by Todd McCandless
The AV industry is littered with experts. Now on the surface, that sounds like a great thing, and it generally is, but what constitutes an “expert”? Being an expert in AV has many components, and some are tangible elements that ensure clients are getting the very best service and talent for their project. Sometimes, however, it means having “The Dude” come to your office. While The Dude’s ponytail is cool for his alternate career as a 42-year-old rock and roll god, it doesn’t always play well with the Chief Know-It-All (CKIA) at the Juggernaut Corporation.
Where am I going with all this talk of experts? Simply this: In these economic times, many businesses are looking for ways to stay ahead of the AV/IT confluence. I’m calling it a confluence because it clearly isn’t a convergence. Convergence denotes a type of union or orderly coming together, a confluence is just two entities plowing into each other as two rivers would, and we’re Huck Finn-ing this baby to its bitter end.
As businesses look for ways to stay ahead of this confluence, there are a couple key things to keep in mind. Sure, acquisition is one possible way of remaining germane to the AV/IT market in your area but perhaps adopting new technologies, products, or services would also make terrific sense. Here is a common thought in some AV companies: We have these “experts” who are propeller-heads and we can easily install building access systems or unified communication systems or any other thing with a wire and ethernet jack. We have the tools and talent to acquire these adjacent technologies and offer our clients more than they could possibly have dreamed of.
Not so fast. Your AV technician knows control system code, they understand how to add a product to a network with sequential IP addresses, MAC addresses, and even understand how to seat an audio conferencing system in a SIP-compatible UC system. They’ve comprehensibly defeated the analog video/audio-to-HDMI dragon and figured out EDID tables like no other human alive. That’s all great, but is it enough to adopt a seemingly adjacent technology?
Let’s step back a moment and consider another example. A company that sells commercial furniture determined that selling de-mountable wall systems was a good adjacency so they sallied forth and acquired a product line to expand their offerings. Seems logical, as they are both interior products that require good sales people and a flair for design. They even had a few installation employees who were very good at details and system installations.
What went wrong? They lacked the operational capabilities to deliver what they sold. The systems were infinitely more complex and required serious construction knowledge of building code, wall measurements, load limits, metal fabrication, and cement work. While the installation technician had the skills needed to actually make the Dewalt drill attach two disparate sections of a wall and could easily seat the panels in the channel, the operations department were bereft of the skills needed to design, estimate, and project manage an install.
You may be saying “so what?” just send them to training. You’d be right but understand that building construction has millions of nuances and hanging a wall is not as easy as it seems in a multi-million dollar, thirty-floor building. No matter how much initial training you have, the tricks of the trade and skills needed only develop over many years of being in the construction industry.
What am I advocating? I would never suggest that you should not expand your product portfolio, but you would do well to seriously vet the opportunity from a capabilities strategy. AV technicians may be “experts” but that doesn’t mean they can deploy a fresh installation of virtualization software, land 800 handsets with MAC addresses, and configure layer 3 switches for Microsoft Exchange, Call Manager, and your client’s storage area network.
If you are compelled to acquire a technology product or service that is ripe in your market but lack the immediate skills needed, seek to cast 80 percent of those operational capabilities off on a strategic partner such as the manufacturer or a subcontractor until such time as you can build the operational capabilities to sustain your sales efforts and keep your clients happy.
Sales is king and I have heard many companies say, “Start selling some systems and we’ll get the revenue to hire the right operational support.” That dog don’t hunt in many cases, so be sure to work a little harder on your business model than that. Can you hire operational staff that does have the needed skills acquired over years of being in the industry? Sure. But herein lies the problem…it’s expensive when you don’t have a tremendous amount of initial sales to pay for the new employee.