Op-Ed: For 2024, System “Education” Is KMH Integration’s Most Important Role

From new cloud platforms to decisions about IP migration, there are so many technology and workflow options available that customers have a hard time keeping up much less making informed decisions about what’s right for their business. Moving into 2024, the most important role for system integrators is that of system “educator,” advising customers in addition to being the guys who can pull wires and install racks.

Online and remote/hybrid workflows are permanent realities, the cloud has emerged into a viable production platform; and IP is the future of broadcast and sports production transport and delivery. These aren’t always separate categories to be approached in a vacuum; often the deployment of one affects the roll-out of another.

Cloud production is only going to increase so everyone needs to learn how to use the cloud effectively for their long-term benefit. The cloud has proven to be a valuable, and viable, option. But to realize reap the benefit of cloud tools and services, customers need to first evaluate and define their on-premise production workflow, especially if they’ve never truly given much thought to it in the past in terms of overall efficiencies.

Many people still see the cloud as a magic bullet for their production challenges, thinking that once they sign on with a cloud provider, everything is suddenly all taken care of for them. It’s important to remember that even in a cloud based “virtual” production environment, hardware is still needed, but the benefit is that production teams can be located anywhere and still get a show to air or get content distributed. Switching, graphics, audio mixing, and signal distribution are conducted through a cloud platform, but the emphasis is on the control surfaces and quality of the connectivity between those surfaces and the applications running on the cloud server.

One area that frequently trips up a customer is connection speed; how do they actually get connected to AWS or Azure before those providers can even begin to deliver service. We are working more closely than ever with our customers on this and even providing more of the IT and network design information necessary to make their facilities cloud ready.

On the network side, it’s often a matter of customers not having the internal resources in place, or even if they do, their teams are stretched so thin they can’t afford to spend time worrying about a network switch and the associated devices that are supporting audio and video workflows. Our role has expanded to work in tandem with an organization’s IT team to help educate and create a smoother transition into this new world. With the growth of 2110 and even newer protocols like IPMX, our emphasis is on finding ways to easily manage and monitor these signals, determining if the right kind of infrastructure is in place and even evaluating all the currently available switch platforms and software options that are available.

That’s a huge shift because traditionally an integrator wasn’t able to get anywhere near anything related to a company’s network or firewall due to security concerns. Now customers are asking us to coordinate directly with their security teams. We’ve also recognized the need to provide training to our own staff to help stay on top of the evolving technology when it comes to IP

For sports, the use of IP protocols for audio and video delivery in remote production and transmission is greater than ever, and the security of those signals has to be stronger than ever. IP 2110 is being widely embraced, not only for premium applications but also for smaller deployments within the sports world. IP2110 is certainly an attractive “future-proof” type of technology, but sports production is still a business and organizations have to juggle between available funds, the time needed for implementation and the people required to run it.

Yes, 2110 is still more expensive than baseband, but the delta is getting smaller. Even if a company doesn’t have the resources to forklift their entire network operations to 2110, there are creative ways to use existing network connectivity. Other incremental IP protocol options like NDI, Dante or SRT don’t cost as much and are not as hard to operate but still provide the benefits of IP in ways that could make more sense for a company’s budget and timeline depending on the application.

A good example is an indoor practice facility that already has network fiber or high-speed copper running to a TV control room, a podcast studio, or data center. Since there’s already network connectivity established, you can easily connect cameras to send audio and video over that network connection using NDI. There are network-based devices such as Panasonic Kairos or a TriCaster switcher that can operate in a full IP mode, in baseband or in a hybrid configuration.

If a team wants to get a podcast up and running easily and quickly, there are NDI recorders that provide high-end digital disc recording over an NDI network connection. The implementation is easier, and stable A/V signal management is possible through a growing number of cloud-based tools. A director can remotely control camera and microphone signals back to an on-premise location using a cloud app on their phone or tablet. Intercom and communications over IP have also improved dramatically and have added to our tool kit for application problem-solving.

All these macro technology trends are changing the systems integration business from a traditional focus on fabrication and installation to more of a managed, creative services approach.

For example, our sports customers are more frequently asking for expanded capabilities. We have made major investments in our own technology and internal resources, training our staff on network services, and expanding our own Marquee Pro NDI streaming lab environment, adding new content creation and multimedia graphics capabilities by working with a range of software partners.

A specific area of focus for us as integrators is on software platforms that control and script the storytelling aspect of production. This may be used in a luxury suite or common “fan experience” area of an arena or stadium as well as being integrated into studio production.

But getting to that place requires a change in mindset for integrators, service providers and sports organizations themselves. Customers need to define, or even redefine,
what they need, what they want to produce, how and when they need to produce it, and in how many different iterations.

We’ve seen a “hardening” or a greater maturity level of cloud and network services, leading to enhanced stability, predictability, reliability, and security. This has given us the comfort to propose these types of solutions more than ever.

It’s become more of a collaborative relationship between the customer and the integrator. It always has been but never to this level. We are being brought in to consult at the earliest phases of a project, often even before the architect is engaged, as well as being asked to stay on and help guide their tech roadmap and advise on skill sets needed to use their new tools most effectively.

It’s no longer just about building something. Organizations need to understand when it makes sense to use, or not use, the tools that are available. And then that translates into identifying “what’s plan B? Or plan C or D? What’s the most viable way to help you reach your goals both production wise and budget wise?

That’s the basis of system education.

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