Pro AV is Going Global, Whether You’re Ready or Not

Integrators are facing the choice of whether follow their customers globally or risk losing out. Integrated Systems Europe & others are responding, too.

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Integrated Systems Events managing director Mike Blackman never could have expected when about 3,500 people came to the first Integrated Systems Europe show in Geneva in 2004 that 15 years later he’d be announcing plans to move to a bigger venue because the show had outgrown it.

But that’s exactly what’s happened, with Integrated Systems Europe becoming the largest AV show in the world, attracting more than 80,000 people to Amsterdam for its penultimate edition last year and likely to attract at least as big a crowd this year for its Netherlands swan song before moving to Barcelona, Spain in February 2021.

While the global opportunities for AV integrators haven’t exactly mirrored the growth of the ISE show in the past decade or so, there’s no denying there’s a lot more worldwide AV integration being done today than there was 10 years ago — or even five years ago.

While the Americas held the top spot in global pro AV work for a long time, it’s been knocked off that perch by Asia.

That trend is likely to continue into the future, according to AVIXA research. About 30 percent of global AV work is done in the Americas. That means about 70 percent is done overseas.

A few years ago, most of the industry was more scared than excited about the global opportunities in front of them.

Today, though, most in the AV industry understand they must have some sort of global component to their operation if they’re going to be successful — whether an office or a partnership.

PSNI became the PSNI Global Alliance in 2017 and USAV Group may jump into the worldwide market this year. The Global Presence Alliance celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2018 and ISE expects to set even more attendance records once it moves into its new long-term home next February.

Let’s take a closer look at how globalization and standardization are continuing to transform the face of AV and what you need to know about working outside of North America from those who’ve paved the way by taking their lumps and overcoming the obstacles on their path to success.

ISE: The Place to Be in AV

Blackman boasted long ago to RAI Amsterdam officials that he’d one day host the largest show that venue had ever seen, but they dismissed it since every show organizer thinks that way.

He proved his prediction to be correct and ISE has led to the construction of temporary pavilions in recent years. “Part of [ISE’s growth] has been supplying what the industry wants, but it’s also about doing it the right way,” says Blackman.

It helps to have support from AVIXA and CEDIA on the show too, he says, but he also looks at the industry landscape as a contributing factor. “It’s the way the industry is moving forward,” says Blackman.

“Pro AV is touching everything. The market’s expanded and more people are aware of it and interested in it. Every show organizer dreams of having the success we’ve had.” ISE was at 17,000 attendees in 2007 and the numbers “just went up and up and up,” says Blackman.

There’s always been a direct correlation between the number of exhibitors and the number of attendees, he says, and ISE has marketed in recent years more to end users and others outside AV.

“If we’d only aimed at the channel, I believe we would’ve flattened out five or six years ago,” he says.

Integrated Systems Europe organizers want to have more designers and builders among the attendees, but will likely wait to focus on that segment of the population until they’re in Barcelona, since the crowds are already unwieldy.

“The problem we had last year was it was uncomfortable,” says Blackman.

“It was too crowded (on the second and third days of the 2019 show). We’ve run out of space for our exhibitors and our attendees.”

The North American audience represented about 4 percent of the 2019 ISE show, says Blackman. About 80 percent of the audience comes from Europe and he expects that to be similar even when the show moves to Barcelona.

Many manufacturers urged Integrated Systems Europe organizers not to move ISE later in the year when it was relocating out of fear they’d lose business early in the year.

Many manufacturers find January to be a slow month because the industry is waiting to see what new products will debut at ISE, he says.

Blackman expects ISE will have more dedicated meeting spaces for attendees once they’ve got more room in Barcelona in 2021.

“This show is a good opportunity for integrators who are doing business in Europe, the Middle East and other areas to meet with their partners, meet with their customers, meet with their suppliers,” he says.

As more of AV is being installed in Europe and other parts of the world, Blackman hopes those who are following their customers overseas understand how to navigate local politics and understand regional differences — not the least of which has to do with the gear’s power supply.

“If you want to grow and you want to increase your business, don’t just look within the borders you have,” says Blackman, noting international work is not the right fit for every pro AV integrator.

“It comes down to the ambition of the company.” Blackman fields a lot of phone calls from North American AV integrators looking for partners in Europe and elsewhere around the world.

Related: State of the Industry 2020: Global Growth & Acquisitions

“We have to watch this market and stay ahead of it. We have to talk to our customers and find out what they need and what they want,” says Blackman.

AVIXA chief global officer Sarah Joyce is excited about Integrated Systems Europe’s move to a new venue in 2021.

“Barcelona gives us a new platform,” she says. “It’s not just a platform of growth and expansion of floor space, but there’s a mental shift we can all take in going there. We can offer different types of conferences and events.

“The opportunity is considerable to not only expand the (attendance) numbers, but the type of programs,” says Joyce.

Why PSNI Went Global

The decision to create the PSNI Global Alliance in 2017 wasn’t an easy one — and it wasn’t one that came about quickly.

Executive director Chris Miller says the leadership team considered the idea first in 2013 before tabling it for a few years and revisiting it again in 2016.

“Our customers had an extension or a need for connectivity around the world,” says Miller about why PSNI first broached the idea in 2013.

“Sometimes that was a one-off, sometimes it was multiple projects. We were always going to want to be an extension of what our customers want.

“I just didn’t sense we were getting the traction and the pieces were coming together [in 2013]. It was a matter of priorities. I’m not sure the industry itself technology-wise, the mindset of the end user or integrators was fully ready for that. It just wasn’t the right timing for us,” he says.

When PSNI members heard about the plans to go global in 2016, “everyone was very introspective,” says Miller.

“They looked at how it would or would not benefit them.”

“There’s a misperception this is all about these big global rollouts. The reality is it’s taking care of customers one at a time wherever they need it,” he says.

In 2019, about 90 percent of PSNI Global Alliance members worked with an overseas partner, whether on a service call, site survey or full-blown installation, he says, and two-thirds of the global members worked with another member in the alliance on more than 200 worldwide projects.

The PSNI Global Alliance has grown to about 80 members and 180 offices on six continents — sorry again, Antarctica — and they have eyes on having a presence in the top 150 GDP cities in the world.

“I feel like we had a good and strong presence and a plan to grow this out in a patient and methodical manner,” says Miller.

PSNI Global Alliance members go through “a fairly challenging vetting process,” that includes a look at their financial stability, skillsets, approach to business in general, training, education, certification, long-term plans and how big a player they are in their markets, he says.

“There’s a misperception this is all about these big global rollouts. The reality is it’s taking care of customers one at a time wherever they need it,” he says.

“GDP helps us to set the expectations for the size and scale of that company,” says Miller, noting the alliance recently added a member in Vietnam.

“You can’t hold everyone to the same standard.”

Miller is happy with the early returns on the alliance’s global expansion.

“It’s gone very smoothly, to the extent the known challenges are always there — culture and approach to business,” he says.

“About 90 percent of what we do in pro AV is the same, but there’s just enough difference driven by culture or personality that everyone thinks their way is the best way.

“That’s just as evident in a branch office as it is around the world. You can recognize there are time differences, cultural differences, different holidays and currencies and communication issues but you can’t anticipate what that difference will be so you can solve that challenge ahead of time.”

PSNI has a standard of processes for member-to-member interactions and has a certification program that’s mostly for global deployments, says Miller. The alliance uses the motto, “Global reach, local solutions.”

Time and availability are two factors that determine when PSNI members pair up.

The alliance also shares key performance indicators among the members on managing employees, employee engagement and customer satisfaction, as well as a financial survey, marketing audit and member rankings.

PSNI will have about 25 EMEA members in its Integrated Systems Europe 2020 stand this month. Miller is amazed and impressed with “how much we have in common” and “how much passion they have for this industry and their customers.”

The global growth has allowed PSNI members to do work they couldn’t accept in the past, he says. “That’s been very gratifying from where we started,” says Miller.

Why USAV Group May Go Global

USAV Group, a division of the PSA Security Network, already has international partners in Europe, Asia, Latin America, Australia and New Zealand to name a few, but the integrator group is exploring the possibility of expanding that network and enhancing its global presence.

“The more partnerships we can form, the better,” says Chris Salazar-Mangrum, VP of USAV Group. The interest in a global expansion is primarily being driven by the integrators in USAV, but it’s also “the trend of business,” he says. “People becoming a lot more accessible internationally,” says Salazar-Mangrum.

USAV and PSA officials have talked about possible name changes if USAV adds an international component and is considering whether to keep the global partners as just that or to make them fullfledged members.

“Right now, we’re in the due diligence process,” says Salazar-Mangrum. “We’re exploring what’s out there.” USAV Group has about 80 members, but could add another 10 to 15 this year, he says.

“We’re focused on creating a good, collaborative group that all of our members can benefit from,” says Salazar-Mangrum. “(Working outside North America) is a conversation that doesn’t go away. We want to make sure we have a good answer.”

USAV members of all sizes are finding themselves pulled into conversations about global work, he says. “We’re trying to help them capitalize on the opportunity so they can say they can deploy globally and feel comfortable and confident about it,” says Salazar-Mangrum.

USAV Group will be attending Integrated Systems Europe 2020 for the first time and expects to have conversations with potential global partners. “As with any new implementation, we’re going to have some hurdles,” says Salazar-Mangrum.

Listen: Ep. 2 – How to Get Around ISE

“It’s about how we react to them. I’m very comfortable with how we’re going about this. At this point, we’re just collecting the data. We’re taking a very methodical approach to it.

“We’re going to take it one step at a time and make a decision probably at the end of first quarter. Depending on how that shapes up, we’ll move forward with phase two of the implementation,” he says.

Establishing a Global Presence

The 30-plus dues-paying members of the Global Presence Alliance cover more than 50 countries and 200 cities around the world. And, if you think it’s easy to become a member: be prepared for about three months of applications, interviews and other scrutiny before getting the stamp of approval.

The original model in 2008 focused largely on group meetings at large pro AV industry events and referring business to fellow members. That simplified model got a boost in 2013, he says, thanks to increased interest.

“We realized this was a complex effort and the degree of infrastructure our customers wanted to see ramped up,” says executive director Byron Tarry, who paired with Phillips to create a charter.

The GPA elected board members and created volunteer models. In late 2016 and early 2017, the GPA launched what Tarry calls “the next generation,” which included him joining the alliance as its executive director.

That evolution included registering the GPA as a formal entity in the Netherlands, adding staff and increasing its operational capabilities. The alliance also started GPA University, a global learning management offering that includes tutorials on marketing and many other aspects of business.

Phillips expects there will be more changes to the GPA’s structure as it continues to grow and the pro AV industry changes too. The GPA expanded its accredited partner program to include distributors and “relevant industry third parties,” such as analysts.

“If we are to remain relevant, we have to evolve our model to compete in the increasingly more IT-centric space,” he says.

Phillips sees the Global Presence Alliance as an organization that’s modeled in many ways after the One World and Star Alliance concept used by airlines, where the individual brands can deliver “a consistent experience” as a single unit for the benefit of the group.