Striking A Balance: Design, integration and technology management must work together in today’s churches.

Striking A Balance: Design, integration and technology management must work together in today’s churches.

The new contemporary church model characterized by the heavy use of technology and multimedia has provoked profound changes to such things as facility design, multimedia systems design and staffing requirements, to name just a few.  Striking a balance: design, integration and technology management must work together in today’s churches.

Church attendees have come to expect the same level of multimedia and quality on Sundays as they’re accustomed to throughout the week at home, school and work. This has resulted in technologies never before dreamed of in today’s worship centers. With synchronized media servers, in-ear monitoring, satellite uplink, high-definition IMAG and broadcast production, and complex digital signage, many of today’s progressive worship facilities now rival some of the most elaborate performing arts, broadcast and sports complexes.

Staffing for new functionality

This new requirement for versatility and functionality has brought with it the need for full-time staff member(s) maintaining those systems on a regular basis. A new breed of worship facilities technology managers has evolved in response. On the surface, one might question the need for such a position after the initial learning curve has subsided. But, upon closer inspection, one finds that these individuals often find themselves responsible for video post-production, stage preparation, slide production, digital mixer preparation, preparation of lighting scenes, technology support for events throughout the week, and maintenance of the complex systems throughout the facility. The nature of these responsibilities dictates individuals highly skilled in wide-reaching technologies.

Unfortunately, many churches view these staff members as free resources and a way to realize huge cost savings when new technology projects arise. Most churches, even after moving into a brand new facility, continue to expand and refine their use of technology, trying to keep step with the rapid developments in society. At times, these modifications are minor and make sense to be handled in-house. Other times, however, they can be extensive, and handling them in-house without involvement from outside professionals can be a costly misstep. The appeal of saving money upfront all too frequently overshadows any consideration of the drawbacks.

Many times, the in-house technology managers formerly worked in the professional integration industry and are highly capable individuals. In spite of this, they often lack the resources available to professional design and installation firms. These limited resources can include such things as manpower available for proper and safe installation, documentation capabilities, insurance to cover liability for installation and the knowledge of other building systems that may be impacted by modifications to the multimedia systems.

All too frequently, using the in-house approach results in systems designed and installed outside of industry best practices. Because the systems often perform at an acceptable level, the process is viewed as a success by the church’s decision makers, and the process is used again in the future. In reality, the financial gains generally are short term, with often-overlooked long-term consequences.

For instance, because the technology manager is the person who will be maintaining these systems after the installation, often less priority is given to proper cable management, cable labeling, future flexibility and system documentation. Because these elements don’t directly impact initial system performance, they are seen as nice to have—but unnecessary—expenses, and often go overlooked.

This creates multiple problems going forward. There is a fair amount of fluidity with church technology managers. When the time comes for turnover, the understanding of the system’s configuration and intentions leave with that technology manager. The next manager is forced to guess at the original design intent and configuration.

When the next system modification is required, many hours are spent tracing signal paths and sorting through cobwebs of cables. Having splices at hidden and unpredictable places, and using unconventional approaches to splitting, summing and balancing, can cause problems requiring days, if not weeks, to diagnose.

At first glance, these deficiencies may seem to indicate a poor understanding of design and installation by the technology manager but, more commonly, they simply are the result of being overworked and forced to find the quickest and easiest solution to a problem. If, however, they can serve simply in the capacity of the client working with outside firms, it alleviates their burden and allows the work to be done by firms with the available resources, manufacturer relationships and familiarity with industry best practices.

Too often, there is a perception that the use of outside resources indicates an inability on the part of the technology manager, but that is not the case at all. Rather, it is recognition of their limited bandwidth and allows the work to be done by others who have the time and resources to perform the work at the level best practices require.

Striking A Balance: Design, integration and technology management

Conversely, good design and installation firms will recognize the product knowledge, hands-on experience and understanding of the everyday workflow that the technology manager provides, and will respect that at all times during the process. The technology manager often has a good understanding of what is required and has done extensive product research.

The experienced design firm will respect this insight and will serve in a capacity that vets, coordinates and documents the technology manager’s wishes in a partnership fashion. When the technology manager, systems designer and systems integrator are all able to do what each does best, the resultant product will be both cost effective and of sustaining quality and flexibility.

Written by Tony Warner, President of Phase Shift Consulting

Originally Published in Sound & Communication