Want to Succeed in AV 5 Years from Now? Get IT Centric

Robert Romano, chief revenue officer of BBH Solutions, reacts to CI‘s article series ‘Your 5 Year Survival Guide: What it Will Take to Succeed in the Industry,’ and it’s all about IT.

CI Staff

Having been in the center lane of the communication highway for nearly 40 years, it has always been part of my routine to stay “on top of” and, moreover, hopefully “in front of” technology trends.

A few months ago, Commercial Integrator ran a story that caught my eye titled “2021 Vision.” My hope is that my 38 years in technology at the C level provides a voice that is a helpful response to this article.

I started a company called Univisions (an AV systems integrator in Syracuse NY) back in 1976 that was successful and grew to a modest $18M. Decades later, in order to grow the business and satisfy Verizon (whom I had a national systems contract with), I made the decision to acquire a company (a “mirror” company in a big market – Boston) called Crimson Tech, a $40M organization.

The hope was that 1+1= 3.  It did not, but that is a different story.

We sold the combined company, UnivisionsCrimson, to Yorktel. After several years in M&A / consulting and working in NYC as an EIR (Executive in Residence) for a large AV systems integrator, I left to take an executive role at an IT centric company in NYC that in fact has an AV systems overlay team. I am still very much touch with the AV integration ecosystem.

OK that’s my life- why am I writing? 

I have a few comments on the story written in the July issue of CI on what the AV integrators will look like in 2021, just 5 years from now.

Quotes and opinions are as follows:

AV integrators will retain a ‘Go-To’ status.

Romano note: Disagree.  I do not believe there is even such a thing as AV integrator as classically known today. Why must AV always feel the need to silo themselves when the world is already “IT?”

We already have voice, data, video, infrastructure and wireless seamlessly bonded.  This may seem self-serving as I am with a forward leaning IT firm, but it is a fact and I hear it every day, and that is a call for expertise by those CTO’s asking if we get it all, not just AV.

Fortunately for us, we lead with deep IT expertise.

AV integrators continue to race to the bottom in profit margin- especially the ones who rely on GC bids. They are like the walking dead already…. think they have a brain, but they are zombies.

AV integrators continue to race to the bottom in profit margin- especially the ones who rely on GC bids. They are like the walking dead already…. think they have a brain, but they are zombies.

“Traditional integration may look slightly different than it does today” – “easier to install”

Romano note: Different is an understatement!  As it relates to easier for AV – yes, I agree 100 percent. The integrators will have to become IT centric and currently they are not close. The AV talent, culture and sales forces are all upside down for this reality. My personal belief is it also cannot be grown organically either.

“Consolidation without diversification will simply create an extended relay race toward integration. Terminus Diversification is key to survival in 2021.”

Romano note: This is spot on, I 100 percent agree. I did an acquisition to gain market share, but just doing the same thing – bigger – is silly. It was a bad decision and a big Romano error.

So, what type of consolidation is needed? Well, consider AV acquiring IT firms that have gravitas- long track records- deep teams of IT architects and a large network managed services and hosted platforms for voice, data and video. They are companies who get network security, detection, intrusion and a whole lot more!

The challenge here is that the IT firms need to convince AV management teams that their IT strategic roadmap and product plan will be the lane to run in. This is not likely to happen.  I have not found C level executive with courage to make that ‘sea-change’ correction with their organization.

“There is no giant switch that gets flipped in five years”- Dealers are going to have to start educating themselves, building relationships and retooling their businesses now to grow and thrive and not get eaten by a bear.”

Romano note: Again, this is spot on but it is not easy. I tried to make a video integrator (my companies) more telecom and computer orientated (i.e. video is an application on the network) using motion tablets in the 90’s. It is not easy.

Today, it is harder because companies are not going to turn their network over to an AV integrator. Think about it, would you turn your IT network over to an AV integrator who does not have, or limited, e-mail, IT systems network, voice, data protection/recovery and/or firewall security experience? 

The AV industry is already under respected. The answer is NO you would not.

You all know that IT teams are at the table now for AV decisions, and convincing them your company has IT chops is not happening. There are virtually no AV integrators with IT chops deep enough for a CEO to say,  “Here is the lifeline of my business- handle it for me.” Bringing in your Cisco rep is not the answer, IT integrators have already been there.

Finally, the story wraps up with comments from the CEO of USAV. Those comments resonated most with me and help to tie off my story here best.

“In the IT world entire systems have been shrunk into a single chip” …….  Your cheese is moving and whether you know it or not it will become a real electronic systems integrator …. If you’re thinking these changes are radical, you’re right. But history has shown that the pace of change waits for no one.”


Romano note:
Yes, yes, yes. I agree, but are AV system integrators really shifting the balance and setting out on a new survivable path?