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Cloud Evolution: What role does it play for AV integrators?

Editor’s Note: We welcome Daniel Newman to the Sound & Communications family. Daniel will be contributing “Down To Business” columns on a regular basis. If you have comments, please contact him at dnewman@testa.com.

Sure, it’s a popular topic, and no, it didn’t just fall from the sky. “The Cloud,” as we so intimately like to call it, is a rapidly growing concept that has slowly crept into the AV integration world over the past few years, acting as a catalyst of change and discomfort for integrators everywhere.

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From headlines to tradeshows, we see the buzz of “Cloud Friendly” applications and tools, as if that means something, but for most integrators, the real question isn’t whether or not it is Cloud friendly but, rather, what the heck is the role of the Cloud in your business?

Perhaps it makes sense to first put a little context around the Cloud. Although we love to talk about it like it is some hot new item, it really isn’t much newer than the widely adopted internet. Back in 1998, if you were using applications such as Hotmail, you were an early Cloud adopter. The difference is that, back then, it wasn’t looked at as “the Cloud ” but rather just a web-enabled email service.

It wasn’t until around 2007 that “the Cloud” evolved from web-enabled to a “Marketechture” (Marketing+Architecture) of sorts. It was at this point that the whole as-a-service concept began to spring to life, opening the floodgates for all types of applications to be turned into services. For integrators, this began to open new ways of delivering video, signage and communication. Yet, at this point, few AV integrators were thinking of the Cloud as a new delivery model for products and services. However, in the tech space, it was the start of a revolution.

The real reason that the Cloud is so important to our business is probably best explained on the back of three internet pioneers who opined well before the Cloud took off as to what IT would mean to business.

The first came from Nicholas Carr who, in 2003, published an article in the Harvard Business Review, entitled “IT Doesn’t Matter.” The article and his future work brought to light that IT is going to become commoditized much like electricity and water. If you look closely, there is already evidence of this today, as internet is quickly finding its way into the once set-in-stone “Hierarchy of Needs.”

The second was the idea of “The Web as a Platform,” which was shared in 2004 by Tim O’Reilly and Dale Dougherty. This became the springboard for the first Web 2.0 conference and, if you consider the evolution of the Cloud to service our business systems, from ERP to CRM to Unified Communications, they were onto something. Heck, so was Mark Benioff when he founded Salesforce CRM back in 1999!

As much of this convergence was taking place, the enterprise and other businesses were still far from adopting these technologies. Most companies were still building their own systems, deploying hybrids of local and remote applications, and controlling the flow of information from the inside out.

Today, the adoption of tech and the search for productivity more often flows from the outside in, and the Cloud is one of the biggest culprits.

The evangelism of video has really arrived as it has been made mainstream by the likes of Skype, Google and Apple. But those applications don’t provide the type of enterprise communication that many integrator clients need, so they look for something more.

This leads integrators to seek simple and packaged Cloud solutions that can be wrapped neatly with a bow and deployed to customers. This could serve solutions, ranging form videoconferencing to streaming video to content as a service for digital signage.

The Cloud empowers these types of solutions to be deployed, with almost no specific hardware, which in itself is a shift of epic proportion for the integrator. This changes the profile from seller of hardware and installation solutions to a new profile of a company that helps simplify, inform, explain, deploy and drive adoption of tech within the customer’s organization. One of the great reads on this is the multi-authored book, Consumption Economics, by JB Wood, Todd Hewlin and Thomas Lah, which neatly packages “Land and Expand” selling as the future of enterprise technology adoption. The authors’ theory is visible in the modern sales process, and is almost entirely Cloud enabled.

Whether your company is currently a Cloud reseller, provider or user, one thing is for certain: The Cloud has an impact on the AV integration business that is going to last into the foreseeable future. With demand being driven by the consumer who sees fast and easy adoption of the hottest tech off the shelf, it will be up to integrators to simplify and marry their expectations of simplicity with the organizational need for secure, reliable technology tools.

I guess the best way to put it is, the Cloud should give integrators much to think about, even if for just a moment it feels like it’s merely raining on their parade.

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