A few months ago I wrote about the need for our industry to embrace and get serious about the role of IT and AV. The long promised convergence of AV and IT has taken place — as far as technology is concerned. The still-promised or some would say threatened, convergence of AV and IT business models is well under way.
Since writing about net-centric AV, I have made some presentations at meetings, given some interviews and seen the term net-centric being picked up in the industry. While most everyone agrees it is going to happen, different people react to it according to their hopes and fears.
The biggest fear is that product margins will erode as the IT business model would lead you to think. Even more concern is expressed when you see the entry of big IT companies like HP, Intel and CISCO come into our market, bringing with them their traditional distribution channel.
The second most expressed concern is “the race to the bottom rung” for projects as more IT and telecommunications companies bid on AV jobs, and especially on the less complex jobs. Anyone in our business that is focused only on these lower-end jobs that require little design work or sophisticated solutions has a need to worry. Enough products are being sold as a commodity and are available to everyone that many companies can make smaller projects work, even at a reduced margin level.
The biggest hope is that the market is going to experience double-digit growth as new customers come to the market to take advantage of the AV/IT merger. The AV industry is already a sound producer of growth, both in developed markets where the demand is for more sophisticated and ubiquitous systems, and at the same time in China, India, Brazil and other markets you see both global companies and local buyers purchasing the same AV technology. The IT focus will probably bring even more customers to AV both in the developed and developing markets.
The second biggest hope is that net-centric AV will be able to take advantage of this demand for products and services and begin to create new streams of revenue. The hope is that the blended margin for product and services will equal the old margins of a few years ago. Managed services contracts and other new streams of revenue can be added to revenue generated by design and engineering. Companies that can serve the customer’s high demand for quality communications — solving problems that very few can do — will be rewarded. Even in the IT world, the people working at the top of the pyramid of complexity are also at the top for profitability.
InfoComm is working on its strategic plan to help make the hopes come true, and mitigate the fears. It is doing so by following its strategic plan adopted in December of 2009. At that time it revised its mission and vision which are:
InfoComm Mission: To advance audiovisual communications globally.
As an industry association made up of all the various elements of our industry from all over the globe, InfoComm has this straight forward mission to help move the industry forward. It is not just here to help our members fight a rear guard action to keep other industries out of our industry. It is to help our members advance and prosper in the growing industry. The InfoComm Board is taking a leadership role — it wants to help the industry transform itself to be ready for the future and to help create it.
InfoComm Vision: Audiovisual is recognized at the center of the integrated communications environment.
The future that InfoComm wants to help create is born of our situation today and our ideas where we can go. How many times have you heard that AV is the last one in and last one out of a project? Nobody likes this position, as it confines what we can do to meet customer needs and leaves us vulnerable to “value engineering.” The InfoComm vision is to move us to the beginning of a project so we can be an equal partner of the construction and technology team. We make no claim that we should own the center; lead all technologies, or anything other than wanting to be an equal player.
To help lead our industry to the center, InfoComm is working on several fronts that are based in two acts: (1) dig in and find out what is happening so that the Association works from reality, not from rumor, (2) share with our members and the industry what we know and think about the future.
InfoComm’s volunteers are the best way for us to find out about the future of net-centric AV, about sustainability, and about the evolving design and construction industry. The Green AV Task Force has generated the information needed for the Board to establish STEP™. And, it is now writing all the documentation to implement it. The BIM and the Integrated Buildings Technology Task Forces are taking us ever closer to the built environment, which is complemented by AIA and InfoComm’s joint efforts at defining IPD and its future affect on the industry. Our partner CompTIA is a source of information and collaboration on AV/IT. Our members are getting active in CompTIA’s Unified Communication Community, and through it are finding out what IT members are thinking of video on the network and where they are headed in their businesses. Finally, through our public relations efforts we have commissioned articles and white papers to inform the industry on a variety of topics that are of use to the industry.
The next step to share this information is taking multiple forms. White papers and reports by task forces are being published. Summaries of AIA and other associations’ activities are pointed to in electronic and printed publications and webinars are being presented. At InfoComm 2011 in June and in member roundtables around the world we are listening to our members and letting them know what we know. I want to mention Consultative Selling Equals More Wins and Higher Margins in particular because it is being presented by Pam Avila of the Sierra Summit Group, who is a business consultant in the IT and telecommunications segments. In a webinar and a session at InfoComm 2011, she is going to talk about the challenges and opportunities to the distribution channel that net-centric AV will produce. Her background is based on working with IT VARs as they changed their business models to drive more service revenue, and how a consultative sales approach is key to a relationship that moves beyond the sales and installation of boxes.
Another activity planned for this year is to ask groups of system integrators to join in a peer leadership group where they can learn from an outside expert and from each other. It will be an extended opportunity for frequent meetings where topics are discussed and integrators discuss with each other how they might make this work for them. These peer leadership groups will be announced and companies that form their own groups will be able to apply to participate.
Our Trump Card
As InfoComm looks to help the industry move to the center of the integrated communications environment; it sees the strengths its members bring to the table. In my opinion, it focuses on being a master of the space where our systems are employed and being expert at how people communicate using technology. Our connections to architects, facility managers, and other gatekeepers of the building space will be our advantage. We know how to make technologies work in rooms, and, while IT will be the master of the network, we are at the end point in rooms where people communicate. As to our knowledge of visual and aural group communication, we are already ahead of most, but we need to know even more than we do now about visual and aural perception, how our images and sound are processed, and how groups interact and collaborate with information.
In the end we are selling technologies and solutions that are used by people to communicate within a room and with other rooms wherever they may be in the world. Our focus on making those rooms work so people can communicate will put us in the center of the integrated communications environment.