It’s time we face the music. The audiovisual integration industry has changed, and things are never going to return to the way they once were.
COVID-19 was not the culprit. It was just the catalyst. The true culprit was the ever-more powerful, ever-more capable, ever-more portable, ever-more ubiquitous, and ever-more economical, computer.
Though we would prefer not to admit it, computers and software can now accomplish most of what we once needed professionally installed audiovisual systems to deliver. This includes functionality like video and audio conferencing, wireless presentation, multi-source switching, window-processing, live and on-demand video streaming, room control, interactive whiteboarding, and more. We recently witnessed the computer produce entire virtual events like Infocomm 2020 Connected and WolfVision's VCX Conference. Even our shrinking materials lists and scope of work documents from recent years are showing us the writing on the wall (again via our laptop connected to a display). IT departments are choosing computer-centric design approaches over rack-based, proprietary AV systems, and there is no going back.
Not long ago, it was easier for us to make the case for a professionally integrated AV system. We could talk about user adoption, standardization, and our ability to simplify user experiences with button presets on fancy, touchscreen control solutions. We could also talk about the dreadful meeting experiences awaiting those who overestimated the capabilities of low-cost USB peripherals or the dangers of installing “undersized” audiovisual systems in larger meeting spaces. These conversations were frequently effective. Then they were occasionally effective. Then they were rarely effective. Now that COVID-19 has come along and sent everyone home, just forget it.
Why talk about user adoption, standardization, and redefining user experiences when everyone is successfully using their laptops to work and collaborate effectively? Why worry about undersizing AV systems when everyone is working from home and no one seems eager to gather for in-person meetings? Many will argue that this situation is only temporary, that people will eventually return to work and go back to meeting from room to room. This may be true, and for a moment, let’s assume it is. The question remains: what kind of experience will make the most sense for them if/when they return? Should we focus on introducing them to revolutionary new meeting space technology that we installed while they were out, or should we make it easy for them to simply continue using the technology they already mastered? My personal feeling is that the latter solution offers the path of least resistance and the highest likelihood of success.
So where do we go from here? Notice that I did not offer “staying here” as an option. If we want to survive, and even thrive in the months and years ahead, we are going to need to reconsider how we can add value to this new equation. How can we better serve our customers as they continue to embrace and depend on computers for their collaboration needs? I can’t tell you where this path ends (as I’m saving this for the keynote I’m sharing at the 2020 AV/IT Summit), but I can offer a few suggestions for where to begin.
For those of us who are in this field because we love technology and enjoy keeping up with it as it changes, let’s just consider this another opportunity to do what we love.