Harman’s Blake Augsburger Says AVB Will Transform the Systems Integration Business
by Mary Bakija
NAME: Blake Augsburger
TITLE: EVP, Harman; President, Professional Division; and Country Manager, Americas
IN FOCUS: Harman’s innovation hubs concentrate on the next great product offering while its factories focus on quality repeat manufacturing.
SCN: What does your position entail?
Blake Augsburger: My various responsibilities reflect a typical organizational matrix for modern corporations that enables a company like Harman to capitalize on its strengths and knowledge in one discipline and apply that as a strength in other disciplines and for the corporation in general.
Our company is organized into three divisions: professional for which I have P&L responsibility; consumer for which I have matrix responsibility in the Americas; and automotive for which I also have matrix responsibility in the Americas. Whereas before the divisions operated as independent silos, in recent years we’ve become very good at centralizing shared services like procurement, operations, even R&D. As a result, we’ve generated mass efficiencies to become a more intelligent, collaborative organization that is much more innovative than our competition in any one market.
For the professional division, my responsibility is to make sure our division is lean, nimble, forward-facing, and customer-centric. Working with excellent executive and engineering teams, we have worked hard to take a group of discrete product brands including JBL, Crown, BSS, AKG, and Soundcraft and reengineer their development philosophies towards working closer together to design systems for an array of applications and budgets.
Central to the effort has been our long-time support and leadership of AVB that I believe will enable more accessible professional-grade systems to be more easily designed for and sold to new customers in education, hospitality, healthcare, corporate, and digital signage markets who previously could not have even contemplated high-performance systems. And herein is a good example of how the dual role succeeds: just as the professional division pioneered AVB development and adoption, our organizational structure allowed me to cross-pollinate the thinking into the automotive group—adding new business opportunities for automotive but amortizing development costs (and ultimately customer systems cost) on the professional side of the business.
Similarly, we’ve benefitted from advances on the automotive side, most notably the development of Harman’s DriveCore chip technology developed for the Lexus LFA, a $375K sports car for which Harman was challenged to deliver ultra-performance at a minimal footprint. The chip delivers two channels of pristine Mark Levinson-grade audio at 125/watt per channel and can fit on your fingertip. We’re applying that technology to great effect in the custom home market with the Lexicon DD-8 Amplifier and the Crown ComTech DriveCore amplifier in the professional systems market and the response has been staggering.
My responsibilities are diverse, but I think it can be summed up generally in the requirement to support growth across our business and for our integration partners. Yes, I need to drive business growth for our stakeholders, cultural growth, and growth opportunities, but I believe the best way to do so is by listening to the market, watching the broad technology market, and delivering systems that are easier to design and install but deliver high performance in the new markets I mentioned. If we can do this and give contractors new systems to sell to new customers—that, in turn, make the customers more productive and successful, then I am doing my job!
SCN: How has Harman used the restructuring of its global organization, as well as North American operations, to better position the company in the commercial AV marketplace?
BA: I think we’re a more efficient, responsive, and innovative company than we were five years ago, and our products are more open and deliver more value than before. We’ve managed to do this through deployment of a number of strategies. First off, we eliminated redundancies and generated economies of scale by centralizing certain business operations. Then, we looked closely at manufacturing and explored ways to drive the costs down—so that we could become more competitive—but retain the world-class innovation. We achieved this balance by creating innovation hubs (for loudspeakers in Northridge, CA; signal processing in Salt Lake City, UT; amplifier technology in Elkhart, IN; microphone design in Vienna, Austria; and mixer technology in Potters Bar in the U.K. and Regensdorf in Switzerland) and by mass manufacturing in “best cost countries” like India, China, Mexico, and Brazil.
Our product development and manufacturing process is now to design and test new products at the innovation hubs; run cell-based, small-run manufacturing of the initial shipments at innovation hubs; and then when the product is fully proven and the process is honed, we shift manufacturing to bigger volume factories. This way, our innovation hubs concentrate on the next great product offering and our factories focus on quality repeat manufacturing.
The third element has been to integrate Selenium into our organization. In addition to providing Harman with excellent manufacturing centers in Brazil, we’ve been able to integrate Selenium’s value-driven component lines into our offerings here in North America. Whereas previously commercial AV integrators could categorize our system offerings as Good, Better, Best, we now add a value strata called “Application Engineered” where we provide new commercial markets with the performance they require and less of the advanced feature-sets required for performance-based systems.
SCN: What are some of Harman’s new initiatives with IEEE 802.1 Audio Video Bridging (AVB) standards?
BA: AVB is very important to Harman, and from the outset, I have held the belief that AVB will transform the systems integration business. The value of a network is defined by what’s on the network, and so we’ve been strong advocates of an open, interoperable standard that connects audio, video, control, data, and even life-safety and security components.
When these networks exist, they’ll be more effective and valuable to end-users, and systems integrators will have the opportunity to design and sell more networks and more components. This is especially the case when network cost-per-node comes down by economies of scale as more AVB nodes are built by more manufacturers.
Add to this the fact that integrators become infinitely more productive with labor and materials, and there is very little reason to go for a closed or proprietary network technology.
We’re currently offering AVB-enabled technologies from BSS, dbx, and Crown, and we expect to show more new ideas at InfoComm this month. We’re also continuing to invest in HiQnet as the accompanying control protocol for AVB. We’re looking to develop application-engineered systems for specific markets, and we’re also developing HiQnet iterations for specific markets: HiQnet Band Manager is already a success in the portable sound market, and HiQnet Performance Manager was recently introduced at Pro Light + Sound in Germany, where it got a great reception.
SCN: Are there any vertical markets in the commercial AV space that you see growing?
BA: We’re looking at the hospitality market, the transportation market, and corporate conferencing markets as strong growth opportunities for Harman and for our integrator partners. Just as we did in the core systems integration market and in verticals like worship and theater, we’re developing systems and programs to help our dealer/integrators address these growing areas.
SCN: Where do you see the commercial audio market heading?
BA: Commercial audio is heading for better sound and greater integration for more applications than ever before possible. AVB will drive the broadening of the market, but companies like Harman who are committed to innovation and quality manufacturing will prove that sound is not a commodity.
Harman innovations, like QuantumLogic that reconstructs multichannel performance from compressed audio, are leading our customers to expect more intelligibility and sonic integrity from their systems. Marketers, educators, and business professionals are increasingly asking for more quality and greater audio from conferencing systems, background systems, classroom systems, and information delivery systems.
A key example is our IDX Information Delivery System, which couples Harman audio components with signage and paging management software and control interface by ComNet. Together, this system capitalizes on Crown amplification, BSS network management, and HiQnet connectivity and control to provide airports with professional-grade audio on par with performance systems, but with an airport-specific interface that is engineered specifically for airport and transportation applications (and regulations).
On this point, we’re in an advanced stage of becoming EN54-16 compliant. Doing so, we’ll provide considerable value to our European customers, but by going through the process we will also improve our offering and provide value to other international and domestic integrator partners. By coupling Crown hardware with full diagnostics and Com-Net software with reporting capability, we have designed a system that will enable us to be certified. The Crown amplifiers and end-of-line monitoring coupled with Com-Net’s software allows integrators to obtain site certification on a project-by-project basis, and while using site certification in the interim, we will continue to work toward final EN54 certification.
We are also in the test phase at this time, which is scheduled to be completed shortly. In addition to testing electronics hardware and software, we will test several models of JBL loudspeakers for EN54-24 compliance. Harman will provide a wide selection of speakers to complement our paging system and IDX Information Delivery Systems.
SCN: How can systems contractors better position themselves to profit from what Harman has to offer?
BA: Growth is a key area where Harman provides integrators with an edge. Harman is providing integrators with the tools and the systems to carefully grow their businesses strategically into new adjacent markets.
Productivity is also very important for every business, and contractors should look for manufacturer partners that enable them to be more productive. Our company offers a great range of integrator-inspired productivity tools and features. This ranges from HiQnet System Architect to AKG and Crown iPhone Apps to the simple of idea of including USB interfaces on the front of Crown amplifiers so that programming time and expertise level is reduced by multiples.
SCN: What should we expect from Harman in the future?
BA: Last year, Harman Professional introduced more than 100 new products, and I’m a big believer that past performance is the best indicator of future behavior. At InfoComm, we will show a range of exciting new products for existing core markets and the adjacent verticals that I mentioned: You’ll see new conferencing technologies from BSS Audio, new pendant speaker systems from JBL for retail and hospitality applications, new productivity tools from HiQnet, and new system packages that provide integrators with turnkey systems for specific market applications.
In the year ahead, we will surprise our integrators with our ambition and our ability to deliver new innovative products and systems faster, while at the same time we’ll keep a close eye and deep commitment to quality and performance. Harman is a very exciting place to be right now because we are seeing the benefits of many of our long-term strategic initiatives, and we are better positioned to lead the systems integration business market into new territory!