It’s a debate as old as the custom integration industry itself: Should meeting room solutions include standardized, repeatable technology?
On the one hand, repeatable equals higher volume, which translates to a heck of a lot more potential income.
On the other hand, the word “custom” is right there in the name “custom integration.”
The value of custom integration goes down the drain when that systems integrator instead of customizing a solution to meet the customer’s unique needs is cranking out a repeatable system.
Those were the two schools of thought debated during a panel discussion at 2017 Total Tech Summit.
“We don’t do cookie cutters,” said Tim Boyd, president and CEO of Richardson, Texas firm Save Electronics, pretty much reflecting the majority view from an audience of 106 attendees of the CI Summit side of Total Tech Summit in Orlando, Fla.
The only exception, Boyd added, is when it designs a room solution that a client loves and wants it replicated across their organization.
Zdi, however, it’s going beyond the concept of designing a system that is then repeated.
The Normal, Ill.-based integration firm is going to market with the repeatable meeting room solutions on its RoomReady website which customers often stumble upon via Google search and purchase meeting room solutions – no face-to-face consultation at the beginning (that comes later), just clicks.
“That’s where my business is going,” Jay McArdle, CIO of Zdi, told the audience.
Inside Zdi’s Repeatable Room Solutions Process
As Boyd pointed out, one of the inherent challenges with repeatable, standardized meeting room solutions is that technology is constantly evolving.
The problem with “standard cookie-cutter conference room-in-a-box” is that everything is evolving so quickly. “I don’t’ really know if you can do that effectively and stay in business.”
McArdle tried to dispel that perception by taking the audience through a day in the life of Zdi delivering repeatable solutions via RoomReady.
“He bought a $50,000 room on his credit card on our website. We were out two weeks later, delivered, installed the conference room … we’ve done $3 million in business with that company in the past 18 months,” said Zdi’s Jay McArdle.
First, understand that Zdi owns a patent related to its RoomReady concept.
The patented technology essentially makes the process of programming rooms quicker and, as such, makes high-volume rollouts more efficient and profitable.
“Under the patent, a codec communicates with a controller in a Room Ready room, which splinters to several types of end points, from displays to amps to cable TV to digital signage to lights to the HVAC system,” CI wrote in covering the patent.
“It takes about two minutes using Zdi’s patented approach to get all the technology in the room working together and the call connected as compared to about 15 minutes without it.”
McArdle shared with the CI Summit audience an example of a customer that visited RoomReady.com 18 months ago.
“He bought a $50,000 room on his credit card on our website. We were out two weeks later, delivered, installed the conference room and got it done, and we’ve done $3 million in business with that company in the past 18 months.”
He punctuated the story with, “So to say that it can’t be done, I will tell you that we can do it.”
McArdle also flips around the value argument. While repeatable systems may mitigate the value of custom integration, he says they add a ton of value for the customer.
He described a quarterly business review with a Zdi RoomReady customer in which is compared how many rooms had been installed with how many service tickets that had been opened.
“For that particular company we did 200 rooms in the past year. We had 70 total service tickets opened, 35 of those were us going back to them to explain something that they didn’t understand with the technology.
“So we had 35 service calls total in a year,” he said, adding, “That’s the value of standardized room solutions. That’s the value of conference room-in-a-box. That’s the value of a standardized user interface.”
Argument against Standardized Meeting Rooms
Another panelist, Bruce Kaufmann, president and CEO of Gaithersburg, Md.-based Human Circuit, wasn’t buying it.
“Hell no!” he said when asked if based on McArdle’s ardent case for repeatable systems – particularly the example of the fast-tracked $3 million customer – his firm might pursue this model.
“We’re escaping that. We have no interest in that.”
However, Kaufmann explained that it’s a matter of what’s right for one integration firm isn’t necessarily right for another.
What Human Circuit is good at is that “niche place where a lot of thought and creativity and problem solving” goes into system design, he said.
“Hell no! We’re escaping that. We have no interest in that,” says Human Circuit’s Bruce Kaufmann in regards to repeatable room solutions.
Examples, he cited, include visualizations and network operations centers.
“We’ve got customers right now that have 3,000 end points and 300 video streams that they need to monitor from a single point. How do you visualize that? How do you look at it? How do you monitor it globally? Those are the kinds of things we want to dig into.”
The traditional integration firm, McArdle acknowledged, is probably not set up for high-volume, repeatable business. Zdi isn’t a traditional firm.
“It takes different focuses,” McArdle said. “I’m focused on making things simple.”
Zdi’s focus is on “doing simple better than anybody in the world,” he said. “That’s my job, to make things simple and repeatable.”
“To look and listen to a customer’s need and make that simple in as few clicks as possible.”
Human Circuit’s (and most integration firms’) focus is different. “We know what we’re good at,” Kaufmann said. “We know what we’re not good at and we’re not good at what Jay’s good at.”
From Zdi’s point of view, there is a lot at stake when it comes to figuring out how to deliver high-volume meeting room solutions to organizations.
Commenting on the concept of “plug-and-play AV,” McArdle said that “whoever nails that wins.”
He explained why: “Because if you can provide a solution that will provide the value to your customers’ needs and you can repeat that over and over again — and you can repeat that through customers — you can get better and better at that system and that system can get better and better over time.”