Could this be how ‘Skynet’ Started?

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When we were planning the move to our new building, one thing that needed improvement was our media management.  In our little old Bonhill office we had 7 screens on the walls; displaying technical metrics, PowerPoint slides, training videos, and always one or two displaying the CP24 news channel … and each one was attached to its own desktop.  It worked pretty well – we could control each of them remotely, but centralized or coordinated displays were cumbersome or just plain impossible in some cases.  We knew that the new Goreway facility was going to have many (many) more screens on the walls and we wanted the ability to centralize control, split feeds and coordinate displays throughout the building.  But how?

At a bar one night, we noticed that the bartenders were able to move TV feeds and trivia games around all their displays and selectively turn TVs on and off.  It was similar to what we wanted so we chased down the company that built that system.  When we spoke to them, they pointed out that they did way more than just media control.  They did HVAC, lighting, audio, relay control, and much more. One of the other general concerns we had was energy conservation (given our emerging Green IT initiatives).   With a larger building, we wanted better control of the building systems … we realized this vendor was saying the right things.  We wanted single button controls of our existing boardroom automation plus all these other centralized control options sounded great.

We took a technical deep-dive with the building automation company and they surveyed their entire product suite.  The vendor, Crestron, noted that their higher-end products all required an indepth understanding of networking as they used TCPIP for each addressable device control.  They also said their typical partner’s background was in cabling and security and home systems.  Further, to do the amazing things possible with Crestron technology, it required some pretty advanced command-line level programming.  At that meeting we all agreed that an IT partner may prove to be a game-changer for them … and something right up our alley as a Managed Services Provider.  The idea was this: we could implement systems and monitor and manage the critical building automation 24/7.  ITW was the right fit.

When we moved into our new Goreway lair, it became very apparent that facility automation was going to be pretty important; our new home is 6+ times bigger than our old office.  It was taking 20 minutes to turn on/off all the lights and systems.  Lights were being left on in meeting rooms, people couldn’t find the switches for large overhead lights etc…  A centralized tool was going help big time.

Today, we poke one button on entry to the building, and the entire facility comes alive.  If no one arrives early to enjoy that power, the lighting starts up on a schedule.  If it’s a super bright sunny day, the system senses there is enough natural light and turns off some overhead lights.  Room lights are equipped with motion sensors, so they come on upon entry and turn off when you leave.  They even detect sound and will turn lights on or off based on your conversation without movement.

Our screens turn on and off on a schedule as well.  We can choose what feed to display on any of the 28 screens.  When visitors come for a tour, our receptionist puts the building in Tour Mode, which hides certain technical, sales and business information and displays PowerPoint slides of testimonials, fun photos, and welcome slides for our guests (with their names, titles, and company).  Music is selectively played from dual iPod feeds and centrally controlled.

Another excellent thing is that outside each meeting room is a touch screen display which tells a passerby if a meeting room is available or not (Green or Red Display). Further, one could scroll through the schedule to see when the room is available.  A slot can be booked directly on the panel.  What is more is that the schedules for all our meeting rooms are connected to our Email and calendar system which, in turn, synchs to our mobile devices (BlackBerries and iPhones).

So, I can book a meeting on my BlackBerry and it will reserve the room and the display will show I have the room booked.  This has been a huge helper in keeping our meeting schedules running smoothly.  We have 5 primary meeting rooms (with sword-themed names and decor) and they run in high demand.  A nice add-on for our the rooms is that when we plug our laptops into the VGA connector in the desk, the screen or projector automatically sets the input of the TV video and audio so there is no need to mess with settings.

That technology also allows us to replicate the feed from one meeting room to as many screens around the office as we like … so, technical training (or youtube videos) can be shared beyond the meeting room to our other teams if necessary.

A really nice overall feature is that now we can be anywhere in the building (or technically … anywhere in the world) and control every aspect of the building from a PC, iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad via a Windows 7 desktop running on XenDesktop!  Crestron is pretty smart stuff  … so I wonder if that is how ‘Skynet’ started!

So, what started out as a simple media enhancement has turned into a huge enabler for IT Weapons and a new silo of business for us that filled a hole that Crestron had – leveraging our IT smarts and our 24/7 Service Desk.

Interestingly, now I get pictures emailed to me all the time from the Wepz, friends and colleagues who recognize the Crestron Logo from our office while they are in client meeting rooms/boardrooms, restaurants, hotels etc…  It’s pretty cool stuff.  The best so far was that my wife was comp’ed a suite at Caesars Palace while in Vegas with friends and the whole suite was automated with Crestron!

If you haven’t seen it … come by for a tour.

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