by Todd McCandless
We’ve discussed the changing world of AV technology and integration and how the consumer-to-commercial model has become the driving force in creating the new Bring-Your-Own-Device (BYOD) challenge to both IT and AV industries. What we might unpack is the changing decision-maker in the process.
With many of our installation responsibilities nestled in the convenient department known as IT, it was a change we saw coming when we first installed an Ethernet jack on our products. The IT department slowly became the decision makers in our process and facility managers were more than happy to give this ‘black art’ up to their propeller-head neighbors and get back to office furniture, marble floors, and American Standard Toilets.
The change was interesting as it was first viewed as a nuisance and who can blame us? IT folks with really ‘cool’ home theaters were tingly in the discovery phase meetings as they waxed poetic about free cone resonance, superior amplifier finals and how they can stream a 380-resolution video from their laptop to their 50-inch TV (not to mention the home theater video cables you could jump-start a car with at $60 per foot). The discussions were odd and characterized with IT’s commanding grasp of AV from a tertiary position of the home experience.
We tried, sometimes in vain, to explain that AV integration wasn’t about sending a Windows Media file to a 100-inch screen because that looks terrible. It wasn’t about all the things IT could with audio and video on their desktop. It was good that they had a penchant for AV, but their understanding of it was desktop-centric and we had to educate.
We’ve always come at AV integration from a mass communication position while IT folks have come at their trade from a personal user on a network for the masses. The computer screen was the world in which they lived and updating software was their secret weapon—ours was a soldering iron and making large-format video and outstanding audio intelligibility a part of our design…not to mention awesome control systems and asset management.
Things changed as the IT world started acquiring chunks of our industry. They are very smart people and it didn’t take them long to gain an understanding of how our stuff works and why it is important. They have now become more sophisticated end-users and while they were bullish in the formative years about how they wanted their systems, they realized quickly that they installed a complex system that few are comfortable using. Now they’ve learned and they are moving in the right direction.
So where does this leave us? Let’s start by asking some simple questions: Do you notice the difference in the IT decision maker versus our old customer, the Facility Manager? What differences do you notice? How has your programming, discovery phase and system design phases changed? How are your demos going with the IT folks?
The key is to really examine how the IT manager assesses the products and solutions we are pitching. The best way to ramp up is to read as much as you can on how the IT world works. Examine the commoditization of their hardware pricing structure. Look at their professional services model and now hosted services. Digest the way they have vetted their equipment strategies when pitched by Cisco, HP, Avaya, Shoretel, IBM, etc.
When you look at how they manhandle our IT integration counterparts, you’ll start to understand how they are/will handle us. You get a clearer understanding of the things they are looking for the most.
Here is a tip: Have you noticed most manufacturers in our industry rapidly adopting the distribution model? Very few medium and small AV integration companies will buy direct in the future. That is a reality and that is an IT model. Noticed all the certification testing and demo gear required by manufacturers lately? Guess what? That’s an IT model as well.
You see, our industry is adopting the IT model as fast as they can and there will be collateral damage. They are doing this because they know the AV integration world is being consumed by IT. In order to make their products more palatable to the IT decision makers, they are re-tooling their products, code, and distribution models to mirror the current models that IT professionals are comfortable with. To IT’s credit, the AV industry is growing up. Gone are the ponytails, earrings, and business cards listing your job title as “Dark Prince of Audio."
So boil it down, how do we do this? Here’s how. Learn the top three things IT managers look for. Things like saleable systems, Total Cost of Ownership, and end-of-life strategies are part of it but each company is different. Position your product in terms of integrated technology and stop being at odds with the IT world. They are great people, if not bullish, and do understand technology. They can be dictatorial and abrasive and have a tendency to continually claim to be the smartest person in the room even when it comes to your products and services. What’s the good news? That’s changing.
As much as AV is trying to find its sea legs in the voracious mouth of the consuming IT industry, the IT industry is facing its own change in system and product acquisition. The ubiquity of technology has placed the business manager in a much for powerful position whereas in the past they would have to as IT for a solution and wait.
That model is changing and the technical know-how of the end-users has changed drastically in the last 10 years. This means that the Chief Marketing Officer is now capable of making purchases, not of technology alone, but of solutions that contain technology due to its ubiquity. This means that the IT departments are now serving their internal customers and not dictating as much as they used to.
Just keep in mind that there may be a time soon when you are going to see a change in decision makers again and that may be the Generation Y end user who doesn’t need the IT department to tell them how to get their Wi Fi connected or how to place documents in the cloud. For now, though, embrace the IT department because before long, we’ll be in the same boat with them serving the business managers of our clients.
by Todd McCandless