by Mark Mayfield
Is convergence really "working"? The answer may depend on who you ask. If you were looking closely at last June's InfoComm in Las Vegas you might have seen the signs of dysfunction. Nearly one-third of attendees were from technology manager and enduser groups within organizations that use AV systems. Most of them are there to learn how to interface AV systems with their organization's infrastructure, which includes their networks. Many of the attendees also visited the co-located NXTcomm show, which was far more IT- and telecom-oriented than InfoComm.
But the most compelling evidence was the Q&A portion of the annual Manufacturer's Forum on Tuesday evening. A clear majority of the questions from the audience were asked by people representing end-user organizations - not systems integrators. Their questions were understandably direct, and seemed to express an overall frustration with the pace of convergence - or, more accurately, the AV industry'srole in it. While AV/IT convergence may be a popular topic to write about and toss around in conversation on the show floor, it seems that the reality of implementing convergence is less simple.
WHAT'S GOING ON HERE? IS CONVERGENCE WITH IT CAUSING THE HYBRID AV/IT SYSTEMS TO BECOME TOO COMPLEX FOR THE AVERAGE AV INTEGRATOR?
The first hint that the emperor may be underdressed came with the second question from the audience. Despite the best efforts of AV manufacturers to incorporate network connectivity into products, systems integrators' attempts to master networking concepts, and nearly a decade of using the "C" word, putting the concept into actual practice is proving to be a challenge. The question from a technology manager with a large, well-known financial institution seemed to imply just that - paraphrased, he said, "AV/IT convergence makes it difficult for us to make AV and IT systems work together." He then cited two brand names (household words in AV and IT), and emphatically stated that putting them together "doesn't work." Period.
Apparently others in the audience felt the same way. Another tech manager from an educational institution asked the manufacturers about better support for end-users. Several manufacturers affirmed that they would continue to support "the channel," and leave end-user support in their hands. But implication from the gentleman from the University of West Indies was clear when it came to support, the channel was proving inadequate.
What's going on here? Is convergence with IT causing the hybrid AV/IT systems to become too complex for the average AV integrator? Are we nearing the proverbial tipping point of the AV and IT seesaw in favor of the heavier IT technologies?
What we may actually be seeing is Darwinian AV evolution in progress. The companies that can adapt and transform themselves into true network-savvy AV suppliers (including manufacturers and integrators) will prevail. Those who can't will be left behind as technology managers look to other industries for truly AV/IT converged equipment, along with the support necessary to successfully implement that equipment within their own organizations.