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Welcome to the Net-centric AV Era

Nov 11, 2010 10:48 AM, By Randal A. Lemke, Ph.D., Executive Director and CEO, InfoComm International


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Everyone talks about living in an era of great change. The changes we are experiencing in 2010 will set the pattern for the next 10 years of the AV industry. At the end of the next decade, it is possible the industry might be called the Information Communications Technology Industry as it completes the business convergence that is following the ongoing technical convergence with the IT industry. The industry is rapidly becoming net-centric as it grows.

It’s sometimes hard to think of growth during a stubborn recession, but as the pace of economic activity rebounds, the predictions of 10 percent growth in worldwide sales of products and services will come to fruition. The InfoComm 2010 Worldwide Market Definition and Strategy Study predicts industry growth in North America will be tied to increased revenue from sales of services—rather than products—for the first time. While growth is almost universally seen as good, the shift to services-leading products is not always as welcomed by an industry focused on goods.

Growth is the product of a cultural demand for visual and aural communication. From the teenager at home and school to the business, education, government, military, health care, and HOW segments all becoming major markets, there is an increasing demand for AV. They all share a need to communicate their message and to access information quickly and in an understandable way.

The growth we applaud is coming along with a change in our businesses—a shift to service being more profitable than product sales. North America is already over the 50 percent mark in services, with Europe only slightly less service-oriented. This change will be as fundamental as the shift from box sales to systems integration that began 20 years ago for some AV companies and as late as 10 years ago for others. The change will come from two areas: The customer will change and the technology will change. The technology has already made much of the transition from our analog past to a digital future. I believe the long-predicted convergence has been completed. The final legs of that journey are in front of us, while customer change is not so far along. The demand for products comes from the end-user, and over time, the other decision-makers in an organization (facilities managers, central purchasing, and now IT) have been significant gatekeepers. With the change in our technology and the demand for its connection to the network, the most significant gatekeeper is now IT. As such, the new net-centric era of our industry will replace the standalone systems integration era as the dominant mode of our industry.

The first network connection on a projector was shown at the InfoComm tradeshow in 2001, but many of the first AV applications over an IP network were not integrated into the customer’s network but instead ran parallel to it. A new decision-maker became involved when the customer’s IT department wanted to protect its bandwidth and uphold its security. In just a few years, the separate network solution changed so that AV was running over the customer’s regular IP network, and the IT department was charged with supervising, if not providing, AV services. The end-user, the facilities manager, and the IT department now all have a say in how AV is done—with IT often being the gatekeeper.

In this new era, the customer will reflect the role and influence of its IT department. IT will be the primary decision-maker, just as it deploys and oversees VoIP and other communications services added to the traditional data network. However, different than VoIP, facilities managers will be more involved because the AV communications systems will require more than a room for telephone punch-down blocks. While signal distribution and control may all become digital and run on IP networks, the transducers needed for people to hear and see will be in public spaces and still need to be designed so people can hear, see, and work together. Those public spaces will be the domain of the facilities manager and architects; others working in the built environment will need to work with IT and the AV provider to meet the end-user departmental need.

In the net-centric AV era, products will likely become more commoditized and sold through distribution; systems design will become easier and more replicable because it will be more software-oriented; installation will probably be less box- and connector-oriented but still be very room-specific to accommodate the needs of the end-users; and support after installation will need to accommodate the demands for ubiquitous availability and performance reliability.

As the gatekeeper in the net-centric AV era, the IT department will need outside companies to supply products and to design, install, and support systems. For sophisticated systems, the IT department will need the special knowledge and skill of AV professionals. The growth in the overall market will also mean that there are more of those sophisticated systems with good margins to be built. While that sounds encouraging, this responsibility comes with a performance and reliability demand.

The AV industry will need to understand its contribution and its unique offerings. Integrators will need to employ and sharpen their knowledge of the human factors of communication so that when the digital signal gets reconverted back to analog for viewing and hearing, they can design the acoustics, produce intelligible sound, create images that can be seen and understood, and pull that all together in a room that makes it possible to communicate with people in the room and in facilities around the world.

This column is an excerpt from a recent InfoComm Executive Update. To view the entire column, visit www.infocomm.org.



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