My Search for Vision – a blog
Does your relationship with technology benefit your customers? What are the possibilities? What do I need now? What will I need in the future? This are important conversations to have with your clients.
Tuesday June 12, 2012 – Somewhere in LVCC
Which brings me to why I am sitting in a ballroom at <gasp> 8 a.m. with 450 colleagues to hear industry experts talk about trends in AV. I am referring to InfoComm’s Super Tuesday session, Future Trends. When people talk about where the market is headed, we all need to pay attention. We don’t have to agree and when we disagree it should be because we see an alternate future, not continuation of the status quo. In all things, we need to form opinions based on data and trends. In other words: Seek input. Agree or disagree. Extrapolate. Plan. What I am listening for are clues about what customers want, what pains they are trying to solve, and how AV is handling these issues – or not. I hope the coffee kicks in soon.
It is very disappointing that less than one quarter of the audience is AV integrators. Almost half are end users/ technology managers plus representational number of design consultants, manufacturers, and IT folks. Why aren’t there more integrators here? These are the folks that most need to look ahead. Go where your customers are going to learn about technology. Try and hear what they are hearing, understand their pain, instead of pushing products. I applaud the integrators that showed up today. I hope they take something back to their companies.
What did I hear in this session? Not every technical trend I heard about would matter much to the end-user, but to a bunch of techno-geeks, this was nerd-vana. There are some interesting (to me) trends in technology such as the emergence of flat line array systems (the DSP directs the sound), less expensive giant flat panel displays (another nail in the coffin for conference room projectors), and the preponderance of “collaborative” desktop videoconferencing solutions (you may see me consulting online sooner than later).
Pete Putman and Scott Sharer are worth hearing anytime they speak. I can learn about new products and solutions in one day with them than a week on the show floor. The difference between these two visionaries and the rest of us is that the smarter guys know that these things really do matter now and aren’t just something to look forward to. They guys don’t hardware as toys as much as solutions. They see what something does and extrapolate what that will mean to technology workers a year or more from now. Thought-provoking, especially when we all know that most integration firms have no one studying technology trends.
Speaking of the future, Scott Walker of Waveguide and Dave Wilt of ARUP are two really smart guys that aren’t bound by the constraints of technology as much as they are by the budgets of their clients. Mr. Wilts has been instrumental in the Smart Building initiative and the Building Information Modeling (BIM) Task Force. Mr. Walker is well-known for his focus on sustainability and for almost single-handedly creating the STEP initiative for measuring the sustainability of technology in integration projects. I admit that discussing green initiatives is like watching grass grow: I know something good is supposed to happen, but I have a million other things to do right now. However, to carry the metaphor further – eventually we have to get the mower out and deal with the grass. Understanding where the Sustainability movement (trend, fad, social experiment) is leading us is drawn into sharper focus when you look at it alongside Smart Building trends. Logically, technology is leading us to solutions that somehow combine the control, management, and reporting of all technology in the built environment. One day soon, you won’t be able to call yourself an AV person without predictive modeling of power usage and hence, a deep understanding of the human element of what technology is supposed to accomplish. This is the coveted 80,000 foot view.
Wednesday June 13, 2012 – Somewhere else in LVCC
Which brings me to the one of my all-time favorite sessions at InfoComm, Mark Valenti‘s “Space, Time, and Technology”. This could easily have been a Future Trends session on its own, but took place on Wednesday just after the show opened (and about the time I need to sit down for a while). Mr. Valenti, CEO of Sextant Group is the master of alerting learners to what the future holds and then citing a current real-life application of that same concept. The future is already here when we take the time to look around, and Mark knows how to drop that on your head in a fun and informative way. Bottom line, if Mark says something is a “disruptive change”, pay attention. This year’s session reinforced some of the trends cited in years past, but when it comes to AV folks – you can’t tell them too many times! It was Mark that introduced me to BIM and Revit several years ago. Amazingly I find that 8 out of 10 integrators I speak with have never heard of either! Right now I bet that less than 1% of integrators in North America have even one Revit seat in their design or drafting departments. If I knew who they were, I’d place bets that they will smoke their competition over the next five years.
Other takeaways from Mark’s presentation: The effort curve. Process pushes effort to the job finish. BIM and Revit projects as well as IPD push effort to the front of the project. I know from firsthand experience that getting integrators to front load their projects with planning and complete designs is nearly impossible. Why exert the effort when you can “kick the can down the road”? In integration’s defense, it is exceedingly hard to change to a front-loaded delivery process when you are already two weeks behind.
The Internet of things: There are more devices connected to the Internet than there are people. What are these things doing when we are not interacting with them? Do they have a life of their own? Have you watched the movie iRobot again lately? One thing Pete Putman talks about is the advent of completely wireless AV systems (save for electricity). If every device is eventually an IP address on the interwebs, “integrators” may become increasingly irrelevant. We may not even need end-users. All this stuff will just do its own thing.
Thursday June 14, 2012 – I think I am still in LVCC!
Thursday is the day I shift gears and become the instructor. I taught my usual two “Survival Kit” courses, one for Integration and one for Rental-Stagers. I can admit to my friends that now that I am not on the InfoComm Board or an Officer of the Association, I can be a little publically frustrated with the pace of change. In other words, I got on my soapbox a little more than usual. Why? I have seen the AV Industry (and InfoComm) evolve at a breakneck pace the past five years while Integration and Rental-Staging seems stuck in the 1990′s. An out of touch dealership system, transactional sales approaches, and a reluctance to embrace technological changes are just a few of the symptoms that rev me up.
Here are the big takeaways from my courses:
For Integrators, “Taking a bunch of products that weren’t specifically designed to work together and selling them as a solution…” is not a formula for success. However, this is my best definition of what integration is. What is missing is a visible trend towards standardization of solutions. This would imply that AV Dealers should apply fewer products and would therefore need fewer dealerships. Instead, the “best practice” is to engineer systems with “just the right product” that does no more or no less than is needed. Flexibility adds cost, and that would require advanced selling skills. At any rate, the bid spec said use “product X” so why not be a dealer for it? Where are the design standards by project type? End-customers define products and create design guides, why don’t suppliers? If AV integrators were more consistent in their designs, then perhaps end-users wouldn’t have needed to take on that role themselves.
For Rental-Stagers, my presentation focused on selling your Value Proposition. This is the price that takes into account that your service and solution is intrinsically better that the next guy’s. I can’t tell you how many folks tell me that they are worth more than the low bidder, but then match that price! This topic lead to a discussion of how to sell Project Management, probably the biggest differentiator for many Stagers. The fact that so many companies give away PM services tells me that they have no idea what’s its worth or how to sell it.
So, that’s my report from InfoComm. It’s not just about the equipment, there are many opportunities to expand your strategic mind. As a reward for reading this far, you can download my Survival Kit course handouts here.