CI Summit Gets People Talking, Keeps Industry Moving Forward

Relationships among key reasons attendees return every year for constantly growing event, now in its fourth year.

The commercial AV business is thriving, but it’s also continuing to evolve and change from one where integrators made big bucks on the equipment they installed to a space where service contracts and long-term relationships trump boxes.

Those who know that and want to hear what’s next in the ever-changing commercial AV world are spending three days near our nation’s capital at the fourth annual CI Summit, which this year attracted about 90 integrators.

In a special AV Nation episode from the CI Summit, a rotating panel of guests talked about why they come to the event and where they see the industry going.

“Things are on the upswing,” says Tom LeBlanc, editor-in-chief of CI Summit host Commercial Integrator and TechDecisions. “The companies that are still around from when we started doing this four years ago have a lot of opportunities, but they have to hire the right people and train their staff to adapt to what’s become a more network-centric, business-responsive industry.”

And, although most integrators focus on creating eye-popping solutions for high-end customers, there’s certainly got to be a place for those who are less tech-savvy but who don’t want to be left behind in the technology revolution.

“If we want to stay in business, we have to make stuff for those people too,” says Chuck Espinoza of InfoComm International.

Watch the entire AV Nation special, live from the CI Summit hotel suite of Dawn and Harry Meade of Net-AV, or read on below.

Daniel Newman of V3B, a consulting company, says, “relationships are what matters.”

“I don’t just want to debate innovation with someone to be an [expletive],” he says. “I want this industry to succeed and I want to challenge people to think differently. This industry is a little complacent that what’s it’s selling today is going to be enough in five years.” Large companies like Blockbuster found out the status quo and ignoring competitors like upstart Netflix can lead to the end of a successful brand.

“People don’t buy technology to solve technology problems. They buy it to solve business problems,” says Newman.

With regard to Millennials and their role in today’s businesses, Kelly Perkins of AVI Systems notes it’s important not to generalize about any particular group.

“It depends on your company’s culture,” she says. “We have a lot of issues marketing ourselves as an industry. We have issues telling people outside the industry what we do and how cool it is.”

Inside the Summit
For those who haven’t been to the CI Summit, typically an invitation-only event that features one-on-one visits with manufacturer sponsors sprinkled among three days of keynotes and thought-provoking sessions, veterans of the gathering compared it to the NSCA Business and Leadership Conference and InfoComm AV Executive Conference.

Those three events give attendees time to share their ideas with others in the group and often let their guard down in a room that likely has at least one competitor.

The CI Summit “has a real identity” in its fourth year, says LeBlanc. “There’s a lot of dialogue and interaction and opportunities for networking that don’t exist at other industry events.” Harry Meade of Net-AV says the CI Summit gives him a chance “to hear how other people are doing business.” Steve Greenblatt of Control Concepts looks at the Summit as a chance to talk about challenges and solutions and focus on what others are doing well and how he can replicate that with his company.

Mike Shinn of IMS Technology Services says the CI Summit is about three things for him: “partnerships, education and exchanging ideas.” Andrea Medeiros of TecHome Builder and event organizer AE Ventures sees people as “more open to tell you what they’re doing” in an environment such as the CI Summit than at a more traditional trade show.

Although Chris Neto works largely on the commercial side at AV Helpdesk, “There are things I can learn from the CE Pro side of the business,” he says, which makes having the Summits co-located a bonus. Dawn Meade of Net-AV sees the Summit as “an opportunity to feed off each other.” She learned a lot about helping her company in its transition to a service-based model at the 2014 CI Summit.

AVNation founder Tim Albright likes the Summit because it features a mix of C-suite executives and industry up-and-comers, particularly in the last two years, when representatives from the first CI 40 Influencers Under 40 were among the attendees. The 2015 class will likely add even more young talent to the event in 2016. Albright also likes what he calls “the cross-pollenization” with residential integrators who are attending the adjacent CE Pro Summit.

“Commercial and residential are completely different worlds and there are unique business plans for each,” says Albright. Espinoza agrees, saying, “The technologies are the only things that are the same. In residential, the end user is signing the check, but the end user in commercial usually has no say in what’s being installed.”

“It’s the only event I go to where both of my worlds collide,” says Matt Scott of Omega Audio Video, which works in primarily in the residential and worship markets. “Both sides need to know what the other side is doing. Customers see stuff at home they want to see in their boardrooms and then if they’re getting something in the office, they want that same interactivity at home.”