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.