Imagine 100 AV Industry geeks talking about the future of technology without mentioning a single product. It was tough, but somehow we managed to stay on task. The InfoComm 100 was an think-tank of AV and related professionals from around the world that examined the 3-5 year future of the AV Industry. Let’s examine the list of primary assumptions about the 3-5 year future of technology influences on our industry and ponder their implications:
1. The AV industry will need to fully understand unified communications, networks, and wireless applications.
There is a segment of our industry that feels that they will never be involved in computer networks, security system integration, or telecom. They say there is plenty of room for small companies that specialize in hanging AV displays and setting up plug and play control systems. However, I don’t think this small slice is what defines the AV Industry now or in the future. The beauty of AV and the reason it will survive as a dominant player in global communications, is the fact that it CAN integrate with any kind of network or telecommunications system. It may also control and interface security, HVAC, and a myriad of other infrastructure systems not yet considered. The fact that so much of future technology will depend on wireless communications and data management puts an exclamation point on the need to understand 1. HOW unified communications works and, 2. HOW we can be a dominant player in its implementation.
2. There will be growth in multidiscipline AV providers.
If you believe #1, then #2 logically follows. Smart integration companies are already adding Network divisions, which should expand their managed Services divisions, which should in turn drive more multidiscipline sales. Add some Security, Paging, and Residential and poof! The big implication here is the impact these new disciplines may have on how integrators and consultants approach business development and sales. We may need to graft together great enterprise sales experts with multidiscipline design engineers (or multiple engineers). We will never send just one person to a meeting again. Another huge implication of this converged world will be increased demand for certifications in network, telecom, and AV disciplines.
3. “Open source” will be the norm.
If you believe #1 and #2, then you not only believe in open source, you are an ardent advocate. Proprietary solutions are the bane of elegant design (although sales people like to sell them). And one thing the AV industry needs is more elegant design
4. 3D and virtual reality will increase in prevalence and demand.Anyone that attended this year’s InfoComm or NAB Show will attest to the prevalence of 3D and virtual meeting solutions. I am not sure I totally agree with the need, but the fact that so many folks do makes it a relevant trend. In my opinion, 3D is not a viable business tool – but it has huge applications in education and medical markets. The danger here is not keeping abreast of what these products can and will do. When a gimmick finds practical application, then hold on for a fast and furious ride.
5. The computer will increasingly become a multifunction tool supplanting specific AV devices.
Time for a Star trek analogy: Remember how incredulous you were when Spock would manipulate a lot of unlabeled console buttons and often when he touched the same button it did something different? Why do we need different user interface tools in every environment that we work in? Why couldn’t our tri-corder, uh… I mean cell phone, PDA, or laptop serve as our control interface, transceiver, and display wherever we are? See items #1, 2, and 3 above.
6. The value of systems will increasingly be in software not in hardware.
If you believe #5 (and 1,2,and 3), then software may become your primary product. Will you be a software developer, integrator, or implementer? Probably all three! But there is another aspect of the word “software” that I think is implied by this trend. Intellectual property in the form of “soft services” is hard to define and harder to budget, but has become the core of the AV industry. Anyone can sell hardware. As hardware becomes smarter, more people can design to its application (see plug n play in the secondary assumptions). Our last frontier is creativity – which is always valued and rarely charged for in our industry. This topic may be worth its own blog entry, so I will let that soak in for a while.
7. There will be massive needs for more bandwidth.
Ok, I can buy this. It’s funny when you think about how massively overbuilt the fiber infrastructure was at the turn of the century. Video content sucks up an amazing amount of bandwidth, but we all want more. I know I have misjudged bandwidth needs once or twice along the way. Network consultants may still be dramatically underestimating the future demand for telepresence-type products, video on demand, and Web 2.0 applications. We can help through better education of not just our clients, but of their suppliers and internal consultants as well.
Comments on Secondary Assumptions:
There were two recurring themes in the secondary assumptions that I think tie in well with the above:
1. There will be more “plug and play” devices that need to be intelligently managed.
This is one of several trends that point towards end-users defining the experience THEY want to have instead of us techies telling them how it’s gonna be. Increasingly, when consumers do not find the features they want, they don’t buy. This also harkens back to my point about the AV Industry needing to embrace creative design. Creativity solves problems, which in turn forces product innovation.
2. There may be a catastrophic failure of a major AV system due to being digital and networked.
A major complaint amongst industry visionaries is the tolerance for down time in AV installations. In order for our products and services to be dominant and not relegated to “cool toys” status, AV has to be considered MISSION CRITICAL (emphasis intended). There are two issues: one, the stuff has got to work; two, if it works consistently, then perhaps users will come to depend on AV they way they do IT services. Heck, our television delivery systems are more reliable than most AV installations. Ouch!
Tom Stimson, MBA, CTS is a twenty-five year AV Industry veteran with a wealth of management, business, and organizational development experience. Tom is also the President-Elect of InfoComm International, frequent columnist on business and AV topics, keynote presenter, and seminar instructor. Learn more at www.trstimson.com.