Rise of a New AV Integrator, Part 1: Change
Is the AV industry doomed? If it’s the “audio/video” industry, I think so. If all your company does, after years in the industry, is sell and install projectors and screens, or TVs and stereos, then yes, absolutely, that business model is a dying breed.
Is the electronic systems contractor/systems integration industry doomed? No. That’s an expanding and growing area, but you need to know where to look and we all need to spur a new “rise” in our industry. As systems integrators, we are perfectly positioned for many emerging disciplines.
Consider: What is it we’ve been doing the past couple decades? We been integrating disparate products from various manufacturers and using a multitude of protocols and standards to make them all work together in one easy-to-use and manage system. This uniquely positions those in our industry who choose to forge ahead to become leaders in a variety of emerging technologies, from digital signage and cloud-based services, to app control of a variety of systems, including building and energy management systems. These areas are wide open for AV pros to emerge as leaders if we forge ahead with a plan.
Why’s a plan important in the first place? The systems integration industry is changing fast. Technology is progressing at supersonic speeds. What was cutting-edge only a couple years ago is obsolete much quicker these days. The commoditization of nearly all products is upon us like never before. Products have become so similar, the market over-saturated, and margins are so low that only volume sales will produce any real profits. This means that recently, most of us smaller integration firms have been unable to make money selling products alone – and soon may not be able to at all.
In addition to the commodity situation, I see our society – and the consumer electronics industry especially – hit by a settlement mentality. Basically, people are settling for lower quality (still good quality, but not premium quality) and giving up some functionality for ease-of-access and ease-of-use. When was the last time a customer asked for really high-end audiophile speakers with top-quality sound? More and more, we hear, “How can I integrate my iPod or other device?”
And aside from needing to integrate more iPod-quality media, we’re faced with mature technologies that allow formerly complex integrations to be accomplished with far less equipment, less programming, less setup, and at a lower cost. Take videoconferencing, for example. It was once something for only large companies that had $15,000 to $20,ooo to budget per system. Now anyone can have videoconferencing, with relatively good quality, for just hundreds of dollars or, depending on need, even for free. Consider music and video servers, which previously sold for thousands of dollars but are now on their way to a slow demise because of online services offering instant access to whatever music, videos and games that customers want.
Which is all to say, everything’s changed—quickly. What can we do now? Stay tuned for Part 2.