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AV's Brave New World

The Great Recession has redefined large swaths of the economy. For many, things will never be the same. The AV industry is changing, too, and it will take new ideas to seize future opportunities.

As I write this, the unemployment rate, though down from its high, is stuck near 10 percent. The government has stopped subsidizing home purchases, consumer confidence is waning, and several corporate giants have reported underwhelming business results. No one expected the nation to recover from the Great Recession easily, but it seems we’re standing on a precipice, and some are speculating we could fall back into the pit we just climbed out of. (To be fair, just as many people are denying the threat of a so-called “double dip.”)

At InfoComm 2010, the mood was mixed. There were companies reporting financial health and optimism, and others struggling to make sense of new realities. If this year’s show had an overriding theme, it was change, from an opening keynote by IT giant Cisco, of all companies, to Crestron’s drumbeat of redefining AV to embrace building automation. Since the housing bubble burst, getting its residue on the rest of us, people have wondered what the AV industry might look like after the recession. Here’s what will define pro AV in the coming years:

New skills. In manufacturing, there’s a concern that as companies start rehiring, they’ll have trouble finding qualified applicants with the latest skills. In AV, we’ve talked for years about AV-IT convergence. It’s time to get network certifications now, not later.

Limited visibility. Even successful AV firms are having good months followed by so-so months. Forecasting will be a challenge, at least for a while. If you think your business management skills could use some sharpening, you may be right.

Cut-throat competition. I talked to an AV integrator whose company lost a bid it could only have won if their margins had been zero. There are survivalists out there still low-balling, not to mention low-voltage contractors and others doing AV integration. Make your company stand out.

Interconnectedness. Crestron is on to something. On the building design team, it’s often the AV pro who has the widest breadth of systems knowledge. And I’ve met integrators who’ve made successful inroads with architects through lunch-and-learns and other outreach. AV’s place at the table is set: Get to know everyone else who’s sitting with you.

The future will be brighter, but not business as usual. Ignore CNBC. Focus on change for the better.


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