Get the Lead Out

8/23/2012 4:25:00 PM
By Todd McCandless
 
Context is important—it’s important to know what words mean and in what context they are being used. Having said that, there are systems or software applications that will talk to and control assets on a network via unique IP addresses for each device. I know this—I have seen this. What I am somewhat interested in is the missing link from large manufacturers in the AV industry.

Don’t get me wrong; they are wonderful companies with a phalanx of brilliant and pleasant people. That could be said of the creators of the network our gear resides on be it Cisco, HP, Microsoft or Apple. All good folks doing a good job…sort of but we’ll come back to this in a moment.

At the heart of my inquisition is the notion that the IT industry has learnt a tremendous lesson in disruptive technologies, “good enough” systems and products and brilliant or superior design based on simplicity. Reduction of mass or the de-construction of form is a real science or an innate design philosophy hewed from the DNA of those who design things.

One thing I have noticed, over time, is the use of the term “disruptive” and while I really do appreciate the notion or intent of the use of that word, I fear that some in our industry may have adopted it from the IT world and missed the context of its origin. Clay Christensen coined the term, born from his research, and defined it as:

"Generally, disruptive innovations were technologically straightforward, consisting of off-the-shelf components put together in a product architecture that was often simpler than prior approaches. They offered less of what customers in established markets wanted and so could rarely be initially employed there. They offered a different package of attributes valued only in emerging markets remote from, and unimportant to, the mainstream."

I’ve heard many people in our industry use the term “disruptive” when I think they actually mean “innovative”. They are trying to suggest that they need an innovative product that disrupts the standard and gives them an edge on competition. It’s a fine line here but hang in there with me.

Clay discovered that an 8-inch hard drive, while inferior to the standard 14-inch hard drives prevalent at that time, was selling like hotcakes while the larger drives were dying on the vine. Then the 8-inch drive was replaced by the 5-inch drive and that took root and was a runaway success. What happened?

Sure, form factor reduction, size and space play a role but perhaps the biggest catalyst was price. Small businesses couldn’t afford the large, enterprise systems and so the smaller systems that were inferior but less expensive and smaller were a popular option.

What could be argued is that perhaps my colleagues do mean “disruptive” but are referring to a new market disruption where a product fits a new or emerging market segment that is not being served by companies in the industry nor do they have need for the performance and value-added features of the higher-end products. I’ll give them that—they are using the term accurately in that context.

So what does this have to do with IP addressable control? I’m glad you asked.

The largest brand names in AV all have matured products that have been part of our juggernaut systems for decades. They have also branched out into exciting audio and video management in a digital world. They have created software to control those assets and program them. Problem is, all of it may be the 14” hard drive waiting to wilt.

If these control companies don’t make a move to IP control that is tied into Active Directory, Active Directory Federation Services or Near Field Communication systems, they are going to be left behind by a motivated IT industry who is tired of the proprietary nature of bespoke code and systems that only a few can manage.

All of these companies are working toward a more open system from a connectivity standpoint and in at least one case, one AV software product has seriously matured. Here’s the rub: Most IT professionals I work with are not keen on a control system company’s software being the backbone of their asset management when they already have a Microsoft, Citrix or Oracle backbones and really don’t want to have another application to manage. They know full well that the devices on their network can and should be controlled by simple commands via an HTML user interface.

I know that isn’t good news for programmers of these systems but if HTML 5 or C Sharp is good enough for the entire IT world, I think it’s just fine for an AV controller.

These companies are not mental midgets, they know this better than I do, but they have legacy systems, programming and infrastructure to work around. They know full well they have to change and quickly. The question is, will they change quick enough?

With the advent of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), there is no reason any of these companies can’t make a simple tie-in for their apps with Active Directory. In fact, there are third-party programmers that are already doing this for them but I have to think that they would be best positioned for making a terrific app or system natively.

This is no revelation for most readers of System Contractor News—you’re all very intelligent people. You all know that software is king right now and to drive 40-60 percent of our hardware sales from a system is a reality due to software as a service (Saas). Polycom, Cisco (formerly Tandberg), LifeSize and other videoconferencing hardware manufacturers know this as well. Companies like Vidyo and other SaaS providers are attempting to be a disruptive technology and yet many large companies will build their own cloud-based video service without the $15,000 endpoints in every room.

Microsoft’s Lync product has been an innovative assault on the Unified Communication front and with products such as Vaddio’s USB PTZ cameras, clients will reduce typical room costs from $35,000 to just north of $9,000. If intelligently designed, the IT world will roll right over our industry giants by discovering a few of our IP-enabled pieces and coupling them with their network.

In the end, we are looking for disruptive. The AV world can be a New Market Disruption to the IT world. They are using 14-inch drives and we should know our industry well enough to know how to make the 5-inch drive that will win the day.

We also should take notice of a recent conversation I had with a law firm CIO. They simply told me that our solution (meaning our industry) is way too hardware-centric and that they will most likely avoid AV integration companies in the future in favor of their Lync, WebEx, Jabber or other video services that are completely tied to Call Manager, Active Directory or ADFS. They suggested that we should learn to make it simple with better design and less hardware.

The future is software, and providing products and services based on IT standards, communication models and network security measures already deployed in our clients enterprises. The niche business of programming device controllers and using matrix switches for video are fine but fleeting I fear and we’d better ask ourselves where the next innovation or disruption is coming from. Most likely it will be an IT manufacturer who was motivated by an annoyed IT manager who was sick and tired of the proprietary nature of the AV systems he is supposed to support. Let’s hope that doesn’t come to fruition and if you are in a role to affect this change, I ask you on behalf of all AV integration companies—please get the lead out!
 

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