Capitalizing On Custom Software
For New York City-based integrator Videosonic Systems, AV/IT convergence has not only changed the company's working environment, but has also helped create a new approach to product development with results that are boosting its bottom line.
FOR NEW York City-based integrator Videosonic Systems, AV/IT convergence has not only changed the company's working environment, but has also helped create a new approach to product development with results that are boosting its bottom line.
“We're an AV company, and we're producing software for our clients,” says Chief Technology Officer Dennis Flood. He says that one of the company's most valuable and popular new product offerings in the past year or so hasn't been an AV product or even a piece of hardware. Rather, it's the Videosonic Information Display System, or VIDS, which is a software application that runs on ordinary Windows-based PCs.
“It's an example of putting new tools and new features into the systems we deliver, and not delivering the same system twice,” Flood says.
He adds that VIDS has already proved to be a profit-maker for Videosonic, generating eight percent of the company's annual revenues by itself, in addition to figuring critically in projects that account for a fifth of the firm's income. Flood says that this revenue is truly incremental and represents a concrete gain of income that probably wouldn't have been earned without the new product.
The genesis of VIDS is a familiar one. Like many other pro AV systems integrators and high-end AV dealers, Videosonic has been fighting the tide of commoditization, looking for ways to earn new revenue by offering creative and unique services rather than by selling hardware. Hardware margins, after all, are perennially shrinking, and dealers are always vulnerable to new competition.
But solving a client's operating problems in creative ways can not only generate new revenue, but also solidify the integrator's position among the client's vendors.
Founded in 1981, Videosonic has specialized in museums and similar venues that feature multiple video displays. Among the company's most prominent recent installs is the museum aboard the USS Intrepid, the World War II era aircraft carrier moored in the Hudson River on Manhattan's West Side. In the Intrepid Sea-Air-Space museum, a VIDS server controls multiple video displays, audio, and other content in scheduled presentations that run all day, seven days a week (for more information on this project, see “More on www.proavmagazine.com”).
Installs such as the Intrepid's, which demand flexible and user-friendly control systems and optimum use of a very restricted space, were the spurs that led Videosonic to develop VIDS. Typically, each separate video screen or audio playback was served by its own DVD player or other content source, Flood says. But systems with multiple combinations of players, screens, and speakers were often very difficult to control. “The simplest way to build one of these systems is with only one device, rather than with multiple devices,” he says.
Flood describes the VIDS system as “a show controller and a video controller rolled into one.” He says the product evolved as a way to pack maximum flexibility and content management capability into a system that was fundamentally simple and familiar to users.
VIDS will run on any PC running a Windows 2000 or more recent operating system, although it does require some additional video cards. The system can be programmed to generate up to 12 different video channels. “The same server that controls the video controls all of the screens,” Flood says. “We've turned an entire rack of equipment into a three-rack-space PC,” he adds, describing a computer roughly 5.25 inches high.