Last week I read a very good article titled The 5 Reasons Why AV is Not IT by Ernie Beck (https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/5-reasons-why-av-ernie-beck). The article discussed in a very compelling way how AV has considerable value in systems integration and will continued to for a long time to come. One of the great points in this article is that for the integrators and systems design engineers that embrace their true value add there is plenty of value in their contribution and still plenty of business to be had. There was a theme of “don’t sell yourself short”. In the article/blog I am writing here I intend on building on that necessary message for all AV systems integrators to maintain the message that they own the physical space and no IT integrator or reseller can match the user experience they can bring. What I intend to add is the need-to-know 5 reasons that AV integrators should consider transitioning their business to include an IT integration element along with maintaining the value (the core competency) in acoustics, lighting, control and space planning.
Firstly, I would like to emphasize the importance of what Ernie said in his article. There is incredible value in the core offerings AV integrators already have. Yes, I am championing for AV integrators to embrace IT in bigger ways than just adding endpoints and getting a list of IP addresses from the IT guy. I am even asking AV integrators to move beyond traversing firewalls for videoconferencing and to embrace an enterprise IT integration mindset and to learn and deploy IT in much deeper ways than many of them ever have. There is a lot more to this transition than some will have you believe. This requires employing and/or partnering with a whole new set of skill, experience and knowledge. There is no halfhearted effort here. The major caution I will add is that systems integrators should not try to use their internal IT guy as the crux of their entry into this market space. Providing the level of expertise that is required to fully consult and integrate these solutions is far beyond what the typical internal IT support team can muster. This must be a focused and concerted effort by the integrator and should not be taken on as a side project.
Another point I will make before getting into the meat of this article is that AV integrators should not downplay the value IT brings to the table as well. While I thoroughly enjoyed the article about the 5 ways AV is not IT, I will say that there was a bit of downplay when it came to the role of IT. The statement that Ernie attributes to an AV pro where “IT typically establishes and dictates” is a little broad and quite frankly wrong. IT, as does any other design/build integration or solutions provider does, goes through a complete needs analysis. There is no doubt that IT is 100% driven by user needs and business needs. IT has the added challenge of having a highly regulated industry and a well standardize technology and infinitely wide marketspace. IT spends nearly 100% of their time focusing on the business needs and how they can help their end users support those needs. IT is under high scrutiny to maintain uptime. So, yes some of the implementation is dictated, but the solution is user driven. AV integrators need to let go of the IT Ivory Tower mindset – that is old school and counterproductive. I was an IT director 18 years ago and my favorite phrase was “not on my network.”, but that was then. Today I have two kids who are in IT. I have learned that today it is much different. Today when a user asks, “can I put this on the network”, (about iPAD, tablet, smartphone, etc.) the IT person will respond, “Yes, of course, how can you be productive without it?” IT deals with needs that are driven by end user just as AV does. Both markets must spend time and take on the challenge of determining the difference between wants and needs.
So, why should AV make this transition to be more IT? Below you will find the 5 reasons that AV integrators should making the transition into becoming more IT:
- Products and Solutions are Being Driven to IT – AVB, Dante, VOIP, H.264, H.265 and many other standards are driving technology development. This development is leading the AV industry down the path of being incredibly more IT centric. The challenge lies in that knowledge of streaming protocols, multicast implementation, layer 2 and layer 3 switching requirements and many other standards and implementation requirements are often unknown to standard IT people. The ways AV leverages IT are different than IT is used to and the value an AV integrator can bring can be considerable if they bring this specialization. It has been said recently that we are not in the AV business, we are in the technology business. It is time to grow into the IT side, this is where AV can shine and add a lot of value in IT.
- End Users and Buyers Expectations are Evolving – Many times a connection between what an end users sees at home or out in the market in many other segments lets them see what should or could be done for them in their baordroom or conference rooms and meetings spaces. The mentality becomes “if they can do this (insert technical feat accomplished in home) why can’t they do that (insert technical feat done in office)” or “if this works and that works then why can’t they make this plus that?”. The knowledge and complexity of the end user and their expectations drive us as a market to deliver on a higher level. An additional challenge is that with these increased expectiations is that AV has hit somewhat of a critical mass. AV can’t deliver much more than they already are without leveraging the network or the use of some new technology.
- IT is Looking Outwardly for Expertise - in 2015 there was a considerable shift in IT where the IT Generalist was the top growing level of certification and the top job position being filled/sought by recruiters. IT departments, strategist and hiring managers have recently realized that they need people with a broader understanding of IT and that they could then later deploy specialized skills only when needed. This shows us that IT now has a better understanding of when to bring in outside resources to solve unique problems. AV/IT integration is still a very unique problem that AV integrators can be that specialized force that IT is looking for.
- IT is Lower Cost and IT is a Different Funding Source – I will write an entirely different article on the details of this in the near future, but suffice it to say that AV ports tend to run about $350 per port for switching and a Gigabit Ethernet ports run $25 to $30 for switching. Traditionally AV has found its funding through facilities. The beauty of IT is that IT has a completely separate budget and as long as you can prove the business need and the increase in profitability and productivity then that budget is easily and justifiably invested into AV/IT.
- Increased Functionality – Simply by adding AV over IT one can route their video from anywhere to anywhere using the network infrastructure. Control and full integration is seamless. This is far beyond seeing every device and controlling it over the network. This is fully converged where data, AV and control all reside on the same network (segmented via VLANs or whatnot) and when the customer needs they can have AV and data (say a video call with customer information on the same screen). This can be deployed in unbelievable ways to bring a whole new world of AV/IT solutions. In addition to the freedom in routing one can add functionalities such as video wall processing, windowing, control, and recording and much more simply by adding AV/IT appliances to the network.
I agree with the mention in other articles that we are far from a doom and gloom “change or die” message, but I will say change or miss the biggest opportunity in business in a very long time. Businesses live and die on one simple truth, “do the customers need what you have?” This is one of the times in AV history that our customers absolutely need what we have if we combine our skills in AV and IT.
The last thought I will leave you with is that in every “convergence war” IT has engaged they have won. This is true for nurse call systems, security systems, telephony to VOIP and many others. That is not to say that IT does nothing but throw their weight around and force implementation on users whether it has value or not. IT has won every convergence war because it has always proven to be more cost effective, provide more features and has a higher level of supportability. The IT watchwords are security, reliability, scalability, flexibility and affordability. IT has proven that all of these watchwords hold true when you combine AV and IT. To me that says the war is well underway. Where do you want to be on the battlefield? I for one want to be a peacemaker and provide win-win scenarios for my company and moreover my customers.
Next week I will try to address the top ways to make the AV to AV/IT transition. As a teaser I have included a link to an article where this discussion started and from which I would like to pick up and take much further (http://www.avnetwork.com/features/0014/pairing-up/94830).
About the Author: Maxwell Kopsho, CTS-D/I, PMP, CQT, CCNA R&S and Security, CompTIA Network+ and CTT+
Max has worked in the AV industry for over 18 years in various management and technical roles. Over the last 28 years Max has acquired an extensive background in supporting AV and IT systems, computer networks, telecom, and VTC systems. Max developed one of the industry’s first networked AV solutions and that product is now deployed in a single network with over 15,000 network attached AV devices. Max has made considerable contributions to the InfoComm Education area in AV/IT and CTS preparations. He was awarded the 2010 Educator of the Year for InfoComm and has prepared over 1000 candidates for their CTS exam. Max has recently joined Thorburn Associates as a Principal Consultant focused on Unified Communications & Collaboration. By combining his knowledge and skill in AV and IT with his decades of experience, Max will be responsible for driving Thorburn Associates' Unified Communications and Collaboration Division (UC&C). Max will be instrumental in the anticipated “exponential growth” of Thorburn Associates' UC&C Division by solving the toughest of customer AV/IT problems with his technical prowess and keen insight into their business needs.
The views in this article are strictly the views of Max and do not necessarily reflect the views of his employer or business partners.