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Executive Q&A: Blake Augsburger, Harman Professional Division President - AvNetwork.com

Executive Q&A: Blake Augsburger, Harman Professional Division President

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NAME: Blake Augsburger

COMPANY: Harman

TITLE: President, Harman Professional Division, Country Manager, North America.

OVERTIME: Augsburger’s responsibilities are diverse, but they can be summed up generally in the requirement to support growth across Harman’s business and for its integration partners.

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SCN: What is your position, and what does it entail? What are your responsibilities?

Blake Augsburger: Executive Vice President of HARMAN, President of HARMAN Professional Division and Country Manager, North America. Whereas I run the Professional Division, my responsibilities are also within the broader organization as Country Manager, Americas. This includes operational responsibility for the Americas and the role provides me with exposure to an array of technologies, best practices and people from the automotive, consumer and enterprise domains that I can take back to the Professional Division, which benefits the Division and the integrators we serve.

My primary responsibility for the Professional Division is to ensure it is lean, nimble, forward-facing and yet customer-centric. 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, 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.

SCN: HARMAN is a uniquely global company in the systems integration business. How does that impact your worldview and also the value to that you bring integrators in diverse geographic regions?

BA: Over the past five years HARMAN Professional Division has made great strides in becoming a truly global organization. We have opened R&D centers in Bangalore, India and Shenzhen, China; acquired Selenium in Brazil; built new factories in China; upgraded manufacturing in Elkhart, Indiana and Tijuana, Mexico and Potters Bar in the United Kingdom and opened regional sales offices in Puerto Rico, England, Shenzhen, Bangalore, Brazil, and Kuala Lumpur.

This effort—a Best Cost Country approach—enables our organization to capitalize on the strengths that each region offers but also to address the market opportunities in each region as a local competitor with market-specific solutions that address functionality, price, applications and regulatory differences.

It also empowers us with a more informed worldview: we can apply lessons learned in one part of the world to provide value in another market, cross-pollinate technologies to power an array of unique product solutions across territories and also gain efficiencies in procurement and volume in all of the markets that we serve.

SCN: Systems integration by its very nature is inclusive. The definition of a system includes increasingly more disciplines. How is HARMAN addressing this dynamic?

BA: Digital technologies — including audio, video, data, security, lighting and/or access control components for entertainment, communication, life safety, digital signage, conferencing and distance learning — enable integrators to serve their clients more effectively with considerably more useful, efficient and open networks.

Since I first took the helm at HARMAN, putting our customers on the bleeding edge of network technology has been a huge priority and we have invested millions to advance open standards like the AVB protocol that make the network simpler, more useful and more accessible to broader markets. We’ve also invested in configuration and control technologies like JBL Performance Manager that gives system design professionals a professional-grade tool with a single point of access for system configuration and control across all components in the signal chain; tour-proven customization and automation, built-in connectivity and an intuitive drag-and-drop user-interface that saves time and money.

SCN: Do you see any major shifts in the business of systems contracting?

BA: Broader integration of low-voltage disciplines is probably the biggest market shift in recent years. It’s a natural evolution that continues today but that began quite a while back when the sound contractor started to also manage video. As digital content began to reside on IT networks, you saw greater convergence of AV and IT and most recently IP-based security technologies have gained critical mass and the lines are blurred further.

In this time, HARMAN has also evolved—specifically in the areas of digital networking, integration and workflow efficiency. Our leadership of the AVB initiative is bringing the market closer to standards-based Ethernet networking of multichannel audio, video and data; our efforts to deepen integration between all technologies on the signal chain has been unmatched in the industry and the wide array of productivity advances we’ve made to our components and systems is comprehensive and ongoing.

The iPad has also led to a shift in the business of integration and it provides a good example of productivity tools HARMAN Professional Division has developed. Inspired by contractors and consultants, our iPad apps from AKG, Crown and Soundcraft enable users to easily and cost-efficiently design, configure, monitor and control professional-grade AV systems for a wide array of applications.

From a contractor’s perspective, I think that the pace of integration will vary at different levels of the market. The systems will be advanced and well-integrated but you’ll continue to see a high level of specialization by contractors working on the bigger projects. On smaller scale commercial assignments in retail, hospitality, health club and spa and also small-scale education and worship, you’ll see one contractor doing quite a lot more.

HARMAN is here with the toolsets, the systems and the support to enable integrators to build better systems for all sectors of the market; to do more in less time and to grow their businesses to capitalize on market shifts.

SCN: Are there new initiatives we are likely to see from HARMAN?

BA: Training and education is a high priority for HARMAN right now and we expect to make more advances in that area. We have several trucks that travel the country providing advanced training to our customers and channel partners; we also run regular training at dedicated facilities in Northridge, Elkhart, Salt Lake City and at most trade shows we attend. We’ve also appointed David Scheirman to the new role of Director Of Knowledge Resources in charge of division-wide training and education. 

We’ve also invested considerable time and R&D resources to redefine the integration beyond connectivity and develop application-engineered solutions for specific vertical markets. Transportation and hospitality are two key examples where we’ve developed market-specific systems with specialized interfaces to reflect the operations and needs of end-users in those sectors. This approach has worked very well and we’ll likely apply it to other verticals where there’s a disconnect between system integration/effectiveness and end-user operations.

SCN: How can systems contractors better position themselves to profit from products and/or services HARMAN has to offer?

BA: I would like systems integrators to continually look to us for technologies and programs that serve their business needs, address the challenges they run into and enable improvements in both productivity and profitability!

Systems contractors can expect HARMAN to listen. We listen so that we can understand their business needs and based on where we understand the business is going, we develop the systems and programs that contractors can deploy. We’ve already worked very hard on the technology side: our development is aligned to provide system solutions not just product solutions so that buying an integrated HARMAN system means so much more than just a JBL speaker, connected to a Crown amplifier. Our solutions are differentiating and we’ll continue to innovate on the technology side but now we’re similarly focused on business processes.

At the start of each calendar year, we hold a large business and technology meeting attended by hundreds of manufacturer’s reps, distributors and other partners where we map out our goals for the year and our plan to achieve the goals. This year in my keynote I identified my key goal as wanting to make it easier for customers and partners to do business with HARMAN — making it an organization our customers can count on not just for the best technologies but also for the best support, customer service and availability.

We have invested in a new SAP system and sales operations and planning processes to improve customer order interface and Just In Time product availability. Stepping up our customer service is our next big priority. Our goal is to provide a world-class experience at every touch-point with our brand 

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