Insight from Labuskes: Economies of Scale Provide Integrators with Opportunities to Thrive

InfoComm’s executive director encourages integrators to capitalize on evolving solutions that create more ubiquitous demand.

With InfoComm 2016 just days away, June 8-10 in Las Vegas, InfoComm International executive director David Labuskes took time to discuss some issues affecting integrators and consultants in the industry.

How is InfoComm helping integration firms overcome challenges related to recruiting?

LABUSKES: We’re doing it on a global scale. We’ve got all kinds of initiatives that are out there in regards to attracting people to our industry. Attracting young or new talent is not only universal within our membership but really is [a goal of business owners in virtually any industry].

What do we do to attract talent to the AV industry? Well, we work with high schools. We have tools to support our members and going to job fairs to help generate awareness of AV as a field, as a profession.

We just had a major booth and were a significant sponsor at the U.S.A. Science and Engineering Festival in Washington, D.C., [which had] 380,000 attendees … We’re certainly challenged in our industry in that there isn’t a traditional career path out there where we’re published as a career within all of the high school career counselor handbooks.

Kids that are interested in the media arts or sound engineering can’t always see AV as the next step after they graduate. This is a long-term effort on our part. Our foundation, ICIF, is working with grant programs to support students.

We’re certainly challenged in our industry in that there isn’t a traditional career path out there where we’re published as a career within all of the high school career counselor handbooks.

You’ve written before about the matching that we’re doing with regards to investments that integrators are making in particular to recruit talent in and support them and provide them with internships and keep them in the industry.

We’re working with colleges around the country. We’ve renewed our contract with Columbia College in Chicago just recently. They’re using our AV curriculum. I have people in Florida meeting today with colleges.

A lot of the solutions that I anticipate will be shown at InfoComm will be marketed as easy-to-install and seem to provide alternatives to the integration firms’ bread and butter, which are more custom solutions. What impact might this have on integrators as they try to project the value of a custom integrator?

LABUSKES: Absolutely I see the trend. I see the trend in absolutely every product really. I don’t mean to distract. I guess in some ways we as an industry need to look at the larger universe and take lessons from that. A couple thoughts in regards to it:

First of all we shouldn’t confuse ‘simple to install’ with ‘do it yourself.’ The second is that this is a great opportunity for the commercial integrators to look at what the value is that they’re bringing to their clients and make sure they’re positioning the solutions and conversations.

Those are sophisticated words for positioning their sales to where they actually are creating value and where they differentiate themselves. If I am a sophisticated end user and want simple-to-use AV solutions, I don’t think I’m any different than every sophisticated end user that existed 10 years, 20 years or 50 years ago.

The path toward getting that simplicity, the path toward getting it installed is shifting because the products are addressing some of that need. It opens up the door for integrators to be able to provide more of that equipment because it’s at lower cost to integrate that equipment into a larger discussion with the owner about what it is that they are actually trying to accomplish from a business perspective.

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It elevates the conversation to becoming a strategic partner rather than an installer. Most of our industry a long time ago stopped calling themselves installers and started to differentiate themselves from that. ‘Easy to install’ is not really a threat to a sophisticated audio/ visual integrator. It’s an enabler.

The other piece of this is that it underscores all of the work we’ve been doing for the last couple of years with banging the drum about the Exceptional Experience and that the value we’re creating with AV is an experience that impacts the quality and content of a communication between employees or between a company and its customers.

The quality of that communication and the enhanced content of that communication by definition bring those people closer. As an employer, all I want is for my employees to get closer and closer to each other in their ability to communicate.

As a business operator all I want is to get closer and closer to my customers. You do that through enhanced and more effective communication. That’s what our integrators are selling. They’re not selling equipment. They’re selling communications.

I look at it more simplistically. When manufacturers release products that are touted as easy-to-install, it makes it difficult for integrators to drive home the value of custom design because there’s a counter-message from manufacturers.

LABUSKES: I hear what you’re saying, but I’m not sure I completely agree with you only in that I don’t think the manufacturers are saying, ‘Let’s marginalize the integrators.’ I think the manufacturers are saying, ‘Hey guys, come along with us. Let’s redefine how this stuff is valued by the buyers.’ It’s not just about the equipment.