Custom vs. Off-the-shelf Solutions Debated at InfoComm Connections

Industry professional and CI contributor David Danto questions the consultant and integrator model at InfoComm’s latest trade event in San Jose, Calif.

Josh Srago

The very first InfoComm Connections show arrived in San Jose, Calif., with quite a flurry of activity.

The show was targeted at the technology managers of the region in order to bring them into the community and get them more involved with the full discussion from technology, to project management, to standards, and even beginning a discussion over the direction of the industry as we look to all the changes that we need to make as an industry.

David Danto, a long term industry professional that sometimes has the habit of igniting a little controversy, gave the keynote for the first day of the show and emphasized the fact that the industry is changing.

Danto looked back at what AV was 30 years ago and made the note that, at a fundamental level, the AV industry is still heavily driven by the consultant and integrator model. But it was the question that followed that analysis that really drove the topic of conversation during his presentation as well as afterwards in the subsequent discussion panel.

Was this model good for the customers moving forward?

It is Danto’s belief that the majority of system installations for unified communications solutions can be handled with a single “off-the-shelf” solution from a manufacturer like Cisco. The ability to manage a small- to medium-sized boardroom with “simple, reliable, and repeatable” solutions is fundamental to the future of how AV will work within the business environments.

The alternate, a customized solution, does potentially create some additional concerns in that there are multiple manufacturers involved that have to work together to create the unified system, but the real point was whether or not that customized solution was really necessary for the client.

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In the follow up discussion, Danto played moderator to a panel of industry experts from the positions of an integrator, a manufacturer, a business developer and a client advocate. Wasting no time in getting into the heart of the matter, the debate began with the fact that an “off-the-shelf” solution might be great for certain companies, but that could only be determined through a proper needs analysis by the integrator partnering with the client, or the AV consultant hired to be the advocate.

The customized solutions offer the ability to scale and be tailored to the needs of the client. While the “off the shelf” has the advantage of ease of use and roll out, that does not mean that the feature set is what is being asked for by the client. To state that there is a one-size-fits-all solution would be completely shortsighted on the matter and could potentially ignore what it is that the client wants to accomplish.

Additionally, it must be stated that Danto did defend his position with the statement that not all “off-the-shelf” systems are good; in fact many of them are lousy. It was also addressed that the systems in a box, while good for an enterprise client for their video conferencing solutions, cannot guarantee that there will be connectivity with other potential manufacturers of similar product.

It was a text book lesson between all panelists and the contributing audience in the need for understanding the fundamental question, “What do you want the system to do?”

To his credit, Danto raised an issue that hasn’t seen nearly the discussion as it should—the idea of network-based security. Providing the example where the HVAC employee brings an outside laptop used both for personal and professional means was what carried the virus into the Target store where it was then able to access the pertinent credit card information at the point of sale machines.

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This conversation is not coming up nearly as often as it should, since many people in the industry need to be a part of it. If we are providing network solutions then we need to truly have the understanding of how to communicate with our clients that are extraordinarily conscious of making certain that their network will not be breeched through the technician laptop or the equipment placed on the network.

In the end, there is one ultimate truth that I found in Danto’s presentation.

“In order to be relevant down the line you may have to stop doing what you’re doing today—even if it’s successful.” We are at a juncture where businesses and business models are changing in order to meet the evolving needs of clients and technology.

This could mean that we are moving to a more “off-the-shelf” solution with more regularity. It could also mean that we are going to be spending more time monitoring and managing a network in order to ensure system operation.

Either way, change is coming—you can argue which way that change is going to lead, and there will be someone on the other side to debate it with you, but you must be conscious and aware that it’s happening at all before you can take any action to maintain company and personal success.