IT takes square-aim at the AV Integration market. Enough’s enough!
For the past 5-10 years, the IT/AV convergence has been heralded by folks at Infocomm and NSCA and throughout the industry as a fantastic opportunity to expand our market reach and bring AV to an entire new field of customers. Yet, the first steps in that direction came in the form of Dell and Best Buy and even Staples (!) selling projectors at extremely low margins, direct to end users. This commoditized projectors and drove most AV companies out of competition for projector sales. Few AV companies sell projectors any more, except for the extremely high-end Christies and Digital Projections – the ones out of reach for your average company but not for deep-pocketed government agencies and the occasional corporate headquarters. “Well,” we all said back then, “It’s only projectors. Every one is moving to flat-panels anyways. Besides, the real money is in the integration – all those boxes that live in the rack and make it all work together.” And we let it slide.
Then, IT companies started carrying or manufacturing switchers and other ‘boxes in the rack’ and we all said, “Well, that’s encroaching on our market a bit… but it’s still okay. Our boxes are better than theirs and besides, we’ve got all the experience and the know-how. Plus, it’s all about CONTROLLING the systems. It’s not really a high-end AV system without the slick control aspect. We’ve got this.” And we let it slide.
Now, we’ve got two major IT box sale specialists dipping their toes in the control market and driving down the margins on every piece of equipment we might possibly sell in this arena. Now, I don’t know what is going through the various manufacturers’ heads in this regard, but it certainly cannot be an outrageous concern for their loyal and long-time channel partners on the integration side!
I am somewhat heartened by the fact that the control system components that were listed a few days ago on Dell’s site are no longer there, but will the CDW partnership linger? How quickly will that development result in our industry being put on life support? After all, we already deal with IT professionals and end-users alike who suffer from know-it-all-itis:
- “Hey, I put in my home surround sound system. I can do THAT.”
- “Pfft. I installed and programmed the entire mainframe AND I have been programming in six different languages since I was 10. I can handle a simple touch panel.”
- “Come on! Why are we paying *those* guys to come in and install all this? We have employees that we already pay. Besides they actually want to *touch* our network to install it?? No bloody way!”
As an AV integrator, particularly one from a small firm, this is a huge obstacle to overcome. We’ve devoted years of our lives learning our industry – acoustics, optics, electrical, integration basics, and the endless manufacturer classes on programming, set-up, design, etc – only to have that time-and-money investment belittled and overlooked by the world at large, and particularly by the IT professionals that were supposed to be partnering with us as a result of the oft-hyped AV/IT convergence.
The true shame is that this came to light mere days after the end of AVWeek. Just a few days ago, we were in the midst of a week-long celebration of the AV Industry and our unique place in the world, and now we are looking at yet another sign of a potential end of our usefulness. We need to lobby our manufacturers to take a stronger role in protecting their AV sales channel. We need to be MORE VOCAL as AV Professionals in educating the world at large – and all of our potential clients – about our knowledge and expertise that is unique to AV. And we need to insist that construction industries, architects, consultants and IT professionals acknowledge our industry as distinct and of value, if we want to have any hope of surviving this commoditization and cannibalization of AV by IT.
Otherwise, you all should just start studying now. I hear those CompTIA, Microsoft and Cisco certification exams are tough…