AV in the next 10 years: Hewshott International

With InAVate EMEA celebrating its 10th birthday this year, Tim Kridel canvasses opinion from distributors, integrators, manufacturers and consultants about what they thought would be the biggest changes in pro AV over the next 10 years?

In the Jan/Feb edition of InAVate magazine Tim Kridel looked ten years into the future with a cross-section of the AV industry. As an online exclusive you can also read some more detailed viewpoints from some of the people he interviewed for the article. 

In this article he hears from Peter Hunt, group CEO of Hewshott International.

PH: For a number of years now, I’ve predicted two things that I think will happen to the AV industry - over–simplification and commoditisation, with one leading to the other.

Around 20 years ago, when the AV industry started to ask for access to the IT networks, it was greeted with scepticism, reluctance and has played second fiddle ever since.  Unlike the broadcast industry, (and probably the entertainment sector too) who have been able to drive IT adoption, corporate AV operates in a different market sector where IT is much more dominant, so IT is in the driving seat.  AV equipment is now seen as ‘another item on the network’, not as a piece of proprietary equipment that has unique skillsets to ensure it works correctly.  Unfortunately, for the majority of our IT colleagues, AV is only skin deep, especially audio, and in a drive to commoditise AV, a significant amount of over-simplifications have emerged with a ‘one size fits all’ approach.  Those of us in the industry know this not to be true, and the lack of understanding has resulted in a user experience that is significantly lower than the potential for the same investment.

This is both concerning and potentially damaging for the core values of AV within the corporate sector specifically where this element has the highest profile, but unfortunately I strongly suspect the tipping point has already been reached.  Whilst I fully endorse the use of fully digital AV systems (Hewshott has designed the largest deployment of network based AV systems in Australia), a respectful balance has to be struck and the core values of analogue engineering, which is so prominent in delivering quality audio and video systems must hold equal sway.

The second aspect, which is related to the matter above is the method of delivery.  For bespoke projects, the status quo will be maintained for some time yet, but for commoditised AV systems, there is a big shakeup coming.  As we see a shift in procurement models for large projects, largely driven by risk transfer, the appetite to take on the risk has to be matched by stronger financial gain.  Thus every element of a large project delivery will result in the true role of the value added reseller being reviewed.  For large corporate roll-outs, therefore, there is a strong push to have a ’single throat to choke’ approach as clients seek both price certainty and risk mitigation.  This means transferring both elements to the main contractors, who in turn will seek the same from their suppliers.  AV is not immune to this (neither is IT, but they are both bigger and more established in this market), and the IT model is already there.  Thus the AV VARs will be less ‘reseller’ and more ‘value add’.  To address this and deliver quality systems, current AV vendors must seek to increase the profile of their quality engineering resources, properly trained and certified so their skills attract value and an appropriate fee because the margin on hardware will reduce, and probably disappear.

The days of double figure margins in AV are only enjoyed in some countries, and even so, they are rapidly coming to an end, but for core competencies to be retained within the industry, true value must be realised through skills.  The leading manufacturers have a significant role to play in more tightly managing the implementation of their products and ensuring these standards are set high. I have called on the leading manufacturers to establish quantifiable qualifications and enable their resellers to gear up to address this change before it is forced upon them, and to therefore give them an opportunity to shape the market.

Of course, there are exceptions to the rule, and I can think of at least a dozen of our 500+ clients where this model doesn’t work for them, but for the rest it’s an exciting and interesting time – agility and flexibility will win the game, and with some realignment, the core values of the world of AV will be sustained for many years to come yet.

Other Q&As in the series:
Cordless Consultants

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