Looking around the corner can help you choose a strategy that might succeed in many possible futures. On the other hand, if we chase predictions, we often settle on one possible future and choose narrower strategies.

Best Practices Series

Looking Around the Corner

Making a plan based on possible futures

Predictions are great when you guess correctly, but embarrassing at best when you miss the mark. The value therefore of spotting trends is to distill potential strategies that could succeed in that future. Looking around the corner can help you choose a strategy that might succeed in many possible futures. On the other hand, if we chase predictions, we often settle on one possible future and choose narrower strategies. To follow are a few of my observations about the coming year(s) and some possible implications for your businesses.

New Alliances
For years industry pundits (including myself) have predicted a rash of corporate mergers and acquisitions in the AV segment. Aside from a few deals here and there, it simply has not happened. The economic downturn is only partially responsible for the lack of M&A activity. A more likely reason is the historically low debt in our segment and the fact that M&A rarely creates more wealth. Bigger companies are not likely to gain more market share just because of their size. And creating economy of scale can be valuable, but it isn’t very sexy.

Strategic alliances on the other hand, offer better value for all parties (and the divorces are much simpler). 2011-15 will be an era of partnerships and alliances. Various large integration companies have already formed international strategic groups; now it’s time for the mid-sized companies to link up. The same holds true for Live Event companies. Rental-based businesses need broader networks of partners with similar profiles or complementary services. Alliances address both geography and depth of available inventory and support services.

Another kind of alliance – in 2011 we will see increasing numbers of project partnerships between Independent Design Consultants and Systems Integrators. The reasons are clear: low-bid contractors are not meeting the standards required by consultant-designed solutions. When projects goes badly, everyone loses. I expect to see more Consultants partnering with top-end Integrators on specific projects (and vice versa). Both parties can improve their chances of winning the job and in turn will deliver higher quality work at better margins.

The Live Event equivalent is the Independent Technical Director and the Rental-Stager. In general TD’s have not progressed to the level of professionalism that we see in integration design, but there are a few working models for agency-style TD’s. In any case, we are seeing more instances of TD’s partnering with stagers to jointly bid on major projects. Like the integration world, quality of service is driving these partners together.

The implications are huge for both groups. We have already learned from the 2010 InfoComm Global AV Market Definition and Strategy Study that the ratio of services to products is increasing. Alliances and partnerships are service-based marriages. These revenue streams will be all about intellectual property and solutions-oriented services – not hardware. To get the most out of this kind of teamwork, integrators and consultants will have to adopt collaborative sales techniques and more open operational processes. No small feat, but some forward-thinking companies are already gong down this path.

Get Outside Your Bubble
Once you connect an audiovisual device to the corporate network, you have joined the IT world and IT becomes AV. The same applies to telecommunications, security, lighting, and environmental controls. And, if telecommuting continues to grow as it has, then the home is the office. AV Integrators (and Consultants) need to see the enormous opportunity this offers. Commercial or residential or mobile – everything, everywhere is the new frontier. Who is better equipped at making all the parts work together? Hopefully it will be you, but we can be pretty sure it won’t be anyone that insists on standalone AV systems.

The major implication here ties back to alliances (and perhaps M&A?). If the above scenario describes unified communications, then bringing together resources that can support IT, AV, telecom, etc… will be critical going forward. Add to this content development and control (digital signage?) and the truly converged company or partnership will have many facets.

The bottom line is that 2011 is the right year to expand your horizons. Our ongoing assumptions need a little shaking up. Consider the alternative: if you don’t get outside your bubble, someone else will burst it on their way in.