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How to Create an AV Standards Document

Defining standards will help prevent audiovisual support headaches and keep your institution on the path to its strategic goals.

How to Create an AV Standards Document

Audiovisual technology is becoming increasingly complex and important in today's classrooms. And with higher education IT departments being tasked with the design, installation and support of instructional AV systems — areas in which IT staff may or may not have expertise — it's extremely important to develop, define and enforce AV system design/technical standards on campus.

The easiest way to do so is to create a comprehensive audiovisual design and technical standards document that can be referenced by all the parties involved with classroom AV installations. The goal of this document is to standardize AV installations across the institution, as well as streamline the design and construction process for these systems. A standards document will also help your IT department make progress toward the institution's audiovisual strategic goals.

Why Write This Document?

Some higher education institutions have a centralized department that's responsible for standardizing AV technology across campus, but many don't. Many institutions leave AV design and support up to the individual departments and/or schools across campus, resulting in a hodgepodge of different AV systems being installed with varying degrees of usability and installation quality. Others might exclusively outsource all of their audiovisual design and installation duties to consultants and systems integrators. In both cases, it's all the more important to develop an audiovisual design/technical standards document that all parties can rely on.

Every higher education AV support professional has experienced a situation where he or she is brought into a classroom construction or renovation project long after many AV-related system-design and infrastructure decisions have been made. Rather than issue costly change orders to fix what the general contractor and electricians have already incorrectly done, the school's AV department is expected to make compromises to systems to work around infrastructure issues. This almost always results in more work and AV support headaches in the future. If your campus's construction project manager had provided the project's architect with an AV standards document on day one, many of these problems could have been prevented. Architects are most likely provided with a similar document defining campus construction and interior design standards, and the AV standards document needs to be included.

Many readers from state schools will recognize this scenario: A different audiovisual design consultant and systems integration firm are chosen for each project, based on the lowest bid. You end up with a revolving door of AV professionals installing equipment on your campus. They have very limited knowledge of your existing classroom systems, and what direction you're trying to go in with new installations. This is a great reason to have an AV standards document written and ready to hand to these individuals at the beginning of a project.

A common thought is that if you hire an AV design consultant, that individual will perform a comprehensive needs analysis, review your existing systems and benchmark comparable systems before starting the system design process. Unfortunately, that's not always the case, and some unmotivated consultants will just slap their boilerplate technical specifications on your design, not taking into account any of your standards. Even an excellent consultant still needs guidance to meet your standards. Your AV standards document will be necessary to get the unmotivated consultants on the right path, and the great consultants will appreciate the information as a starting point for their design.

Remember, an AV standards document defines the design rationale that dictates the technical specifications of an audiovisual system — it's not the same as the technical specifications document an AV consultant writes when a project is put out to bid. Rather, it's one of the building blocks for the consultant's technical specifications document.

Who Should Write It?

As important as it is to write a standards document, it's more important to write it properly. Incorrect, nonexistent or vague information provided in the document can cause just as many problems as not having the document in the first place. It's imperative that you look to an individual who really understands audiovisual system design to write this. Better yet, pull together a group consisting of campus AV and IT professionals, your academic technology support staff, your school's construction project managers, the campus's interior designer, facilities staff, etc., to help cover all angles of AV system design and installation. Ultimately, you want an InfoComm CTS-D certified individual to write most of this document, with someone who has a CTS-I certification contributing to the technical specifications. If those qualifications don't exist within your staff, hire an AV consultant to assist with the writing. Relying on someone with these certifications will make sure you're starting with a baseline of industry standards, then building on them to customize for your campus's needs. This will be a constantly evolving document that adapts to past AV installation lessons and mistakes, as well as changes in technology and teaching trends, so pull your group of contributors together every year to revisit these documented standards.

What Content Should Go Into It?

Your AV standards document content will be all-encompassing, defining every technical, infrastructure, aesthetic and environmental variable that will affect your AV installation. Specifics are needed to clearly define your standards. For example, "Projection screen shall be properly sized for the room" leaves way too much room for interpretation. Replace that statement with "The projected image height should be no less than one-sixth the distance from the screen to the farthest viewer," and you're starting to get into the kind of measurable specifics that will ensure you get the AV system you need. Include pictures of properly installed equipment and infrastructure-related items to reinforce what you've written.

These standards documents can run long, but properly organizing them will go a long way. Making the document easy to read will result in more parties using it and referring back to it as they work on the AV system designs that you'll ultimately have to support. A quick online search of other schools' standards documents shows a mix of properly organized documents as well as others that simply threw their ideas on paper in an unorganized fashion.

Your standards document should also include codes and regulations that affect AV installation. Even though you assume that architects, engineers, general contractors and electricians have a good understanding of building to code, you still need to clearly define these standards. Include standards that make sure your AV installations are adhering to ADA Standards, National Electrical Code, etc.

Who Should Receive It?

Now that you've spent the time to write your comprehensive AV standards document, it's time to get it out to the public. This is one of those situations where the more publicly accessible this document is, the more apt people are to reference it. Send it to your campus's construction project managers, each department/school's technical support representatives, interior designers, electricians, facilities managers, AV integrators, architects and engineering firms. Post your standards document publicly on your department's Web site for download. Ask your facilities department if your AV standards document can be included with their construction and interior design standards that they have most likely already created for the campus.

It may seem like a daunting task assembling a standards document like this, but a little bit of work on the front end will result in a noticeable improvement in your campus's future audiovisual installations.

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