Depending on your region, the education market today may be excellent or non-existent. The economy in the Southwest was driven for years by growth, and growth was driven by construction—primarily housing. Enter the recession and new housing construction came to a halt, entire housing developments were abandoned, and school construction stopped. Areas like Texas and Colorado that didn’t experience the housing boom have economies less affected by the recession, and spending on education continues. In older and established regions of the country, like the Northeast and Midwest, economic realities have settled in and spending on education is being slashed.
Education budgets, whether K-12 schools or post-secondary, are dependent on state tax revenues, and there isn’t a state in the country that isn’t faced with lower revenues from a shrinking tax base. Federal stimulus money directed at states and education is drying up, and 2011 and 2012 may result in even deeper cuts in state spending on all programs including education. Colleges and universities that have continued to raise tuition to offset these revenue losses are reaching the limits. They are pricing post-secondary education right out of the affordability curve, which will likely cause falling enrollments.
What is your business to do if you banked for the last few years on the education market and are now faced with these ponderous economic realities? You’re probably facing stiff pricebased competition as everyone scrambles for a piece of the shrinking pie. Some won’t survive; others will just downsize and try to wait it out. The smart moves will come from those who go back to basics and re-tool for a changing education market.
Let’s face it, spending on education is shrinking, but it’s not completely disappearing. Priorities have changed and smarter technologies that can offer measurable payback are in demand. Security concerns on campuses are on the rise, and school administrators and school boards are demanding solutions and finding the dollars to secure students and teachers. They must be able to demonstrate to the public that they are taking reasonable steps to avoid and deal with incidents that can make it to the front page of the newspaper.
Physical Security: There isn’t a school board or administrator that isn’t currently engaged in discussions about campus security. Cameras, access control, metal detectors, and mass notification systems are among the many solutions that most integrators are qualified to deploy and support. Don’t assume the schools in your area have it all figured out. They are looking for trusted advisors that can recommend cost effective, yet meaningful solutions to protect assets, students, and staff.
Performing Arts: Schools nationwide are finding ways to rent their performing arts facilities to community groups, churches, and even community arts programs. They are discovering alternative income streams by renting out buildings and theaters that were once reserved exclusively for school use. When they rent these facilities, additional demands are placed on performance audio and video systems, often requiring investments in upgrades and higher quality systems.
Protect Your Loyal Clients: With the evershrinking pie, more of your competitors are calling on your customers. Probably the single most important thing you can do right now is spend more time with your loyal customers, and don’t give them any opening or excuse to talk to your competitors. Remember, not all your competitors are heeding this advice or doing a good job for their clients, so now may be the best time to dedicate resources to calling on the competition’s customers. You might be surprised at how receptive they may now be to listening to alternatives, especially if you can demonstrate expertise with green initiatives (see sidebar), physical security, and revenue from the performing arts.
Mike Bradley (firstname.lastname@example.org) is president of Safeguard Security and Communications, a security and communication systems integrator in Phoenix, AZ. Bradley is a past president and director on the board of the NSCA with 25 years’ experience in sales and management in the low-voltage contracting industry.
Educating Energy Efficiency
While it should be an easy sell to the education market that sustainable practices in AV systems can help rein in costs and are worth the investment, consultants and integrators lack a fundamental element to support this case.
“The piece that is missing in the AV world right now is the ability to report on energy usage,” said Brian Huff, supervisory consultant for Acentech, an AV systems and acoustical consulting firm, and SCN “Green AV” columnist. “We have ways of using existing products to give a snapshot of what power is being used, but we don’t have a way to monitor usage over days, months, years.”
Lacking these baselines, Huff said, systems integrators don’t know how much of what they’re doing saves money. It’s safe to assume sustainable AV practices do save money at some level, but when pitching a project, wouldn’t it be nice to support your ideas with some numbers as proof?
In schools for example, when comparing AV use to typical lighting energy levels in a classroom, the two are on par, Huff estimated. Yet, as a consultant that works with schools frequently, the subject of energy efficiency “almost never comes up,” he said. “If anyone brings it up, it’s me.”
In the education market, school administrators are more concerned about cost and longevity than efficiency. Many of these projects toss around millions of dollars, so the thousands of dollars in energy savings they could make are a chip in the marble. “From a financial point of view, it’s not a strong sell,” Huff conceded.
The ideas that energy efficiency encompasses have been creeping their way into education curricula, particularly in math and science, so it should make sense for schools to practice what they preach.
One of the goals of InfoComm’s STEP (Sustainable Technology Environments Program) is to create the foundation for the baseline data that is missing from the equation. STEP plans to roll out test cases this year, and over the next few months, they will be seeking volunteers to apply the Green AV Rating System.