The Future Of Integration

For the past few years, there has been an endless, almost tiring, banter going on in the audiovisual and systems integration industry. All the talk centers around one question: What will it take for integrators to be successful in the future?

From one corner of the room we hear, “Managed Services,” and from another, we may hear, “Margin Integrity.” All the while, we will have some doomsayer sucking his thumb in another corner, occasionally blurting out, “It’s over. We’re doomed.”

And still, the industry continues chugging along. In fact, some companies are even proclaiming greater health. Sorry, my dear Adrian, but Rocky is, indeed, going out for one more round with Ivan Drago, even if it means being beaten to a pulp. Some of us just don’t give up, and we never say “Die.”

Okay…all ’80s movie references aside, the AV industry has its share of challenges, and to some extent all of the aforementioned personalities in the room are correct. Yes, we must sell more services, and of course we should maintain healthy margins. And in some measure, if we don’t evolve, we are doomed. Isn’t that the case with every industry?

Perhaps the problem isn’t so much the lack of ability or desire to change but, rather, a lack of clarity as to where things are heading. I hear time and time again the debates about what needs to be done and even how it needs to be done. But what I think is consistently missing from the conversation is why it needs to be done. Answering the “why” question is what will provide our industry the most clarity. Asking the question and seeking its answer may be the most compelling reason for our industry to pivot.

In the past five years, and even more so in the past five months, I have asked myself why people invest in systems integration. Perhaps you’ve been asking the same. I’m not talking about investing at the most superficial level: to have meetings, or hear announcements, etc., but really, why do they feel the need to deploy solutions that make collaboration easier?

Even though many of us industry natives find the technology cool and supportive of our inner geek, let me assure you, that isn’t the reason why. Perhaps the best description I have ever heard for why companies make technology investments is this one:

Companies don’t buy technology to solve technology problems, they buy technology to solve business problems.

Simple, yet profound, mainly because integrators rarely sell technology to solve business problems. We are too busy focusing on the technology instead. Today, however, the landscape of the modern business is changing drastically. Thanks to cloud, mobile, social media and bring your own device (BYOD), companies are connected around the clock to all of their information. With accessibility reaching an all-time high, businesses are trying to solve a new problem: How do we get all of our content into the hands of all of our stakeholders (employees, customers, analysts, etc.)? And by content, I mean so much more than just an email or a presentation, but really the entire collaboration ecosystem:

  • live video communication
  • on-demand training and streaming of content
  • wayfinding and digital signage
  • emergency and safety notifications
  • mobile accessibility
  • capture, transformation and sharing of video and audio.

Just think for a minute about the way we live our lives today. Most of us spend our days within arms’ reach of our mobile devices. We are constantly connected to our work, our world and our friends. The balance of life and work is shifting, as well. We no longer really leave work; we never truly untether from our work. Instead, we consume information constantly, in order to learn about the things that are important to us.

For many organizations, whether higher education, corporate (or other types), businesses live and die by their ability to share their message. From marketing, to employee development, to operations, at the core of the way most organizations operate is communication, collaboration and information dissemination. The three components work in a way that makes employees more connected in an on-demand world.

As an industry, integrators will have the opportunity to tilt the scale in their favor when they start operating from this new perspective of why their customers seek technology, rather than focusing on what the technology can help their clients accomplish. Today, the goal of many companies is to keep their employees and customers closer, and do so in a way that is as ubiquitous with their work as possible.

As we evolve into the next generation of business, it will become more important than ever to make sure we heed this message and use it to solve the most pressing problems of our customers. For today and into the foreseeable future, it will mean getting the content people need to see, where they need to see it, without regard for the platform or the method. Accessibility will be the key. If you can unlock that, the real problem is solved. However, if you think worrying about content is outside of the scope of what we do as integrators, then I suggest you get your gloves up over your eyes quick.

Never mind, too late. Rocky is down! The good thing is that we know that Rocky gets up again. And just like he does, the AV industry will rise to fight another day.

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