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In Defense of Adam’s ‘Initial Impressions’

AV industry veteran David Danto weighs in on newbie Adam Forziati’s latest piece and implores integrators to keep an open mind.

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In Defense of Adam’s ‘Initial Impressions’

The recent article from Adam Forziati on his first impressions of the AV industry — and the reported backlash he received — reminded me of the following internet meme:

Some of the players in the AV and Collaboration industry can unquestionably be a bit… touchy. Our “family” includes everything from people and firms that “take their ball and go home” when things don’t go their way, to self-proclaimed gurus that lash-out at anything they disagree with or perceive as a threat.

From just my own experience, I can refer to the time a top-ten integrator said they would “no longer do business with” my employer because I caught this firm lying to a client, or the time a software firm emailed my colleagues and co-workers and threatened them just because a blog I had written truthfully reported a news story about their products, as prime examples of how thin-skinned we can be.

So when Adam — a fresh three weeks into his tenure at Commercial Integrator — wrote about his initial impressions of the AV industry — and took some heat for daring to offer his opinion — I have to stand-up in defense of his right to call-out what he sees.

Let’s take a look at the points he made one-at-a-time.

1). “Looks Matter”

His first point equated the value of visual appearances of InfoComm booths to the value of visual appearances at AV job sites. I’m not sure I agree with the correlation of the two, but with each standing on their own, he’s 100% correct. Getting people to stop at your firm’s InfoComm booth (without a prior appointment) is often a purely aesthetic decision.

I’ve said for the nearly four decades I’ve attended and/or exhibited at conferences that exhibitors have about 1.5 seconds worth of a glance to explain to me what they do and why I should stop. I don’t agree that the most visually appealing booth wins out, but the booth that introduces a new firm to me clearly in text and or pictures — and provides a visually compelling reason to stop and ask a question – is the one people are most likely to stop at.

Exhibitors should keep that in mind as they ponder the value of things like fake palm trees and models in speedos and bikinis. A nice, neat sign that says “We install display systems globally at the best price” will do the job much better (if I need displays installed, of course.)

That’s not the same issue as designing a pretty component. Ones that will live in a rack unseen for years don’t need to be aesthetically pleasing, while ones that have a frequently-used UI should appear friendly and welcoming. It’s also not the same issue as leaving an installation job site in a pleasing visual state. While that’s surely true, it only scratches the surface of the “unspoken” problem in the AV industry. Just about every integrator will tell you their horror stories of walking into a new client and seeing how poor a mess the last integrator left a system. These are not just installations that look poor, but ones that couldn’t possibly work well and should have embarrassed the person and firm which installed them.

We should be culling our own herd, calling out these poor performers, and making sure their access to manufacturers’ components is cut-off, but we don’t. We keep it quiet. Close your eyes for a second and think of a really poor integrator you’d never recommend. See – you know of at least one if not more — but rather than be angry that our industry permits these firms to stay in business, you’re probably angrier at me for suggesting it (and if so, please refer to the picture above…) So, generally, I do agree, we should have an industry that leaves installations looking and working well. There was nothing wrong with someone new to the industry saying that.

2). “Diversification” in the AV Industry

Adam then points out that at his first InfoComm experience, he felt the industry was mostly filled with –to be blunt – older white guys like me – and he thinks efforts should be made to diversify. Here again he’s not wrong, but he was apparently not aware of the many efforts underway to improve that situation. InfoComm has a fabulous Women of InfoComm Network (WIN) that empowers women (and men) with support activities and events. Adam’s very own Commercial Integrator narrows focus on youth in the industry with their 40 under 40 awards.

As far as recognition is concerned, I personally don’t approve of awards for individual groups. I don’t believe we should give an award for “Women in AV,” but rather, we – as an industry – should make sure more women and people of color win the regular awards. As an example of moving in the right direction, InfoComm and the IMCCA recognized the first group of Emerging Technology Fellows at this past expo. The group of nine people (which I was honored to be included in) recognized talents and expertise across multiple elements of technology. It included women and people of color as part of the group — and did not require a special category. I totally agree that this needs to be a prime focus in our industry, but am proud to say that it already is.

3). “AV Rebranding”

Finally, Adam points out that the term “AV” is mostly irrelevant to the generation of young people entering the workforce. Well, duh. I often tell the joke at industry gatherings that there are two types of people in the AV industry: those that say they work in IT, and those that aren’t aware they work in IT.

Our industry should be – and is starting to be – filled with IT professionals that have AV skills. AV is made up of specialized talents – like understanding screen-size-to-room rations; understanding how noise criteria and acoustics effect a room’s performance; understanding complex audio and video transmission and propagation issues; and much more.

However – in the eyes of today’s clients – we’re not in the AV space, we’re in the technology space, with a specialty just like any other one. Our industry is in a metamorphosis, with short-sighted “cheerleaders” raving about the big mergers and purchases without realizing (or at least openly admitting) that it is the much-needed consolidation of a collapsing space. (My apologies if that statement of fact upsets you – if so, please again refer to the picture above…)

AV skills and talents — and the people and manufacturers that have them — will be around as long as people have eyes and ears and a need to collaborate. The need for expertise isn’t in danger; the need for firms that can only pull wires and mount hardware, and who only have one or two people that understand “the IT stuff” and/or “programming,” is what’s dying. Our industry needs to change just as all enterprise IT has changed: by providing an end-user experience-first process, not the current architect / room design consultant first process. Terms like Collaboration; Signage; Ideation; and similar will be more important than AV going forward – so again, Adam isn’t exactly wrong.

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Personally, I’m looking forward to Adam’s follow-up article covering InfoComm 2018 in Las Vegas next year. After a year of learning the quirks and personalities of our AV family, I wonder how many of his opinions will change, and how many of his initial thoughts will prove correct. If you disagree with his points (or mine), you should comment on his (or this) blog, or write one of your own. However, if you do either, try to let any valid counterpoints you have speak for themselves, realizing that the people in your family who raise concerns are not your enemy.

This article was composed by David Danto and contains solely his own opinions. David spent over three decades delivering successful business outcomes in the AV and collaboration industries for various firms in the corporate, broadcasting and academic worlds and is now a consultant and analyst in the collaboration, multimedia, video and AV industries. He is also honored to serve as the IMCCA’s Director of Emerging Technology. David can be reached at DDanto@imcca.org and his full bio and other blogs and articles can be seen at danto.info

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Comments

  • Laura Tabor says:

    Hi, I read Adam’s article and it must have been a reprint because I did not see any negative comments after it. I was interested to know what was said.
    I work as a female in the AV industry for over 20 years. I never became a manager partly because as a creative person I use my 8-5 job for paying the bills but keep hoping to go into 3-D computer graphics or motion graphics but the AV job is easier to schedule being a “mom” with. I do AV/media work in a community college.
    I find Adam’s perspective interesting on the term AV(audiovisual). Personally I find the term Integrator to be odd and non descriptive. I find it interesting he wants more people 30 and under. In what specific roles? In the AV industry here in Texas I would think you would find lots of 30 and under, people working in AV as the low level grunts. Strong people, usually male, can lift and move objects better and so it is common sense to hire them for that role. Maybe they cannot make it to the expos and events because they are too busy working? Also they often get jobs with no benefits and so they are not the ones buying media equipment because they are at the low level, so they don’t go to expos.
    I think many people in AV who have worked to a point where they “made it” on some level do not want to promote many others to their level because they have “made it” and want to protect their position. However I do see some helping of others when things shift naturally and one moves up then a person tells the other pros in their field about the open job and they apply and often get in.
    I totally agree about looks matter with Exhibitors, however not with equipment to be set up for daily AV use. People who buy AV for their industry are interested in performance and the equipment is often hidden or not meant to be looked at.
    I am not sure how I feel about this line “Our industry should be – and is starting to be – filled with IT professionals that have AV skills.” because I am not entirely sure what you mean. I see a trend to where people think our skills are not as important as the computer techs and I find this dismaying. We also have AV installers where I work and they are distinct from us Media techs and I see a trend where they are sometimes seen as being more important or skilled. I think the management thinks people can be trained to do the extra things we do and I see some local businesses combining the computer and media techs by hiring computer techs and showing them the media skills. It can be done to some extent but what I do is often a combination of psychology, tech, common sense and experience and that cannot all be taught to just anyone. Traditionally many computer techs have not had the right combination of speaking, teaching and tech skills to deal with the public well.
    Thanks for the articles to get me thinking more about what I do.

  • Laura Tabor says:

    Ok, I thought about it overnight and might Adam be joking when he ask for more diversity as in for young white dudes? Us women folk have been waiting a long time to become the managers and now I feel unless he is being humorous, he is basically saying “hey old white dudes move out of the way so younger white dudes can move up”. Us Ladies are still waiting to move up. Minorities are still waiting too.

    I am lucky that the place I work does represent a bigger group of minorities but interestingly over the past 15 years our media tech group has gone from more women than men to way less women than men. I think this has happened because of a shift in how the position is seen. At one point we had a Director who would spot failed filmmakers and reject their applications from the pool knowing their heart would not really be in the job, therefore we got more qualified women in the pool. He also saw the job as being more customer service and less brawn. Later after about 10 years our Director was a person who had come from a more macho, dude environment for his background so he looked for strength more than background and he had not trouble including “film types” so we got way more guys hired.

    I am very happy to say that our computer Techs were all men, all white, 15 years ago and now there are significant number of non-white and female ones. So yeah there!

    • Adam Forziati says:

      Hi there, Laura,

      Firstly, thank you for not only reading my article, but for cogitating on it so deeply!

      I must assure you of one thing: there is no joking here. I certainly do not mean to say that exclusively young white men should take the place of the older ones – or even that the very presence of the older ones is necessarily a negative thing. I envision this industry diversifying in every manner of the term: that women, of any color or background, will more commonly hold powerful positions and see equality in the workplace; that minorities will be more represented; that young, bright folks who care about technology and its impact on the world will have an easier path to hearing about and attaining employment in the industry (and that the older generations will welcome their perspective yet offer critical insights gleaned only through extensive experience).

      Importantly, I recognize that my experience is limited in this field (that, admittedly, is one of this article’s key cruxes), and that my InfoComm visit is far from an excellent indicator of the industry. I am sure there are many successful women, minorities and young people in AV — and I do not wish to demean their accomplishments by phrasing this observation in a “someday, things will be different” way.

      In short, my article was meant as a sort of roadway sign, alerting busy drivers to potential perils ahead. Except, this sign wasn’t installed by the road-experienced DOT crew; it was put there by a newbie driver. I thought that, maybe, a newbie’s perspective might remind those with more experience that their industry is not infallible — or, at the very least, that it would get them thinking. I am happy to see that you’ve clearly put great thought into my initial observations and that you continue to support what I think is a “mission critical” objective for the industry.

      Hope to speak again on future articles. Thank you for reading!
      Adam

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