Right Path, Wrong Mountain
By: Neil Morrison, Executive
Vice President of Systems Innovation By LMG
AV Integration business models have had moderate levels of evolution over the last 30 years. Incremental changes in technology created predictable refresh cycles and steady growth. Customers relied on their AV provider to design and implement solutions for integration of disparate components into a user-friendly solution. This often required creating connectivity of audio, video, and lighting components with the use of a proprietary control system. Well implemented systems enabled easy operation for non-technical users. For many systems, this created a closed loop environment that restricted user modifications or self-adaption to changing needs. Connectivity to systems outside the defined ecosystem was difficult and often led to frustration in the boardroom, classroom, or house of worship.
Today’s customer is more complex and sophisticated than ever before. They are simultaneously more connected and less proximate in both time and space. There is an innate expectation of operational simplicity and intuitive interactivity. Designs must allow for both the novice and expert alike. Systems that do not allow for rapid advances in technology or easy integration with other evolving communication vehicles are rendered obsolete. One of our enterprise clients found themselves frustrated with a ceiling of 100,000 users on a conferencing platform. While the manufacturer was quite proud of that level of scalability, this user found it limiting for their global business. Their solution? Build their own platform with infinite scalability. No ceiling!
Where do we bring value?
How do we as integrators answer the question “where do we bring value?” in an environment where customers have resources beyond that of an integrator or manufacturer. Customer procurement departments use technology advances to break old models of value that built entire businesses for decades. With end users building relationships directly with manufacturers in addition to having better global distribution and access to information, the once cloudy mystery that provided a good AV integrator leverage to customers is being reduced. We can complain about our margins being squeezed and remember the good ole days when we really brought value to our customers or we could look at our businesses with tougher questions.
Do we bring value in this changing environment? We need to ask “what can be?”, not what it was under our old paradigm.
That’s exactly why we decided to rebrand our integration business unit from Systems Integration to Systems Innovation. Although it may seem like a small shift in words, the idea behind innovating, and making changes to something established by introducing new methods, ideas or products, really spoke to the approach and position of our company.
Our newly evolved business unit has already begun to intentionally explore these new market forces in the following ways:
1. Look for latent pain points.
Traditional sales pitches sought to solve obvious challenges with concrete solutions. Our new approach involves working alongside, embedded with our customers to build deeper relationships by having productive conversations and common experiences to discover their business problems and long-term needs.
I had a meeting recently with some customer stakeholders about LED products. They were concerned that other integrators were not delivering the same quality of product that we were (even though the products came from the same manufacturer). After a period of discovery, we found that other firms had not made the same investment in the factories and were not managing upstream supply chain processes like we do. In addition, our local overseas support team had a very specific inspection process that improved quality substantially. They initially sought to “buy” our recipe for success on these products. After a longer discussion, the customer realized that it was not a simple commodity buying process and decided to use us an ongoing resource for product development, purchase, and inspection. Their decision to leverage our experience and unique value driver keeps us relevant to their needs.
2. Build strong foundations, not whole houses.
Closed ecosystems prohibit innovation, creativity, and communication. Traditional AV solutions act as a type of gatekeeper for usability and interaction. Our new systems allow for improvisation and rapid innovation while remaining reliable to the end user. The strategy creates a pathway for our customer to go where they want and need to go. As we design systems, we want to ensure that there are simple and intentional pathways to include new technologies, resolutions, and distribution points throughout the design. As an example, we have begun to develop some compelling multi-channel immersive audio environments for even modest facilities. By simply adjusting the wiring design and console selection, we have laid the groundwork for a basic sound system to be easily upgraded to an immersive environment at a later date rather than a complete system overhaul.
3. Reshape managed services.
Traditional managed service models deliver maintenance and operational support for existing systems. The new model demands ongoing research and development as well as a sense of a shared evolution of a customer’s technology investment. As we meet with customers and understand their pain points, there is a noticed uptick in a desire for improved training for embedded personnel, regular communication regarding potential upgrades, and implementation of new work flows. If we have listened well and designed with intentional flexibility, we have already planted a hidden key to unlock their future needs.
Our newly established BrainBox group provides both on-premise and remote access to a team of technologists bent on discovering the future. Through collaboration, rapid prototyping, experimentation, and curiosity; the future evolution of AV systems is well within sight.
As we scale this new mountain of AV Integration and service, we must be keenly aware of the rapid and dynamic changes in both technology and customer. Firms not regularly checking their compass may find themselves far from emerging business models and markets.
As a final illustration of the new reality that we live in, look at 8-year-old Ryan from Ryan Toys review on YouTube. Ryan and his family created a business that grossed $11m in 2017 with a webcam, an internet connection, and an idea. This child has caught the attention of millions of people worldwide as well as executives from every major toy company. Ryan has a simple message built on a powerful and complex foundation of technology. He seeks to answer a simple question “is it fun?”. As the world clamors for more voices like Ryan’s to be heard, our job is simply to find a way to make it possible. Especially for an 8-year-old!