Spotlight on InfoComm


How the AV Industry Can Do a Better Job of Selling Standards

AV industry customers are still slow to embrace the efforts by AV and IT integrators to teach them how to maximize their investments in technology by following and selling standards. The problem is often based in basic human nature.

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How the AV Industry Can Do a Better Job of Selling Standards

The AV industry thought that as customers' IT directors became more involved in purchasing decisions, selling standards would become easier. Not the case.

Investing in a new AV system and the managed services that go along with keeping that system up and running is becoming increasingly expensive. That extravagant layout of cash, though, seemingly hasn’t been enough to convince many end users that they need to embrace standards to make their investments more worthwhile. Nor has it compelled AV and IT integrators to perfect the art of selling standards.

Howard Nunes and Sumanth Rayancha of PepperDash Technology Corp. talked about the importance of standards and how integrators must impress them upon their customers during InfoComm 2017 in Orlando in June.

The issue is surprisingly simple to diagnose, but sometimes remarkably complicated to fix, says Nunes.

“In most environments, the biggest obstacle you face is human in nature — whether it’s social, cultural or territorial,” he says. “It’s surprising how similar it is at companies of all sizes once you take out the scale.”

The Culture of ‘Nope’

The resistance to standards — both creating them and enforcing them — often comes down to insecurities and ambitions of the people involved, says Nunes, who says it’s critical to have support for standards from the highest levels of the company to the newest hire. He calls the objection “the culture of nope.”

“I feel more like a therapist sometimes than the CEO of a software company,” says Nunes with a laugh. “People don’t want to be told they’re not doing a good job or that they’re not adequate.”

Nunes can divide the objections he hears about standards into five categories:

  • Standards are pointless and waste my time.
  • Standards don’t work for MY organization.
  • Standards are being shoved down my throat!
  • Standards will put me out of work.
  • Standards are a myth.

“Sometimes change is forced,” says Nunes. “You can’t treat every room like a snowflake.”

“Sometimes change is forced. You can’t treat every room like a snowflake,” says Howard Nunes, Pepperdash

He advocates for the need for both documentation and delivery to ensure standards are both in place and understood by all and followed once they’re adopted.

“Some are good at documenting but don’t have the political clout to ensure the standards are followed,” says Nunes. “Some have nothing to do with the procurement. You have to do both to have success. AV and IT people can’t figure out how to get involved with that conversation. It’s a problem that’s exacerbated when you’re dealing with a multi-site or multinational company.”

That’s also true with colleges and universities that have satellite campuses, he adds.

The Success Quadrant

The so-called Success Quadrant measures how effectively companies document and deliver their standards, using cultural, technical and other measurements to gauge its success.

Pepperdash system-roomreadiness

[CLICK TO ENLARGE] Pepperdash created a web portal to provide a way for IT and AV to document and share various standards that address technology systems, room readiness, compliance and more.

“AV design consultants should be working with end users to determine standards, but they have to keep the list manageable,” says Nunes. “When they’re brought in under the general contractor or the engineer, the dialogue with the customer tends to be blocked. We recognize the desperate need these customers have for this conversation and insist on it. We can’t meet the software challenge unless the people upstream are doing what they should be doing.”

Nunes hears these as the top obstacles — politics, expectations and compliance — to achieving standards success:

  • “I cannot achieve consensus in my environment”
  • “Our users have too many evolving functional requirements”
  • “I cannot get my vendors and/or staff to adhere to our standards.”

“Standards are about commoditization,” he explains. “It depends how the customers look at it and the value proposition for the integrators. The awareness that it’s a problem and that it can be solved its becoming more acute. It doesn’t need to be a hassle. It’s about creating a better, more efficient, cost-effective way of doing things.”

PepperDash has created a portal to help customers organize and sustain standards through document management, data management, testing and compliance. PepperDash Portal is $10 per room per month, says Nunes.

How to Overcome Conflict

Conflict can arise when the AV and IT managers are in the room together and have different ideas of what it means to create and enforce standards.

“The expectation of the IT manager is very different than the AV manager,” says Nunes. “Add to that that manufacturers recognize they can sell you an order for 10,000 widgets and that’s where some of the conflict comes in.”

That transition from an AV manager as the contact person to IT manager as the person who’s making a lot of the decisions about technology has also started to change the conversation about standards, says Rayancha.

Pepperdash define-room-standards11

[CLICK TO ENLARGE] Another view from Pepperdash’s web portal documenting standards.

“Fifteen or 20 years ago, conference room technology was about a projector, so the management of that fell onto the facilities guy,” he says. “Now it’s not just a projector. It’s more about communications equipment and that falls under IT.”

“IT teams work under particular standards, but it’s been pretty difficult to do that in the AV world,” says Rayancha, noting that conflict between AV and IT approaches to standards came to a head about 10 years ago.

“The largest integrators can go global by bringing in subcontractors to do the work,” he says. That means building teams internally to create standards and handing those out to local vendors, adds Rayancha.

“All you have to do is say, ‘these settings have to be the same,’” he says. “Integrators are starting to do some of this themselves. They’re getting some pull from end users. Integrators will tell us what they need to deliver and what their customers want.”

Integrators can help their customers put standards together for their drawings, their settings and commissioning process, says Rayancha.

“When things are delivered in this manner, it becomes less likely the result will change over time,” he says. When you have standards in place, they can be applied to any size of project, whether it’s a few rooms, hundreds of rooms or thousands of rooms in multiple locations around the world, says Rayancha.

“That starts to make some of the processes more efficient for us,” he adds.

Keeping Standards Flexible

Even though the point of standards is to add some structure to a company, it’s important to include some flexibility into them as well. There will always be a request for “just one more” feature and those should be considered as they’re made.

In the fast-moving world of technology, it’s inevitable some elements of the business will become obsolete and must be updated. Leaders should provide an update cycle so any issues can be talked about and updated on a regular basis, and there should be a normal cadence to the updates.

Leadership can maintain a testing lab that allows suggestions to the standards to be tested before they’re officially implemented, and user input is a critical to ensuring the success of these standards.

While flexibility is crucial to the success of standards, compliance is another element that’s absolutely necessary. You can’t manage what you can’t measure, Nunes and Rayancha say.

Integrators can work with their customers to help them figure out how to handle the exceptions as they come up, particularly in one-off situations. They can decide upfront when revisions can be made and set up a timeline that allows for a planned evolution of the standards.

And, while flexibility is crucial to the success of standards, compliance is another element that’s absolutely necessary. You can’t manage what you can’t measure, Nunes and Rayancha say. The metrics in the standards can be measured manually with a person or group of people charged with keeping everyone and everything in line or automatically using spreadsheets and software such as PepperDash Portal, they say.

In terms of deployment, it’s important to keep the installation process manageable, but thorough and integrators can supply their customers with tools to ensure accurate compliance to standards.

Maintenance will help to prevent system failures and regular check-ins with the client helps to ensuring a good response by the client to the integrator when systems do fail, which happens to all of them at some point.

Trust … but Verify

A lot of the process of creating and selling standards comes through vendor understanding and cooperation. There are testing processes and tools and compliance monitoring capabilities that can ensure the standards remain in place and succeed.

Once the standards are adopted, integrators and their clients can work together to ensure that rooms remain compliant to the standards. They can also team up to vet new devices and firmware as they’re released to see how they fit into the standards.