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.” 
Stuart and RGB
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.   

In Attendance:
Will Hegan, AVI-SPL  
Graham Evans, AVT
Jim  Seretis,  Biamp
Stuart Craig,  Crestron   
Peter Hunt, Daniel  Lee & Elaine  Manalo,  Hewshott International 
Jacques Van Deventer,  Lightware
Jason Coy, Midwich 
Kathy Winters, ProAV  Solutions 
Jason Tirado, RGB  Spectrum 
The  discussion  was  moderated by Paul Milligan, InAVate EMEA     

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