In World War II, shortages of raw materials and components often forced manufacturers to look for substitutes. A couple of engineers at General Electric found that some substitutions resulted in a better product at a lower cost. This led them to develop a process called “value engineering” that they applied to product development.
You might think that value engineering would have little application in the IT field. After all, the cost of IT products has gone down steadily, and performance and functionality have greatly increased. The smartphone in your pocket is far more powerful than early mainframes that cost millions of dollars.
But it’s the “consumerization” of IT that has made value engineering important. Today, organizations can go online and buy inexpensive IT products that will do a reasonably good job. This is particularly true when it comes to A/V. With the soft-codec video conferencing platforms such as Zoom and Google Meet, you don’t have to invest in proprietary hardware. Buy a PC or Mac Mini, inexpensive display, USB microphone, speakers and a webcam and — voilà! — your conference room is ready to go, for the most part.
The availability of these products coupled with the growing importance of A/V can lead to some unrealistic budgets. In the past five years or so we’ve gone from having video conferencing in about 10 percent of a customer’s conference rooms to having video conferencing in every meeting room. A customer who might have budgeted $100,000 to outfit one conference room now expects that same $100,000 to outfit 10 or 15 conference rooms. We use value engineering to help maximize that spend.
The Rahi Systems team sits down with customers to discuss their expectations and pain points. For example, customers who are accustomed to a “telepresence” experience might want higher-end cameras. For other customers, high-quality displays might be more important.
Our product knowledge and field experience come into play here. When we first started integrating A/V systems, we always tried to use commercial-grade displays. But now several vendors offer a “commercial lite” line that’s much more cost-effective with similar features. The panels are only rated to operate 16 hours a day, seven days a week, versus 24×7, but if you’re only going to use them eight hours of the day they’ll work just fine.
There’s also a huge value range in USB peripherals — everything from a $20 webcam, for example, to a $4,000 pan-tilt-zoom camera. Usually what works best is something in between. I’d avoid that $20 webcam, but there are great value-priced options.
Upgraded audio often gives you the best bang for your buck. A $1,000 microphone and heavy-duty speakers will create a much better impression than a $50 microphone.
But the most important thing is to create an effortless user experience. Consumer-grade products may work well enough for the five-person startup, but larger organizations need to consider how people are going to interact with the equipment and how often the equipment will be in use. Also, you can’t just value engineer one room — you have to look at the big picture so that the user experience is the same across the environment.
The Rahi Systems A/V team will help you figure out when to use budget-friendly devices and when to invest in higher-end equipment. Our value-engineering forward approach helps you maximize your budget and get the best experience for your users.