My first InfoComm was in New Orleans in (I believe) 1991. To put it in perspective, we flew from Dallas to New Orleans in the morning, walked the floor until we had covered everything, ate a great lunch, and flew home. Back in those days, we carried purchase orders with us and wrote them on the spot. Often we bought gear right off the floor and had it shipped to us after the show. I believe Kodak was still the biggest booth.
Twenty years later and I still run into some of the same folks, and too often I find that their game plan for the show has not changed over the years: Show up, walk the floor, maybe attend an event or party, go home. This is more true of Stagers than Integrators, but too many companies are not getting their money’s worth out of the trip. InfoComm is an event that influences an entire industry. If you don’t pick up on the year’s important trends, your company will fall further and further behind.
Systems Integrators: Who Should Attend?
In years past I would have said that the most important people that needed to come to the show were management and lead designers (engineers) in that order. My list now starts with Business Development followed by Designers and Programmers, then Lead Techs, Management, and lastly Sales. The reason Biz Dev is now at the top of the list is twofold: First, there are a lot of end-customers at the show including many of your own. Send your Biz Dev folks to ensure your clients get some attention. Second, understanding technology trends is mission-critical for Biz Dev personnel. Engineers may focus on what can be done now, but customers want to know where things are headed.
I think it is always important for Designers to attend because they of all people need to accept that technology is changing and that should influence their designs. Too many companies are stuck in the same old design paradigms of black boxes and over-engineered solutions. The reason I would sendProgrammers is that one day soon (maybe already) they will be more important than Design Engineers. Programmers are the real face of your company and your control interface will probably determine whether or not a customer will ever work with you again. In addition, customer expectations of system capabilities and user interfaces are changing much faster than the typical Integrator’s solutions. Programmers deal with these requests everyday and can help discover better ways to serve your clients.
What Should You Do There?
Divide and Conquer. As a company you have four missions: 1. Simplify your business relationships, 2. Modernize your designs, 3. Address the needs of your customers, and 4. Get educated. This year my recommendation to Management is to focus on item1 by objectively examining all of your dealership lines and noting how much redundancy and overlap there is in the products you use. Challenge your Design team to eliminate product lines, agree on standardized solutions, and reduce the number of SKU’s you put into systems. Think about the real cost of maintaining too many manufacturer relationships, the expense of designing every project from scratch, and the risk of not having standardized solutions. Your purchasing and accounting departments will agree with me.
Designers and Programmers should focus on new technology in an effort to eliminate boxes from system design (item 2). This year pay particular attention to trends in audio-video bridging (AVB) products and ask manufacturers how they are incorporating HDBaseT technology. Your goal is to be 100% IP-based, which means eliminating a lot of tired, traditional solutions. This is as technical as I get, but trust me – your clients (hint: the IT Managers and their bosses) are amazed that AV can’t do these things consistently well.
Business Development should learn about the future. Your job is to represent your customers’ biggest pains (item 3). End-users are asking for simpler systems that work all the time. Technology Managers are faced with BYOD (bring your own device) issues every day. Everyone wants to know why they can’t use their smart phone to turn on the system. What can your company do to solve those problems? In addition, there are some great seminars that will help open your eyes to possibilities. And when you find yourself sucked in to a product demo on the exhibit floor, ask the expert how this technology will be relevant in five years. The customer relationships your are building now really care about the future.
Anyone else that attends should be at InfoComm primarily for item 4, Education. Lead techs need to be in technical classes on ANYTHING related to networks. Have your techs earned their CTS-I yet? What are you waiting for? Look at all the initials behind your client’s name now. IT Managers have more certifications on their own than many AV companies have in total. If you can’t figure out how to free up field personnel for training, then YOU need to attend one of my Business Survival Kit seminars!
Stagers: A Quick Strategy
I know a lot of Stagers feel like they get short shrift at InfoComm, but they aren’t paying enough attention. If you are not bringing technical staff, then your company is missing out on a great opportunity. There are many relevant courses, demos, and exhibits that your team needs to attend. Stagers have the best networking event (Rental & Staging Forum, Awards, and Reception) and there is even a cool Super Tuesday Session on interactive technologies. Who are you sending to Andre LeJeune’s Staging and Events Management three-day course? Seriously, you don’t think someone in your company could learn something from a professional trainer that is also a veteran Stager? Plus there are many of business seminars that I personally know you need to attend! You get one shot at this a year. Make the BEST of it.
In conclusion I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the business networking aspect of the show. InfoComm is the place to meet people, share ideas, and spot trends. You can learn a lot by listening to what other attendees have seen. Come armed with a list of questions to ask folks you meet in the aisles and classrooms. These need to go beyond “how’s business?” or “see anything you like?” (which, means something completely different in Vegas by the way). Ask how other companies are dealing with network designs, how long it takes to write a proposal budget, or where they are finding outsourced installation crews. One good answer could pay for your trip.