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PODCAST: Road to InfoComm 1 – Mike Tomei with Classroom AV Systems

Mike will be conducting a course called A Phased Approach to Classroom AV System Design and Installation Management.


Road to InfoComm Podcast with Mike Tomei

In this edition of the Special Road to InfoComm Podcast, SVC Contributing Editor Bennett Liles talks with Mike Tomei of Tomei AV Consulting. On Thursday June 15th from 1p-3p, Mike will be conducting a course called A Phased Approach to Classroom AV System Design and Installation Management. He outlines the course and comments on the special challenges of higher education AV systems.

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From Sound & Video Contractor Magazine, this is Road to InfoComm Podcast with Mike Tomei. Show notes for the podcast are available on the web site of Sound & Video Contractor Magazine at

 Planning and managing AV installations in the higher education market can be a big challenge but this year’s InfoComm has answers. On Thursday June 15th Mike Tomei of Tomei AV Consulting will be teaching A Phased Approach to Classroom AV System Design and Installation Management. He’s here and ready to give us a preview on the Road to InfoComm Podcast.

Mike, nice to have you with us on the Road to InfoComm Podcast. You’ll be at the show with a course called A Phased Approach to Classroom AV System Design and Installation Management. That’s a real mouthful so it’s good that you’ve got two hours for the course.

Yes. Yeah, seriously. The course is extremely busy. And I taught a version of it last year and the place was packed and we took every minute of the two hours. [Timestamp: 1:08]

 I’m sure there’s a lot to talk about on that topic and we’re going to get to that without giving too much away. That will be on Thursday June 15th from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m.?

That’s right.

So, everybody be there. And let’s talk about Tomei AV Consulting. What kinds of projects do you handle there? I guess higher ed has to be a good part of it.

Yeah, higher ed is huge for me. So I’m an independent AV design consultant. I’m based out of central New York, but not all of my clients are right in central New York here. And right, I focus mainly on the higher ed market. So my background before I started my own business was working full time in higher ed AV system design, installation and support roles. So I worked full time at Harvard University and Ithaca College most recently before I started my own business. So naturally when I started my consulting business the higher ed market was my main focus. [Timestamp: 1:57]

Since I’m in that, too that’s what interested me about this one. I’m thinking Harvard, that must be a huge AV plant they have there.

Oh, yeah. Absolutely huge. Well, at the time when I worked there it was 13 different AV support departments. They were very decentralized, and every school had their own AV support department. There wasn’t a lot of overlap between them, so I knew a few people from business school, law school, medical school, but not that many. We really did our own thing. And there are so many classrooms and so many campuses that Harvard has it was extremely busy. [Timestamp: 2:31]

Well, I know the higher ed AV environment is unique. So what do you consider to be the special challenges of higher ed AV?

Challenges. I think one of the quirks with higher ed AV as opposed to maybe corporate AV clients is that in higher ed AV you have AV support personnel that are working at the campus. And they’ve probably developed standards. They know what they want and what they don’t want with their installations where on the corporate side of things you’re usually dealing with a company that might not have AV support people and they might not have any established standards so it’s a little more loose as far as your design recommendations. But in higher ed there’s a lot of standards that we have to adhere to as design consultants and a lot of design consultants and integrators don’t pay attention to established standards at universities and end up installing atypical systems that don’t jive well with the established standards on campuses. So that seems to be one of the biggest challenges, I think, is really getting to learn what works on that campus and what doesn’t and really designing systems that meet the needs of a wide variety of users. A lot of these campuses have classrooms that are used by all different departments, all different instructors, student groups, and you need to find a way to design systems that are going to work for the majority of those groups. So that’s a really big challenge. One big challenge I think everybody deals with in higher ed is that AV budgets are not huge. Even at the big schools, you know, even at Harvard we had pretty tight budgets and you really have to get the most for your money out of those budgets. So that is always a challenge, too. And I think another big one, too, is there’s limited installation windows with higher ed. You have your summer and maybe winter break depending on the size of the project and that’s about it. When the semesters are happening you can do some projector replacements here and there, but you really can’t replace large systems. So I think that’s a challenge, too. There’s just so much that gets crammed into the summer and, you know, everybody is just starting these few months of heavy installation work. That’s a big challenge, too, I think. [Timestamp: 4:39]

 I sure agree with you on that and sometimes having to fix or replace something in a classroom during a class day is sort of like having to operate like a NASCAR pit crew.

Yeah. Exactly.

Get it in or get it out and get out of their way.

Right. And you know, I remember times when the summer was really slow on higher ed campuses and you could get into rooms whenever you needed to and do repair work or installations. And it seems like these days the campuses are really busy. A lot of campuses rent out their rooms for other groups that come on campus and use them during the summer and a lot more summer classes these days. So I feel like there’s just less time to install this equipment and certainly less margin for error. You know, we hate to do installations right up until the last second right before classes start, but sometimes that’s the only time you can get in the rooms. And nothing like finishing up the day before classes start on a room. [Timestamp: 5:31]

Yeah, the good old classroom access problem. So at InfoComm you’re going to be teaching this course. Not to ask for specifics but as a general outline what are you planning to cover?

Right. So again, the class is called A Phased Approach to Classroom AV System Design and Installation Management. So I’m going to talk about the phases of a construction project and how they relate to higher ed AV design and installation process. So the goal for me teaching this class is really to help higher ed AV design and support folks understand all the components of a large design/bid/build project. So I’ll describe each design and construction phase in depth by focusing on all the stakeholders and deliverables that are going to happen during the project. I talk about the responsibilities of the owner’s team, the design team, contractors – not just AV contractors, but all the different contractors that are going to be working on these large construction projects and how they kind of relate to the AV installations; so electricians, general contractors, HVAC. I also focus on all the necessary deliverables to organize the AV system design and installation process. So things like programmer port, opinion and probable cost, infrastructure and system design drawings, specifications, scope of work documents. I’ll talk about all of those and give you an overview of how they come into play during construction projects and how to organize your construction projects better by using those documents. I also talk about the construction management process during equipment installation. So overseeing the integrators that are on the projects and working on things like submittal reviews, change orders, system commissioning. And the class kind of came to my mind to teach it because when I first started working on large AV installation projects I would sit in on the construction meetings and feel pretty clueless initially as to the process that the architects and contractors were following. And I really set out to understand that process because I felt like I was at first pretty clueless as to what they were talking about and asking from me. And this class is my attempt to clear up lots of that confusion for higher ed AV folks. [Timestamp: 7:49]

And in your experience on this, over time as these classroom systems get installed and used a lot – and I mean a lot – in a higher ed environment by a wide range of users. So what are the more common problems you see in classroom AV systems developing over time that you have to plan for in the original installation?

Yep. In the higher ed AV world equipment lifecycles are pretty long. You know, people are trying to stretch out as much as they can from these AV systems before they have to pay for placement. In the corporate world they’re a little quicker to swap out equipment and change out systems to keep up with the times, but in higher ed we’re looking at long equipment timelines. So people have gone from saying okay, we’re going to try to get four years out of a projector to now we’re trying to stretch eight years out of a control system, 10 years out of a control system, things like that. So I think it’s hard for higher ed AV to really keep up with the times of such long lifecycles. So on the design end of things, you know, when the project is in its infancy is really the time to focus on what those future needs might be and build in equipment or the ability to add equipment in the future, that could really help. I think a lot of times in higher ed AV people don’t have a really rigid system verification process or commissioning process so right after the system is installed they might not do the proper testing before the integrator has packed up and gone. And messy installs really cause a lot of service headaches down the line; a lot of hours for repair technicians in there and the campus AV service crew to be in those rooms. So I think backing it up and having a pretty rigid system verification process is the key to avoiding a lot of those problems down the line. [Timestamp: 9:31]

Yeah, I think that having to replace things quickly and do your work very fast can tend to leave things a little ragged inside.


And I would think that college campuses, if there are going to be new devices – especially wireless – that’s where they’re going to show up there first. So how do AV installers and planners deal with the bring-your-own-device concept?

BYOD is huge these days with higher ed and there’s obviously no way to anticipate absolutely every device that users will want to connect to your AV systems. You know, we deal with obviously standard laptops and tablets all the way up to complex microscopes and labs that are being connected to our display systems and every little handheld device under the sun that users are bringing into the rooms. From the AV support end of things, we all like wired backups and staying away from wireless is what AV support people love. But the users all want wireless – the ability to wirelessly display their devices. And there’s some boxes out there that do a pretty good job of it these days. There still isn’t that Holy Grail of wireless AV gateway that will allow you to mirror absolutely every device and easily access them through your enterprise wireless network and that sort of thing. So I think that’s still one of those evolving markets there and there are still a whole bunch of players in that market. [Timestamp: 10:52]

Higher ed AV is characterized by its large deployments and if you’ve got a whole building full of AMX or full of Crestron or Extron stuff, you tend to want to stay with that manufacturer so that each classroom doesn’t end up becoming a world unto itself.

Yeah, exactly. And developing a campus-wide standard and sticking to it is a big part of what I do. I don’t want to just come in, design a stand-alone AV system for a client and then back out and that’s it. So because I’ve worked in higher ed I understand the importance of these campus-wide standards and why it’s so important to develop them and maintain them and update them as needed. Instructors want to be able to walk into a classroom and see a familiar touch panel that they’ve used before. So getting these campus-wide standards established means taking the time to solicit the advice and the opinion of a wide variety of campus stakeholders while developing those standards and make sure that everybody kind of has the way to voice their opinion when you’re putting them together. And then develop them and stick to them. [Timestamp: 11:54

Good advice. A good uniform interface. I know you’re going to be covering all of this in your course at InfoComm that’s Thursday June 15th at 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. A Phased Approach to Classroom AV System Design and Installation Management. Mike Tomei with Tomei AV Consulting, great talking about this and have a good show.

Thanks, Bennett. Talk to you soon.

Thank you for being here with us for the Road to InfoComm Podcast with Mike Tomei of Tomei AV Consulting. As we close in on this year’s show stay tuned for the next Road to InfoComm Podcast.

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