, when they have to get out an eight-foot or 16-foot ladder. It also can be part of the status of the device where its present location is monitored as an anti-theft measure, but, again, more on that later.
     • Status: The status information is at the heart of making an asset management system for equipment a useful and worthwhile tool. The information required is specific to the type of equipment being monitored, but should also include an indication of whether it is properly functioning and the status of any consumable parts, such as lamps. Not having sufficient status feedback is like walking into a doctor’s office, refusing to speak, and making him guess your ailment and prescribe a remedy based on that guess. Thankfully, today, most professional equipment can generate status messages through some form of communication protocol, be it serial- or Ethernet-based.
     By constantly monitoring the equipment in a system, an asset management system can, in real-time, report any disturbances in functionality and communicate the disturbance to the appropriate support staff via pager, email or a variety of other messaging technologies. Proper data mining can also allow managers to calculate when a piece of equipment might fail or need repair, such as a projector lamp based on its life span and usage data.

     One of the most powerful aspects of status information is the concept of logging. By creating logs of particular events in a database format, the data can be sorted and collated to reveal pertinent trends in usage, errors and other data that can be leveraged in the decision-making process for purchasing new equipment.
     • Control: Remote control of audiovisual equipment certainly is not new, but there are some interesting advantages to facility-wide automation as it relates to asset management and cost savings. Many large companies claim to have saved millions of dollars a week simply by turning out the lights and shutting down the computers at the end of the day. Certainly, the federal government has automated its buildings to adjust climate control and lighting systems to save money. The audiovisual systems are no different. Perhaps the greatest cost savings is realized more in lengthening the life of the equipment as opposed to the cost of electrical power.
     However, a significant impact can be had in the yearly budget simply by making sure all of the systems are turned off at the end of the day. This task may be insurmountably large for isolated, separate systems, but it is the perfect task to assign to a centrally controlled asset management system that can be programmed to determine when the end of the day occurs in order to power down the entire facility. By simply making sure all the projectors are off for the night, the cost savings in a large facility can be dramatic.
     For example, if a large conference center has 100 rooms with a projector and on average 10% of those projectors are left on overnight by untrained users, that can add up to 80 extra lamp hours a day for the facility. Over the course of a year, these savings can add up to several thousand dollars.

Selling Points
     So, what are the selling points, or the advantages to the end users, of an asset management system? In addition to the potential cost savings previously mentioned, there are three basic features that will prove invaluable to large facilities managing their audiovisual installations with an asset management system: remote maintenance and control, room and resource management, and content management.
     • Remote maintenance and control play a large role in improving personnel productivity and efficiency by enabling managers to monitor systems and equipment remotely. Everyone managing large systems has known for quite some time that the only practical monitoring systems are event driven. That is, there is no way to monitor everything all the time. As a result, the approach becomes to allow an automated system to monitor everything and provide alert events based on certain criteria.
     In an audiovisual asset management system, this means that, when a particular device has a failure or is no longer communicating with the system, an event is triggered by the control system that is constantly monitoring the technology. The control system then notifies the asset management system via the LAN, and the management system responds as programmed, typically, to notify managing personnel.
     This notification can come in the form of a page, email or pop-up message on a personal computer. In some cases, the event simply is logged for review at a later time if it does not require immediate attention, such as a projector lamp reaching the end of its life cycle. The event can be triggered by live polling of a device or simply by elapsed time. The result can be a reminder, a log, a phone call or all of these.
     The monitoring also has obvious security benefits, although knowing a piece of equipment is missing, often it is too late to do anything about it. By alerting the appropriate personnel that a particular piece of equipment is no longer present or responding to the polling of the control system, sometimes the system can prevent the theft of expensive technology components.
In addition to event driven maintenance, remote control can allow support personnel to assist end-users without traveling to the system in question. This concept of an automated help desk can also have a big productivity impact, especially on facilities with limited staff. Perhaps the end users are having difficulty operating a VCR. With a centralized monitoring and control system, they can notify support personnel about their difficulties through the room’s control system by pushing a “Help” button. Then, support staff could take control of the system remotely over the LAN.

With the LAN acting as a backbone for an asset management system, remote equipment can be monitored and controlled from a central location.

Can Pay For Itself

      Noticing that the VCR has been powered off, they can turn the equipment back on, start playing the tape and then return control to the end users without having to leave their desk. This improved productivity can have significant cost impact on the daily operations of a large facility. Often, this feature can pay for the entire asset management system by itself.
     Lastly, the large, networked system allows the upgrading of firmware and programming settings from a central location. The updating of multiple systems and rooms allows conceptual changes to be easily and quickly shared across a facility, keeping all similar systems the same with identical graphical user interfaces (GUI) for identical systems, thereby minimizing confusion and operator errors by end users who operate the systems.
Instead of updating one room a day and moving from room to room throughout the facility, staff can update all rooms at once without having to leave their desk. This not only speeds up the process but, by minimizing the effort required to implement change, it makes the change more fluid and readily adoptable.
     • The next major application for asset management is room scheduling and usage statistics. Whether it is allowing professors to check out certain source equipment or allowing a vice president to schedule a meeting room, maintaining an automated scheduling system will significantly improve the way audiovisual resources are used throughout a large facility. By monitoring which resources get used, by whom, how often and how much, managers of large facilities can better plan how to respond to their end users’ needs.
     When it comes time to replace a piece of equipment or install a presentation system in another conference room or classroom, the manager can review the usage data and, with confidence, purchase the equipment that he or she knows the end users will actually use (avoiding purchasing more of the equipment that just sits idle most of the time).
     Perhaps, everyone is now using the DVD players instead of the VCRs. Therefore, instead of replacing the VCRs, the facility manager might elect to pool the functioning VCRs and allow them to be checked out on an as-needed basis, conserving the budget.

     By scheduling rooms, equipment and other resources, a facility manager can gauge usage and demand statistics accurately. If the technology conference rooms are always booked but half of the time people are not using the technology at all, he can suggest booking a regular conference room and leaving the technology conference room open and available for those who need to use the room’s audiovisual capabilities.
     Another bonus to the concept of scheduling resources for users is being able to provide interfaces and settings appropriate to the users’ needs. This allows managers to provide audio level settings, videoconferencing capabilities or other access levels to specific users and not to others. Perhaps one group of users prefers a simple infrared remote to operate basic system functionality while others want to use a large, wireless touchpanel to access videoconferencing functionality, dialing directories, etc.
     Now, the facility manger can prepare the room appropriately, knowing who is going to use the space. The system can even be programmed to turn on the lights a few minutes before the meeting starts and dial the videoconferencing call so the connection is established and the communication link open when the users walk into the meeting.
     The control system can be made to provide only certain screens to certain users, thereby tailoring the system control to the end users’ needs. Whether this is a particular logo, custom-tailored functionality or accessibility, the system can respond automatically to varying needs without direct interaction on the part of the facility manager.
     All of these benefits relate directly to the bottom line of a large facility by increasing the productivity of managers and support staff. Personnel management is becoming an increasingly bigger part of day-to-day operations for most major businesses. Proper management and allocation of tasks to the appropriate personnel results in a higher productivity-to-overhead cost ratio. This process is beneficial in all sectors of business, including integrators and consultants.
     Just as it would be inefficient to have a control system programmer out in the field pulling cable, the same is true for the end user. It would be unthinkable to have a CEO change out the projector bulb during her presentation to the board. With the use of the information provided by the other aspect of the asset management system, the proper personnel can be deployed to deal with the problem

Digital Asset Management
     • The last link in asset management is digital asset or content management. With the advent of affordable, high-quality video streaming and video on demand, it only makes sense for large corporate or educational facilities to centrally locate their digital media and make it accessible to those wishing to access it via the LAN.
     With numerous new technology arriving almost daily, archiving, manipulating, storing and broadcasting both audio and video content in the digital realm make the applications seemingly endless. For example, for new employees, one can record and archive training videos that are accessible from desktop computers via an on-demand server, or broadcast classes at a university to students’ dorm rooms via their LAN.
     Digital signage can incorporate both the content management benefits as well as make use of scheduling capabilities. When the user schedules a space and fills in the subject of his meeting, this information can be used to automatically fill out a simple LCD display located outside the meeting room on the day of the meeting, announcing who will be using the space and when. It can also provide a map and directions to the meeting room for meeting participants from outside the facility.
     The various flavors of media content management are beyond our scope here, and could fill volumes but, needless to say, the combination of large organized libraries of content in conjunction with the other asset management tools of scheduling and monitoring can improve the productivity of a large facility dramatically by streamlining the communication and sharing of resources. The net result is a much greater realization of the potential of the various audiovisual systems in which the facility has invested.

Scott McLain joined Newcomb & Boyd after graduation from Georgia Tech, and was named an Associate of the Atlanta GA-based engineering and consulting firm in 2003. As a member of the firm’s Special Technologies Group, he has had design responsibilities for a variety of areas, emphasizing judicial projects. He is a licensed engineer in training (EIT) and is a member of the International Communications Industries Association ICIA), Independent Consultants in Audio-Visual Technology (ICAT) Industry Advisory Council and a Certified Audio-Visual Solutions Provider.

David McNell joined Newcomb & Boyd after graduation from Purdue University. Also a member of the firm’s Special Technologies Group, he has had design responsibilities on a variety of audiovisual projects. He is a licensed engineer in training (EIT) and an ICIA member and a Certified Audio-Visual Solutions Provider.

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