How the IT Industry Views AV

http://www.dreamstime.com/-image1408507If you’ve ever subscribed to the line of thinking that says, “If we in the AV industry don’t sharpen our IT skills, those that already have them are going to swoop in and eat our lunches,” then you may be onto something. This line of thinking acknowledges that the whole AV/IT convergence has already happened and that more and more AV systems are really networked AV systems. It appreciates the growing market for digital signage, videoconferencing systems, streaming media and mobile collaboration and wonders, “Are we as AV professionals missing the boat here? Are we losing out to IT professionals?”

Maybe not yet, but if any of this sounds familiar, I submit this: The IT industry is as interested in the market for networked AV systems (and they should be) as the AV industry is wary that IT will win a lion’s share of that business. Ironically, IT appears to know exactly what it needs to succeed in AV: the knowledge that AV specialists already have.

Below is a little something from a paper published last year by CompTIA, which is the trade association for the IT industry. CompTIA is also an InfoComm partner on certain initiatives, such as the STEP Foundation. And I’d like to acknowledge Dawn Meade, CTS, of Net-AV, for bringing this paper to my attention in a blog post of her own last fall. Part of Net-AV’s tagline? “Where IT and AV collide….” Appropriate.

Now, from CompTIA’s “Audiovisual Integration Opportunities: A Practical Guide for Solution Providers” [PDF]:

“How’s this for an expansion opportunity: a market that grows at a double-digit pace, generates business in many vertical industries, and relies on technologies most IT service providers already have down cold. This potential business kick-starter is audiovisual (AV) technology.”

Throughout the paper, if you replace mentions of “IT” with “AV,” and “AV” with “IT,” it could have been written by InfoComm as a treatise on doing more IT work. And of course, we’re  both right.

CompTIA cites what we all cite as the basis for these cross-market opportunities: AV/IT convergence. Though they speak from a different market position. “Convergence on a common infrastructure places AV within the IT orbit,” CompTIA’s report states. “The growth-minded IT service provider’s task: turn AV into an upsell and integration opportunity.”

Ah, “upsell.” To IT, AV is an upsell opportunity. To AV, what is IT?

This CompTIA report came to mind after I made a trip to Capitol Hill as a guest of K2 Audio’s Rich Zwiebel and General Communications’ Gain Foster. The two of them showed me and a group from InfoComm many of the AV installations they’d done for Congress, emphasizing that most of what we saw ran on an IT network. When we parted ways at the end of day, Rich, who was one of the founders of the company that developed CobraNet, which, as you know, became something of a standard for audio networking over Ethernet, fretted that if the AV industry didn’t do more to get educated on running AV over IT networks, it could miss the bus.

As you may also know, InfoComm feels the same way, and has been developing fresh training on networked AV systems.

Of course, the knowledge flow goes both ways, and CompTIA recognizes it. “IT service providers will need to acquire skill sets in such areas as videoconferencing and room integration, where lighting and acoustics come into play,” the paper suggests. “Industry associations and some AV equipment manufacturers offer entry-level education and training to get interested resellers and integrators up to speed.”

Not surprisingly, if CompTIA’s report is any indication, IT professionals are eyeing the systems you’d expect them to: videoconferencing, digital signage, unified communications. The report also suggests that education and healthcare are two prominent markets that IT providers should approach with their newfound AV skills. And they clearly respect what the AV industry does. CompTIA’s paper makes frequent references to InfoComm training, market research, and standards.

There is not much here that suggests an “us-versus-them” mentality. (Though calling AV an “upsell” opportunity for IT providers is unique; AV providers can’t rightly upsell an enterprise network –yet.) In other outlets, CompTIA encourages its members not to fake AV expertise (my words) but actually learn the practice. And it suggests partnering with reputable AV companies to build their offerings (considered a “popular” tactic among IT providers, according to one CompTIA blog).

But clearly, the AV industry has its work cut out for it, too. Who’s going to partner with you if you’re not at least conversant in IT, IP, Ethernet, network security, etc.? Everyone is looking at the same pool of AV/IT opportunities (won’t most opportunities be AV/IT opportunities soon?). They’re not going to fall into any professional’s lap who hasn’t demonstrated the skills to tackle them.

Read CompTIA’s report. If nothing else, it’s interesting to learn what someone who might be considered an outsider thinks of the AV market. They like it. They like the AV market and the opportunity it suggests. Forget the conceptual exercise of AV/IT convergence. Today, the numbers are doing the talking (a $115 billion worldwide market by 2015, according to InfoComm’s 2012 Global Market Definition and Strategy Study, which CompTIA’s report cites more than once).

Read it because it makes you look good. AV companies worked hard for years to make this industry what it is now — a certifiable professional services industry that others would love to get in to. I expect when you know what those others are thinking, you know how better to compete — or partner –with them.

Go ahead. Read it and tell us what you think below. We’ll wait.

 

About Brad Grimes

Brad Grimes is the director of editorial services for InfoComm International and the former editor of Pro AV magazine. He has been writing about technology for more than 20 years. For more, visit the Blogger Bios page.

3 Responses to “How the IT Industry Views AV”

  1. Thanks for writing this, it’s an important article. We’re not sure there is an absolute point where you can say convergence between IT and AV has absolutely happened. But in terms of the two fields of specialism moving ever closer together, now represents the closest they have ever been. Of course running AV over the IT network will push that convergence ever closer.
    Where AV integrators may retain the edge is obviously the knowledge of the products, which will be deeper and broader than many IT specialists. But to deliver world class 21st century systems, cooperation is going to have to happen,

  2. Interesting – I’ve experienced IT folks who want to replace all of the AV gear (AMX, Crestron et. al) with Cisco codecs, under the guise of “you don’t need that custom stuff, one box to rule them all!)

    I’ve also talked to IT professionals who view Av as a royal PITA – they are forced to manage and facilitate a bunch of new stuff on their network that they had little if any inpout in procuring. Which leads to the sort of thinking I detailed above.

    I think one iteration of this article is the idea of the AV integrator who adds IT expertise to their staff ala Net AV.

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