What do those in the AV business most need to learn about today’s education market?

What do those in the AV business most need to learn about today’s education market?

Ron PuseyRonald G. Pusey, President and CEO
Communications Specialists, Mechanicsville, VA
For the past 25 years CSI has been heavily entrenched in the K-12 Education Market. As such we have seen many changes in that space but none so much as now. AV Integrators focused on the educational space need to recognize, now more than ever, that rising expectations and declining budgets for the “electronic classroom” are impacting the richness of the learning environment. Being innovative and creative with both system architecture and fiscal restraints will help better propose solutions that will solve this dilemma and lead to stronger, more fruitful relationships.

Jim TierneyJim Tierney, Chief Executive Officer
Tierney Brothers, Minneapolis, MN
There's a lot of pressure put on technology decisions makers in today's schools and they can't do it all. You need to be their expert in the AV field and not just one facet. You need to be a resource for technical information, product acquisition, training and technical support.

Todd Johnson, Systems Sales Executive for Education Market
Alpha Video & Audio, Edina, MN
I can answer this question with four letters: H-D-M-I.

  • Todd Johnson
  • Even though the AV industry has recognized for several years that moving HDMI from the consumer market to professional installations will be a challenge, our educational customers are just now starting to buy blu-ray players and other HDCP sources for the classrooms. Many of them have installed blu-ray players in their homes with no problem and are surprised when they hear about the issues they will face when adding a such devices to an integrated classroom.
  • Just to name a few of the challenges to HDMI, they start with the wall plate. It needs to have a HDMI connection. The next issue is that the cabling from the player to a ceiling-mounted projector has to be 100 percent HDMI so another cable needs to be installed in the wall. Also, the projector has to have an HDMI connection. Many installed projectors or monitors don’t. Finally, a school might run into distance limitations when running a HDMI cable. The bottom line is that HDMI adds complexity to an installation which increases the cost and increases the need for an experienced AV integrator.
  • Let me add one additional challenge that shocks some of my larger educational customers. For a large venue with multiple screens, the HDCP copyright protection prevents the HDMI signal from being sent to multiple screens. The video can be only shown on one screen.
  • The upside to the HDMI challenges is that if AV integrators are knowledgeable about the conversion of video transmission from analog to digital, they will become a valuable and preferred resource to an educational institution.

Lorne BjorganLorne Bjorgan, President
Design Electronics, Niagara Falls, ON
The market is very fragmented in the way education purchases products. Many Colleges and Universities are now tendering out large volume, supply only, contracts for integration specific products like Crestron and Extron that were only supplied as part of an integrated system in the past, and sold at a reasonable profit. They are then installing the system themselves, tendering the installation separately, our using local installers. We have seen several million dollar purchases like this in the past year alone. This just puts another anchor around the neck of an integrator with expensive highly skilled staff to keep busy.

Look for schools that do not practice this purchasing methodology and develop a good working relationship with the IT and AV departments, it will take time and substantial effort but it will pay off in the end. Remember not to ignore the actual field techs at the institution, they have a lot more impact on the buying decision that you think. My two favorite mantras are "people buy from people they like and trust" and "you never know where you next sale will come from".

The best way to develop relationships within the University market is to make yourself know to all the different department heads. They all have their own "special projects" that they will need substantial help to design and develop. This type of project will likely end up as a design build job at better margin that the tender projects.

Time lines are also often very critical. Installs must be done during breaks like Christmas, reading week, or completed by Labour Day. Make sure you have the resources in place to do what you have promised. You will only get one shot at this, fail and you will done with them for a long time.

The last bit of advice I can give you is learn the system of paper flow within the campus. Start with the accounts payable and find out what they require before they cut a cheque. Professors and other decision makers are great at signing your quote and approving purchases but if you do not submit your invoice to the proper department with all their specific requirements covered it can take six months to get paid and hours of wasted time you could have spent developing new sales.

Andy MusciAndrew M. Musci, President and CEO
Altel Systems, Brewster, NY
Altel’s involvement in the higher education market indicates to us that Colleges and Universities are finding substantial funding to build premium technical facilities where there is a curriculum that supports and requires these advanced capabilities. Black box theaters, performance spaces, rehearsal studios and recording facilities (digital) are all becoming more commonplace in colleges with these requirements. The move to digital in both audio and video has been fully embraced by most of these institutions. Similar to the “Corporate” vertical many of these new building initiatives are being guided under the auspices of the I/T departments in these facilities.

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