Northridge, CA--The systems installation and integration sector was certainly not immune to the nearly three-year economic downturn. However, that which creates disruption also creates opportunity, and many systems specialists found ways to not only maintain but also grow their business in spite of overwhelming challenges.
That’s a story that resonates within Harman Professional, says division president and CEO Blake Augsburger, who has presided over expansion in most of Harman’s market sectors during the last two years, including, notably, the installed and touring systems sector. Reviewing the milestones of the past 24 months heading into the InfoComm Show in June, Augsburger noted market share gains, continued profitability and new product and systems innovation in the sector.
“We focused our product development and marketing efforts on the commercial side of systems integration: mass notification systems, PA systems, transportation hub and other paging systems, distributed audio and networking and other systems for fixed-venue and concert touring sound systems,” Augsburger enumerated. “And we did so on a global basis,” he added, noting significant installations around the world, including JBL loudspeakers used at the World Music Festival in Penang, Malaysia and the Shanghai Grande Theatre; the use of BSS Audio Soundweb products in the Norwegian parliament house in Oslo and the Verizon Hall in Philadelphia; Crown amplifiers at new major-league sports venues include Camden Yards in Baltimore and Citi Field in New York; Soundcraft live mixing consoles in leading venues such as the Tennessee Performing Arts Center in Nashville and on the road with major artists including Green Day, Taylor Swift and Lilly Allen, as well as a fast-growing number of large houses of worship and collegiate venues; and the use of the Studer Vista 5SR live sound console in a growing number of Broadway productions such as West Side Story.
“This [growth] is taking place on a global scale, as well,” Augsburger said. In fact, much of the last two years has been spent restructuring Harman’s organization, much of it on a geographical basis. A new office in Kuala Lumpur now supports product distribution and support in Asia; an office to support installation and other products throughout Latin America was opened in Puerto Rico in early 2009; and there will be a new European support office opening in Potter’s Bar, U.K. in Q3 2010. In a move intended to foster more interaction with customers in emerging markets, Harman has also initiated a new software development office in Bangalore, India, and a new engineering center in Shenzhen, China.
Harman has put the same amount of energy restructuring its domestic operations. In North America, JBL’s manufacturing has been centralized in Tijuana, Mexico while its famed R&D center remains in Northridge, CA. (R&D and manufacturing for Crown and DigiTech remain, respectively, in Elkhart, IN, and Salt Lake City, UT.) On the commodities level, Harman has also consolidated its purchasing procedures. From semiconductors and LCD screens to pencils and paper, Harman can now leverage the buying power across sectors and brands with the rest of the $3.3 billion Harman International corporation, including automotive and high-end consumer brands such as Mark Levinson.
“We think the Federal stimulus finding has been beneficial to us and to the commercial installation sector as a whole, helping to expand and renew the country’s infrastructure,” Augsburger said.
The future of systems design and integration is the network, and Harman brands have collectively been pioneers in that arena. The HiQNet communications protocol with which all device types within the full audio signal path can communicate was developed by an elite working group of Harman engineers across all the brands within Harman. HiQNet merges the best features of all previous brand-independent communications protocols and thereby benefits from years of combined experience and is simultaneously optimized for all components of the full professional audio system. “People may not realize that we’ve been working on networked audio and control for two decades now, beginning with Crown amplifiers 17 years ago,” Augsburger emphasized. “We began investing heavily in HiQNet seven years ago, as we saw the influence of IT over AV gaining ground.”
Harman has also been in the vanguard of the next generation of networking technology—it is a founding member of the AVnu Alliance, an industry forum that promotes the adoption of the IEEE 802.1 Audio/Video Bridging (AVB) standard. “AVB eliminates the drawbacks that networks have that affect bandwidth and jitter,” Augsburger explained. “AVB lets users precisely predict time synchronization of audio signal on the network, and that’s going to further the trend of IT and AV becoming one thing, and blur the lines between the systems contractors who work in audio, video and IT.” Augsburger hinted that video products might also be part of the Harman’s future format line-up.
The recession is receding, slowly but surely. As it does, it reveals a changed landscape for the business of systems contracting. “There are huge growth markets out there and that’s cause for optimism,” Augsburger stated. “Technologies like AVB and HiQNet are revolutionizing how audio, video and data interact, taking systems integrators into new territory; emerging markets around the world are going to be expanding their infrastructure as they come out of recession. Harman is going to be ready to help all of them move forward.”