I’d like you to meet several customers. Last year, InfoComm commissioned a series of research reports focused on key market segments of the AV industry. We talked to end users and decision makers at organizations around the world to understand trends in the corporate, education, government, retail, healthcare, hospitality and venue markets. One of the most salient trends, according to the reports, was that, when it comes to purchasing AV systems, the decision-making process has become more “IT-like.” (All of the studies are available at www.infocomm.org/verticalmarkets.)
As the AV industry continues to evolve, this is an important trend to understand. But what does it mean in practical terms when customers—increasingly IT departments—approach AV systems in a more IT-like manner?
Let’s start by meeting William, who works for a multinational oil and gas company (interviewees for the InfoComm studies were granted anonymity, so all names are pseudonyms). William told researchers that, related to AV systems in his organization, “We have struggled to implement established technology standards. The internal politics and natural resistance of people who used to be in charge of AV were real obstacles to overcome.” He added, “In the past, AV used to be its own silo; it was isolated and operated on its own, and it was much more expensive. Every country was its own island and AV managers in each building purchased what they wanted. They selected their own technologies and vendors, and it was not very efficient. We still have a lot of legacy systems in place that are not consistent with the new standard, and it will take years to unify all our AV systems.”
What William is talking about is something IT departments understand well and AV professionals should practice: standard, repeatable systems. They don’t necessarily have to be off-the-shelf products or systems-in-a-box, but they should be tested, interoperable, updated with all the latest software patches and ready for quick deployment. Experienced AV integrators know well that once they’ve created a design and proven its success and reliability, they can repeat it for numerous clients, thereby maximizing efficiency and productivity (and, one hopes, profits). The simpler those solution blueprints, the better.
Julie makes technology purchasing decisions for a financial services firm. For her, one of the most important developments in AV systems is the move away from over-customization. “The simplification of AV is here,” she said. “AV has become so much more IT-driven that scalability and the ability to roll out a solution across the organization are very desirable. That was not conceivable a couple years ago.”
And we also heard this from technology managers in other markets, such as higher education. “We have standardized AV technology across campus, so it is simpler to replace, upgrade, support and service,” said one. “Standardization is hard to achieve, but we are on the right path,” explained another.
This usually means that purchasing decisions are more centralized. At William’s company, business units describe their needs. Then the IT department creates technical specifications and issues a request for proposals. And you can be sure that IT will request something very IT-like from prospective vendors: security specifications.
“Security issues and concerns have taken a heightened role in the selection of products,” said Joseph, an administrator at a private university in the US. “So has the development of policies for AV systems, including which technologies can be used and which should be prohibited. We are establishing AV security standards that integrate more closely with IT.”
This is to say that the same security policies that organizations impose on computers, WiFi access points, network devices and other IT systems are coming to touchpanels, videoconferencing cameras, digital signage displays and more. AV professionals are getting good at standardized, simplified AV solutions. The biggest challenge now is making them secure. When a customer says that his organization is considering prohibiting AV systems based on security concerns, we all need to pay attention.
In describing his ideal AV vendors, William told researchers, “They need to have an understanding of all the ways the AV solution will communicate with, or impact, IT and security.”
If you don’t understand that yet, you’re in for an IT-like awakening.