The Blurred Line: AV And IT

It’s becoming harder to say a company is absolutely an AV or an IT integration firm. By some measures, nearly one-third of the open technology positions at AV integration firms are IT-related. Sure, there are extremes of strictly AV or IT firms out there, in which a company focuses only on either networking infrastructure and hardware on one end or audio and video equipment on the other; however, a growing number of firms cover the full gamut of related products and services. This is the reality of solutions provision today, in which vertical integration of capabilities can mean a larger share of the project revenues going to a single provider.

Some might argue that handling more aspects of the solution better ensures a quality result in the end. After all, the speakers and displays have to be optimized as much as the incoming content feeding them, which often is served digitally over IP networks. Further, much of the user interface or signal processing is done via PC-based software. Thus, AV starts much more to resemble IT, and sometimes vice versa. In some areas—such as unified communications, perhaps—the separation has vanished to the point of near indistinguishability.

This is more than a semantic debate. The answers to these questions determine who gets the work and who does the individual job. If you think audiovisual is just another endpoint node on an IT network, then you might be an IT integrator looking to expand your offering into the audiovisual space. Alternatively, if you think of audiovisual as a set of technologies that requires its own special discipline and emphasis, you are likely a more traditional AV integration firm looking to keep yourself relevant in the face of a tide of incoming competition that is seeking to expand its own opportunity set. So far, few are ultimately just calling it “technology” because that generic term downplays the expertise on both sides and sounds too much like a whitewashing, leading in the end to poor user experiences. Any of these perspectives will determine how integrators pitch to prospects and the possible outcome of that effort.

Is it just an industry classification issue? Where this all plays out is ultimately at the very lowest level of a provider firm, whether IT, AV or other integration/consulting type—down in the very resources they hire. Peering down that dark tunnel reveals some interesting things about the true composition of what we might think is a pure AV industry.

First, the word “industry” is fraught with challenges. Other industries, like manufacturing, for example, can look themselves up in the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) and then pull up a bunch of relevant data. That includes number of jobs, occupation types, skill sets, qualifications and compensation, sliceable by geography or type of firm. None of that exists for the commercial AV channel or integration firms of any kind. Instead, commercial AV (and IT integration, too) is spread across several actual NAICS sectors, the most prominent being electronics stores and movie/video production. Neither of those really fit today, and they’re much larger than commercial AV by itself. This makes these designations virtually useless for learning anything about the state of employment in the AV channel.

So, what do we do? We start with a list of the top 50 AV integration firms. That list then helps us get visibility to the types of roles and skills being hired by those companies, in the form of occupation classification of the job postings made available by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) through Emsi, a data analytics firm that specializes in the BLS data.

Two occupations jump out at the top of the hiring list for the top integrators: audio video equipment technicians (AVET) and computer user support specialists (CUSS). The first sounds like what one might expect of AV integrators, as the title conveys an expertise in AV technologies. It’s the second title that seems out of place, because having “computer” in the name suggests more of an IT bent. The description of the occupation further supports that notion.

Computer User Support Specialists (SOC 15-1151): Provide technical assistance to computer users. Answer questions or resolve computer problems for clients in person, or via telephone or electronically. May provide assistance concerning the use of computer hardware and software, including printing, installation, word processing, electronic mail and operating systems. Excludes “Network and Computer Systems Administrators” (15-1142).

Other IT-related jobs occur further down the list. Computer programmers, information technology project managers and network/computer systems administrators are all within the top 10 occupations being sought by the largest integrators. Skill sets and qualifications tell a similar story. A walk around the InfoComm show also adds evidence, as many attendees come from IT positions and they are seeking training in AV tech. The key takeaway here is IT professionals are a growing part of the AV integrator resource pool.

Many already know this to be true, based on their own experiences with hiring in new capabilities. This data, and other data put forward by AVIXA’s new Pro-AV Channel Employment Trends Report, quantifies and validates that knowledge.

The ultimate point of this is recognition and adaptation. The demands of customers are changing, enabling new companies with different skill sets to compete for business. In some cases, that means adapting through hiring in new occupations to bring the required skills. To do so, you must know what these groups require in terms of compensation and benefits. This is where employment studies and salary studies can help. Look at ours for more on this, as you attempt to adapt your own firm to the changing market realities. Or don’t…but don’t be surprised if you are out-competed by someone who has chosen this more vertically integrated path.

The Pro-AV Channel Employment Report is available for purchase at AVIXA members are eligible for discounts.

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