Just about everything you’ve come to expect in AV and in the world in general is different now than it was a year ago at this time, thanks in no small part to the ongoing spread of the coronavirus across the U.S. and around the world.
One of the most striking examples of this change for AV pros who set aside a few days every year to gather with 400 of their closest friends at the annual NSCA Business & Leadership Conference was the fact this year’s event had to go virtual.
On top of that, the slate of BLC awards was shaken up a bit by the COVID-19 outbreak, with the Excellence in Business Awards shelved for a year as an acknowledgment of the difficult market conditions in favor of a one-year honor known as the Stepping Up Awards.
“In the face of the pandemic, NSCA has seen its members set and strive for new goals and rise to the occasion when faced with daunting business challenges,” said NSCA director of industry outreach and media channels Tom LeBlanc in the association announcement ahead of the virtual BLC.
The Stepping Up Awards align with the theme of the virtual 2021 NSCA BLC, which carried the theme “Stepping Up When It Counts.”
The Stepping Up Awards “honor integration firms that rose to the occasion when faced with daunting business obstacles,” according to the NSCA announcement. The honorees likely won’t be a surprise to most in AV who have followed the work of these companies in any condition.
“It’s heartwarming to see how good of people our members are,” said NSCA executive director Chuck Wilson as he closed out the virtual awards presentation.
Here’s a closer look at what each of the 2021 Stepping Up Awards winners said about the honor during the virtual BLC last week.
Agility: Red Thread, Boston
This category is about “integrators recognizing a rapidly changing market and adapting to customers’ evolving needs,” according to the NSCA announcement.
During the pandemic, Red Thread quickly positioned itself as a back-to-work solutions provider and consultant. It developed a Workplace Re-Entry Program Guide and Safe Workplace Technology Playbook.
Meanwhile, it launched a slew of solutions that can be integrated into back-to-work strategies, including its RapidEntry system for temperature screening, an air purification system, and its AmplifyTeamwork collaboration system for facilitating workplace re-entry and working from home.
Red Thread VP of audiovisual technology John Mitton called the company’s approach “now, then and far,” saying they hosted roundtable discussions to figure out what their clients needed immediately, what they’d need in a few months and what they’d need once their staffs return to the office in full.
Customer Experience: Forward Edge, Cincinnati
This category is “about finding ways to be there for customers when they need their integrator partners most,” the NSCA announcement says.
As school districts moved online due to COVID-19, many of Forward Edge’s K-12 customers were challenged with adjusting to the new environment.
Forward Edge’s team of technology integration specialists pulled together an expansive library of distance learning resources and tools for districts to use while tackling online learning.
A best practices guide, webinars, and virtual office hours every other day for teachers helped address issues related to data privacy, teacher training, and engaging students over digital media.
“Having that connection, I don’t know if it can get any better,” said Chip Logan, COO at Forward Edge, during his award acceptance. “Knowing we had their backs was fantastic. Doing what’s best for the customer is huge. Our goal is to retain these customers for life.”
Employee Engagement: Integrated Security Technologies, Inc., Waipahu, Hawaii
This category is “about implementing solutions to keep sprawling, uniquely challenged workforces productive and positive,” according to the NSCA announcement.
As mission-critical security employees, IST’s employees felt fortunate to be working through the pandemic – but they also had personal and professional challenges.
They worked in hospitals where the virus was present. They were on jobsites where other workers didn’t wear masks or properly social distance. They worried about their own well-being and the health of their loved ones.
The IST executive team implemented several steps to recognize and support employees throughout the challenging work environment. That includes providing stipends to employees who needed more tech to continue to do their jobs effectively from outside the office.
“We started to ask questions rather than it being a one-way conversation,” said IST president Christine Lanning. “There was some real emotion behind it. Giving them a forum helped to ease and calm their fears. Being able to give back was extremely important.”
Community Outreach: ClearTech, Altadena, Calif.
This category is “about taking steps to help those in need,” the NSCA announcement says.
During the pandemic, ClearTech is working with Western Service Workers Association (WSWA), which provides support for low-income service, domestic, in-home care, part-time, and temporary workers to provide things like emergency food, clothing, preventive medical care and more.
ClearTech has supported WSWA for years but really stepped up during the pandemic with employees working on school supply drives, donating toys for the holidays, helping with PPP loan applications, and more.
“If small businesses shut down, it has a huge impact on our economy,” says ClearTech president Christina DeBono. “We’re all tied together. It has a huge ripple effect on the rest of the community.”
Achievement: SIGNET Electronic Systems, Norwell, Mass.
This category is “about beating the odds in a brutal market, achieving business growth, and measured success,” according to the NSCA announcement.
In the midst of the pandemic, SIGNET launched its Remote Smart network operations center, which provides a highly professional and cyber-safe platform for the integrator to provide remote service.
This not only proved invaluable in terms of touchless interaction with customer systems, but also has infused the company with recurring revenue.
“It’s a more formal way of getting access onto our customers’ networks,” said Signet president Bradford Caron. “It legitimized what we were doing and opened the eyes of our clients. It’s giving Signet a way to scale and opening up the world of IT networking for us.”