A Discussion on a New Business Reality
SCN continues its quarterly Convergence Corner Q&A on the topic of AV/IT. We’ve selected two experts in their respective fields, John Stiernberg for AV, and Jim Wile for IT, to answer questions that many integrators have on this subject. If you have any questions you’d like to have answered in the future, tweet them to us @SCNmag or email Kirsten Nelson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SCN: As partnering between AV and IT firms becomes increasingly popular, what problems have you seen arising?
John E. Stiernberg: Yes, there are problems, but most of them have to do with the newness of relationships as opposed to a fundamental conflict. For example, many AV integrators still don’t know how to work with an IT firm that owns the customer. They go in on the defensive, thinking that (stereotypically) the IT firm is all about low margins and mediocre system quality. Most end-users are beyond that, demanding excellent system performance at a fair price. Once AV and IT integrators figure out that they are on the same systems integration team, they can usually get along.
Jim Wile: That’s a unique question for our company. In the past when we partnered with an IT company, both companies had their own priorities, which sometimes created problematic circumstances. The way we combated that was to buy an IT company. It’s been terrific move for CTG, not only because we have increased our revenue, but now we have a whole new market to go after with traditional IT now that we are a blended IT/AV company. What’s powerful about this is sometimes we have issues working with IT departments as they see us as “the AV guys” that want to put technologies on their networks that they don’t want. Now our IT guys talk to their IT guys and we have instant credibility. The other great thing is we are able to add additional IT services after our initial engagement.
SCN: How does the IT notion of “Quality of Service” compare to AV’s attempt to quantify “Quality of Experience”?
JS: One of the primary metrics of IT quality of service is system uptime— no crashes or failures that lead to costly downtime. While AV people intuitively understand this, they generally assume (rightly or wrongly) that the system will be up 100-percent of the time. This is especially in mission-critical broadcast, life safety, or live performance applications where there is an audience counting on “quality of experience.” So, AV performance metrics include things like audience satisfaction, ease of integration on the installer level, and no callbacks that are related to the AV portion of the system.
JW: There are quantitative metrics on the IT side of the business that are a part of our service level agreements (SLA) used to measure performance. In IT, it is common to have financial penalties for not meeting the stringent requirements within the SLA. For example, the time between initial failure and when it is resolved is measured. These metrics are not something that is analogous in the AV world.
SCN: What new benefits and innovations have you seen from AV and IT working together?
JS: A big business benefit of AV /IT convergence is the growth of acceptance of strategic alliances in all areas of our industry. As an industry, we tend to be protective and internally focused. The need to partner has opened up our minds and attitudes to a widening range of creative opportunities including co-marketing, co-development, and licensing (in addition to the more traditional mergers and acquisitions).
We’re also starting to see next-generation “convergence products” that incorporate development input from both the AV and the IT side of the equation. Most of these are in the middle of the system: switchers, routers, matrices, mixers, scalers, extenders, and signal processing. These products are used (for example) in show control, digital signage, broadcast, recording, and mass notification and emergency communications (MNEC)—any application where a network is involved. With or without standards and protocols, the idea of “brute force integration” now seems so 20th century! Progress is being made.
JW: We are past the idea that we are engaged in convergence or something that is on the horizon. It’s a part of our daily life. We provide a range of services that enhance our overall products. For example, we have added videoconferencing through unified communications, offering the entire suite of end-to-end services to our customers. That is something that has developed through our IT team.
Another advantage to the IT side of the business is that it opens up doors when haven’t been able to push through. For example, there are large companies that we think are worth talking to that we have had trouble getting appointments with as an AV company. Approaching them from the IT side opens up the conversation. In a lot of circumstances, what drives AV is the IT opportunity. It gives us tremendous access and instant credibility as an IT company who offers AV .
John Stiernberg is founder and principal consultant with Stiernberg Consulting. John has over 30 years experience in the music and entertainment technology field. He currently works with manufacturers, publishers, inventors, investors, and trade associations on strategic planning, market development, and M&A projects.
Founder and president of Comprehensive Technical Group, Jim Wile has more than 30 years of extensive engineering design and technical experience. Wile has earned special recognition for providing audiovisual and broadcasting services during the XXVI Olympiad, as well as 14 partner awards and other professional honors.