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Interview with Michael Brandofino, EVP of Video Communications & UC at AVI-SPL, the largest A/V integrator in the US

December 19, 2010 | Howard Lichtman
Michael_Brandofino_AVI-SPL.jpgMichael Brandofino joined AVI-SPL in June 2009 to drive the company's initiatives for industry leadership in Video and Unified Communications (UC) services. He founded and continues to lead the Business Video Group (BVG), which encompasses business development, product development / management, professional services, the HelpDesk and video managed services. Under his leadership, the BVG team launched the video-focused support program: Customer Care Plus+; Digital Media as a Services (DMaaS) and the multifunction telepresence solution, Cameleon which has lead to growth in video business of over 125% in 2010 over 2009.

Mr. Brandofino has over 18 years of experience in the field of visual communications, which started when he co-founded video equipment reseller Face to Face Communications in 1992, a company that was acquired by the Johns Brook Company in 1997. He was president of Johns Brook when it was acquired by Wire One in 2000. Part of Wire One became Glowpoint and he served as CTO then CEO of Glowpoint before joining AVI-SPL. This interview originally appeared in the Telepresence and Videoconferencing Insight Newsletter and was conducted by Editor Richard Line.

Editor: What is the geographical coverage of AVI-SPL after the merger? Does each office offer the complete AVI-SPL offering of A/V, VC and TP and managed conferencing services?

Michael: AVI-SPL has over 33 offices in the US. Most offices have the full capability to support a majority AV and Video projects. In support of larger more complex solutions and ones that cross multiple areas of the world, we leverage centralized specialist teams in Large Venues, Control Rooms, Video infrastructure, Telepresence and Digital Media.

Editor: What new directions has AVI-SPL taken on the VC and TP side since you joined?  How fast has this side grown in 2010?

Michael: When I joined in June of 2009, I was tasked with helping AVI-SPL focus on Video communications solutions. At the time such video-related revenue represented approximately 3% of our overall Integration revenue. We built a video overlay team called the Business Video Group and invested in training and demonstration capability through the remainder of 2009. The impact of these efforts has seen our video related revenue grow over 125% through the first three quarters of 2010 over the same period in 2009.
Editor: What is behind the inertia that delays the wider adoption of VC and TP in the United States? What is the AVI-SPL approach to overcome this inertia? After all the ROI is 100% in year one for most users!

Michael: I can't really say there is inertia across the board anymore. We are doing less convincing and more solution selling then we had in the past. Thanks to some big name companies who have entered the market, video communications is more readily accepted as a critical business tool. In fact, a recent Gartner report showed that video communications is in the top ten initiatives for 2011 for CIO's for the first time ever.
For years, we have been entrenched in hundreds of companies building thousands of custom meetings rooms. We see tremendous opportunity in just penetrating these accounts further and helping our customers grow their video infrastructure and overall adoption of video through application selling. Showing them how video communications can impact their business far beyond the old tired cliche of saving money on travel.
Editor: Customers want Telepresence installations to be interoperable with kit of other vendors and TP on other carrier's networks. Can AVI-SPL promise this today? If not, what more needs to be achieved by the industry and carriers?

Michael: That is exactly why we have invested so heavily in a demonstration platform that includes technology from all of the key manufacturers and can show from our Video Briefing Centers, calls between the various manufacturers using a number of infrastructure solutions. We were the first to deploy the Cisco MXE platform and have certified specialists who can design a full range of solutions for our customers. We also introduced Cameleon, which is a vendor neutral platform that provides the flexibility of a custom room with the experience of an immersive telepresence system.

AVI-SPL Cameleon is available in Cisco, Polycom, and RadVision Configurations
While there is no silver bullet on interoperability and we are subject to the availability of improvements by manufacturers, we feel we are the most experienced in actually deploying, testing and working with the various manufacturers to provide the best interoperability available today.
As time progresses, we will see the manufacturers adopting standards of interoperability. We see these discussions happening today and even though we may be a year or so away from plug and play interoperability, we know it is coming.

Editor: How highly do clients value the ConferencePoint meeting services from AVI-SPL?

Michael: Our ConferencePoint Managed Service offering is unique in that we have the ability to blend support of both AV and Video equipment into one comprehensive solution for our customers. Another unique advantage is we have the ability to offer onsite resources as well as the traditional remote VNOC services.
Most major RFP's we responded to in 2010 included a requirement for managed services and we have recently won 4 large-scale deals as a result. It seems to boil down to core competency and whether a customer wants to invest in the continuous training required to stay on top of the latest video technology.
Editor: The industry has found that "seeing is believing". Have you established TP demonstration centres across the United States? What have been the results?

Michael: I couldn't agree more. Almost all of our offices have some video demo capability, but we are stepping things up in a big way. We just opened our first Video Briefing Centers (VBCs) which include the ability to demonstrate almost every aspect of video communications, from desktop to full blown telepresence including Cisco, Polycom and Lifesize technology. We have also deployed video infrastructure and bridges from all of the major manufactures including the latest RADVISION MCU.
In addition to showing the video technology, we have our own video network connected to the Tata Exchange, which enables us to showcase true quality Business to Business Telepresence and have already demonstrated calls to customers around the world.
We are planning to open another 5 VBC's around the country in 2011 and upgrade most other offices to have more video communiction demonstration capability.

Editor: Does AVI-SPL have overseas partners that carry out integration work on global TP and VC networks for customers outside the U.S.?  Are there plans to establish AVI-SPL offices overseas?

Michael: We have a dedicated international project coordination team based in our Tampa office, who maintain relationships with a tight network of partners around the globe. While we do have our own offices in Dubai and Mexico, most of our international projects are managed through our network of partners. We performed projects in over 20 countries in the last year and have developed a unique customer portal to track all activity on these international projects.

Editor: What are AVI-SPL's key selling points moving forward?

Michael: AVI-SPL is uniquely positioned to address both the environment and the experience for every type of meeting requirement. The environment is everything from room design and construction to video network infrastructure design and implementation. The experience is how the customer uses the technology once it is installed and covers everything from managed services, support and maintenance, end-user training and adoption programs.
Whether it is a large venue like a stadium or a small business, we have the depth and experience to address our customer's communications needs. We are the largest AV company in the US, have the most depth of expertise with over 1,400 employees a majority of which have certifications in AV and/or video technology and a real bricks and mortar national footprint, to support any size company.
Editor: What more needs to be done to make Telepresence or HD VC a good alternative to air travel for say 50% of all business meetings?

Michael:  I think we have reached the point where the quality of the video is what people have been looking for. Now the last remaining hurdle is the connectivity issues created by the move from ISDN to IP. While IP provides the best experience, it has essentially broken the ability to have a public dialing plan. The recent introduction of exchanges and the expectation that there will be public directories in the coming months, will help get us closer to really being able to use video on an everyday basis.

Editor: Should we drop use of the terms "videoconferencing" and "conferencing" and concentrate on "Telepresence" and "video meetings" (not "virtual meetings")?

Michael:  I think we can let Cisco drive this as they have standardized on the term Telepresence and the term videoconferencing will most likely lose significance over time.
Editor: Does the industry need a trade body to agree and enforce such a change in branding?

Michael: What is more than the branding of what we call video communications, is the need for a trade body to deal with the remaining key issues facing our industry, which are are interoperability and a dial plan.

Editor: Michael, thank you for these valuable insights.

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