InfoComm International CEO and executive director David Labuskes has certainly heard the talk about how the AV industry has been absorbed into the IT space but he believes the people in each walk of life serve different purposes.
“Saying AV is a subset of IT takes us away from our mission,” he said during his keynote presentation at the 2016 InfoComm AV Executive Conference earlier this month. “I see it as tangential. Our industry is about creating wonder and experiences.
“There’s been a shift to an emphasis on outcomes, and it’s happened almost without us knowing it.”
Speak End User Language
“We’ve become a strategic asset, but IT was always at the table. The best route we have to getting a seat at that table is to say, ‘you need us because you need wonder,'” said Labuskes.
“End users have very clear expectations of what they get from us. If we can’t demonstrate that to them in their language, we’re in trouble because someone else will.”
Labuskes knows integrators have been plagued by commoditization, meaning they can no longer make big bucks by marking up the cost of products end users can find on their own and can research long before talking to the integrators about their technology needs.
“Our response to commoditization is an emphasis on the experience,” said Labuskes.
“There’s a very measurable opportunity with all this confusion among roles. Manufacturers don’t want to create their own supply chain by going directly to end users. What they need is growth or they’ll die out. Enterprise decision-makers are setting the outcomes but manufacturers can’t hear what they’re saying. The best thing for the integrator to do is to become a value to the person above you and below you in the food chain.”
“The best thing for the integrator to do is to become a value to the person above you and below you in the food chain.”—David Labuskes
Labuskes doesn’t see the change in approach as a major shift, but knows it’s one many integrators haven’t made yet.
“We’re not talking about shifting from horses to apples; we’re shifting from oranges to tangerines,” he said. “You can’t create experiences without technology. We’re delivering experiences using technology. We’re not selling technology.”
These days, integrators can’t sell AV without understanding issues around cybersecurity, managed services and other aspects that aren’t directly related to installing technology in a board room or hanging a video board in an arena, for example.
Labuskes expanded on InfoComm’s new strategic plan, which takes effect in January but elements of which are already being implemented across the association and through its members.
“We want to be the hub for experiences and the catalyst for market growth,” said Labuskes.
Teach End Users the Value of AV
Part of that will come through focusing on end users, particularly in the hospitality, retail and financial markets to “teach them the strategic value of AV,” he said, by “creating content and programming that speaks to them.”
To that end, InfoComm is making a “significant investment” in market research and market intelligence, he said.
“If they understand the value of AV, the hope and belief is they’ll spend more on it,” said Labuskes.
Another aspect of the strategic plan is bringing people into the fold who have a talent to build and grow the industry, particularly young people who may have never heard the term AV or know what it is.
“A lot of people are doing things that use AV who don’t define themselves as part of AV,” said Labuskes. “We need to bring them in.”
“If we do this right, we’ll own a space with a 100-year business model.”
Labuskes knows it’ll be hard work for AV integrators to continue to succeed in a more crowded space, with more information than ever making it more difficult than ever for them to make money doing what many people they can do on their own.
But he’s confident in their ability to stand out from the crowd and educate end users on why they need professionals to help them with their technology needs.
“If we do this right, we’ll own a space with a 100-year business model,” he said, again echoing the need to focus on creating experiences rather than talking about products.