Roundtable: AV/IT convergence and the channel
How does AV retain and demonstrate its value in an IT world? InAVate APAC joined forces with Hewshott International to stage a roundtable event to discuss the ramifications of the convergence of AV and IT.
At InfoComm 2016 in Las Vegas, Peter Hunt, Hewshott International, joined forces with InAVate APAC to bring together leaders of the industry to discuss AV over IT and how this changes the ever evolving relationship between integrators, consultants, building contractors, IT departments and most importantly clients.
Will Hegan from integrator AVI-SPL began: “AV versus IT is wrong way to look at it. The A and the V from AV should be considered as information. As such these should be on the IT network.”
Crestron’s Stuart Craig added: “The convergence of AV and IT is the greatest opportunity we have seen and we must embrace it. But a lot must change. The AV industry has come a long from the days of overhead projectors and speakers. Our expertise are unique and we have a lot to offer.”
However everyone realised that with AV and IT merging new threats would have to be faced. There is a danger of being commoditised and then eventually having competing products from Microsoft, Cisco and other manufacturers entering the market. The solution to the problem is for integrators and consultants to move from being box pushers to service providers.
The convergence of AV and IT is the greatest opportunity we have seen and we must embrace it. But a lot must change.Kathy Winters from ProAV Solutions said: “Our future is in bringing and delivering the experience. AV is experience based and not logic based. We partner with people who deliver the network and handle the AV. You just change your skillset and adapt to the new world.”
The adapting is easier said than done. Elaine Manalo from Hewshott International said: “There is a lot of pressure on the integrators with regards to the products they are selling and what network infrastructure they need. The integrator will turn to the manufacturers when they need an implementation guide and if you do not have the expertise in-house to understand the guide you will not be able to determine if it works or not.”
Daniel Lee from Hewshott added: “There is an expectation from the customer that you [AV professionals] will handle IT. This is not always the case. There are proper IT consultants whose job cannot be performed by AV professionals.”
Jim Seretis from Biamp added: “We need to educate the end user about a solution rather than just products. Everyone has products but users need to learn about what the product can do for them. We know there are challenges and we understand when it comes to AV and IT. We need to show the client and the IT departments that AV has a place on the network.”
Jason Tirado, RGB Spectrum, continues: “Our products go onto IT networks. Right now AV companies dealing with our products need to be supported heavily. They have no IT skills in place on the switch side. That being said, the IT savvy AV companies are easy to deal with and do a great job with our products. More integrators need to make sure they have the right IT expertise.”
But with audio and video products transferred to IT networks, there is a fear that AV will just be considered an end-point that could be installed, operated and controlled by IT departments. The attendees of the roundtable however agreed that this would not be the case in their opinions.
Craig from Crestron said: “AV expertise might not be required in the future when you are setting up a simple meeting room. But when you have multiple meeting rooms that need to talk to each other, complex boardrooms or huddles spaces you will need AV expertise. And AV also needs to do more. We need to expand the conversation over to the network, BMS and metrics. And these can be new sources of revenue.”
However, with manufacturers making their products easier to install more immediate action is also required. Winters from ProAV Solutions said: “We try to deliver what the clients want which is our expertise. But when you get manufacturers saying that their products are easy to install that becomes negated. I have had people and IT departments say that they can just google installation and I think integrators are being devalued because manufacturers have this message that their products are easy to install.”
Manufacturers at the roundtable stated that steps were being taken to combat this problem. Product certification was put forward as a preventative measure. Evans from AVT explained: “We ask people to certify if they want to use our products. The certification follows the people and not the company, so if the person leaves the company, that organisation must get someone else certified.”
There was also discussion around the fact that non-certified vendors handle AV projects delivering the client a sub-par experience. This is detrimental to the AV industry as a whole and all parties at the roundtable were keen to limit the impact.
The last sphere of discussion at the roundtable was AV’s place in the hierarchy of contractors. Winters from ProAV Solutions explained: “The main contractor manages risk and delivers the project. Clients don’t want to deal with multiple contractors and this means they need to have in- house expertise to liaise with them. AV is parked with the main contractor because AV goes in the building during construction and finishing.”
AV is experience based and not logic based. We partner with people who deliver the network and handle the AV.Lee from Hewshott said: “There are pros and cons to this arrangement. Seeing that you work with the builders to install AV components it is easier to liaise with them when the AV package is under the main contractor. The con is that we do not get access to the client.”
But with AV migrated over to the IT network, there was discussion that in the future AV packages might not be best suited to be within the realm of builder contracts. Many at the roundtable suggested that AV should get a seat at the table with the architects and IT consultants at the beginning of the project.
Lee from Hewshott said: “We have done a number of projects where we got involved late and they went wrong. We are starting to see earlier involvement. The first tier of consultants are architects, M&E and IT. AV consultants currently fall in the second tier who may get involved with the project 18 months later. We should align ourselves with IT to get in on the project at board- level and move away from the procurement level.”
Craig from Crestron adds: “We have to convince the end-client, who may have had a previous bad experience, that we as an industry have changed; that we do not need to be lumped in with the electrical contract and that we know IT.”
In order for this to happen the perception of AV must change. Attendees agreed that AV must move away from being seen as products (projectors and speakers) and transition to being perceived as an enterprise service. In order to make this happen an industry wide initiative would be required with AV industry bodies, such as InfoComm, taking steps to rebrand the AV industry and getting it in front of CFOs and CIOs.