InfoComm AVEC Focused on Changing the Future

Attendees wrestle with lower emphasis on hardware, wonder about what’s next for them.

Attendees at the second InfoComm AV Executive Conference see the event as an opportunity to think about new ways of making their businesses more successful and meeting the needs of their clients—and even talking about business challenges with competitors.

“People are talking about what they can do next and how they’re interested in evolving,” says Theresa Hahn, director of marketing at Verrex and a panelist on an InfoComm Today podcast from the show in suburban Phoenix.

Attendees were charged with working on a business model canvas, an exercise that is aimed at helping them understand where they need to take their businesses in the short and long term to ensure it helps clients and, yes, makes money while doing so.

“We’ve been way too focused in this industry on the hardware and the boxes and not on the services. That’s a losing game,” says Jeff Faber, president and CEO of Sharps Audio Visual. He brought eight people from his company and serves as the lone representative of Canada at the 2014 AVEC. “We have to focus on how to make the future more sustainable.”

Julian Phillips, executive vice president at Whitlock, has heard speakers at this year’s AVEC helping attendees “understand how you can do this,” as opposed to last year’s event, which focused on the fact there’s an industry-wide issue that served as “a bit of a wakeup call.”

“What the whole process is helping us do is ask the question, ‘What is your business model?’ There aren’t many companies in AV that are satisfied with this answer today,” says Phillips. “With all that effort we’re putting in to selling boxes and hardware and all those people doing it, we should at least be making some money.”

Related: What I Personally Learned at InfoComm’s AV Executive Conference

Companies need to ask themselves who they serve, how they serve them and how do they make money serving them, says Phillips, who saw some doubt in the crowd when InfoComm’s Duffy Wilbert reported projections of robust growth in the industry to $116 billion by 2016.

“The industry is confused right now,” says Faber. “There’s a lot of uncertainty about where we’re going next and what the future is.” Sharps is moving toward a service-based model, says Faber, and will de-emphasize selling boxes and hardware going forward.

Verrex has focused on how the consumerization of AV through BYOD models and residential pushes for automation and control systems is affecting commercial installations, says Hahn.

“We’re never going to work in the residential market but we’re paying attention to the products and the technologies and how they position themselves,” she says. “There are all different levels of needs we’re supposed to be delivering.”

Phillips wonders if companies who shift entirely to a service-based model will run into the same issue hardware-focused integrators are feeling now.

“There’s an assumption we can move from selling hardware and boxes to just sell services and you can make money that way,” he says. “You have to test that assumption. A lot of managed services models are becoming redundant and irrelevant so you have to target your delivery on solving their problems. That could be hardware, that could be managed services, or it could be something else.”

The event has served as a catalyst for some interesting conversations, says Phillips, including with people who wouldn’t normally be seen as chummy. For example, he’s had discussion with officials from AVI-SPL, which is often seen as Whitlock’s biggest competitor.

Related: Inside AVI-SPL’s Managed Services Success

“It’s taking people out of their comfort zone,” says Phillips. “I haven’t seen any defensive behavior. This can be a catalyst for other things to happen. We all share a common problem and we all have this opportunity in front of us. Everyone who loves AV knows they have to change.”

The conversations have been enlightening, Faber says.

“We’re in the AV business but we’re not talking about AV,” he says. “We’re talking about industry challenges and business challenges. It’s an opportunity to speak to other people about what some of their challenges are. There may not be any great new ideas out there, but there’s always a better way to do things.”

Hahn, although disappointed in the lack of women at the event, has been impressed by “the openness about getting more women into executive-level positions and to conferences like this one.”

More: Read AVNation founder Tim Albright’s take on InfoComm’s AV Executive Conference