Commoditisation and margin pressure fuelling the rise of the one-stop shop

Tim Kridel quizzes J. Scott Christianson on the rise of the one-stop shop for AV requirements. What’s driving the trend and is it good news for integrators?

J. Scott Christianson is the former founder and owner of Kaleidoscope Videoconferencing, a consulting and training company he ran for more than 21 years. He’s now a business professor at the University of Missouri. 

TK: From what you're seeing, are AV vendors increasingly offering full product lines of hardware, software and services?
JSC: Yes. It allows for easier sales and installation. Many components have become commoditised, and margins can't be made on highly integrated solutions where the equipment expenses are low, and the design expenses are high. The savings from designing an integrated solution is not as clear. It might just be cheaper to give up a feature or two and go with a "plug and play" solution from one manufacturer. Also, customers are looking for lower-cost solutions, and their expectations are set by their own experience with technology at home: low-cost displays, set-top boxes, etc. 

TK: How does that trend affect integrators, consultants and distributors, both positively and negatively? For example, does it make multi-vendor interoperability less of a selling point and more of a challenge? Will integrators lose out if integration skills aren't in such high demand? Or will there always be a lot of demand for multi-vendor systems?

JSC: I think in some high custom markets, there will still be a need. But so many things just plug and play (via USB, for example). And very little programming knowledge is needed for systems to be up and running. 
Of course, this has been the dream of hardware manufacturers for decades. They felt that having to educate dealers and installers slowed down their sales growth. For example, when AMX first introduced Modules for devices (and support for Java programming of AMX devices), they billed it as a way to make a "drag and drop" type of program for a room. The idea was that a salesperson could do the installation. 
TK: Do integrators, consultants and distributors compromise by not installing, recommending or stocking certain products because the cost/ease/interoperability arguments of sticking within an ecosystem outweigh the benefits?
JSC: Yes, and again this is always true. An integrator will recommend the products they know how to install and operate (not the one where there is a cost for learning how to install) and where they make the most money. 
TK: Are distributors forced into ditching brands that compete as one of their brands expands its range?
JSC: I am not sure about that, but there has certainly been a consolidation of distributors, so I assume that means that there is not enough profit to go around. 
TK: Is there anything pro AV can learn from the IT world regarding ecosystem plays and interoperability? For example, some people say that IT's reliance on standards such as Ethernet and Wi-Fi makes it easier to mix and match vendors, thus reducing the pressure to stick with one.

JSC: Yes, and no. We will continue to see many "self-contained" devices such as an audio or video system that then uses a universal interface like USB to interoperate with other parts of a room. You can pick your camera and match it with your PC or CODEC. 
That is true for IT up to a point. When you start to get into server OS, databases and ERP systems, there are some standards, but the interoperability gets harder and more expensive. 

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