When Human Circuit was named Strategic Planning Integrator of the Year, we set out to learn from its president, Bruce Kaufmann, how to adapt an AV integrator business successfully to the rapidly changing technology space. In the ensuing conversation, Kaufmann discussed with us the challenges AV integrators face, as well as the reasons why, and offered a few solutions.

After decades of consumer-focused technological innovation, Kaufmann feels that AV has been forced into a subsidiary position to IT. AV professionals have been slow to accept this reality and as a result, their relevance at the table is in jeopardy. The way to heal this industry pain, Kaufmann encourages, is to accept the position AV occupies in the technology stack, and work to own it.

The way Kaufmann sees it, there are two primary challenges to the success of the AV industry: maintaining relevance at the table, and access to cloud/software-based products.

Maintaining Relevance at the Table

The reality is that AV is usually a small piece of what Kaufmann refers to as the technology stack.

“There could be upwards of six technology-angled firms associated with a project — all ranking higher in importance than AV: The client can’t live without an HVAC system, electrical, or the security system. All are indispensable from the client’s point of view. So what’s the first non-critical item? The conference room audio. It’s not perceived as a do-or-die need like the others.”

Often, AV integrators are left struggling to remain visible in that crowded space. The ability to show relevance has a direct impact on the client’s view of AV’s importance to a project, which determines the success of individual integrators and the overall industry.

Integrators can absolutely increase their relevance by adapting. “Offering AV-only solutions isn’t cutting it anymore. AV must accept its place, focus on the IT side of AV, and work to own a larger slice of the stack.”

Access to Cloud/Software-Based Products

Installed audio is moving to cloud- and software-based services. As Waveguide president Scott Walker discussed in the previous issue of Component, AV professionals “need to prepare their businesses for the shift from trucks and hardware to cloud-based managed services and support.” Kaufmann agrees, and laments the limitations AV integrators face due to the lack of available software- and cloud-based solutions.

“Few manufacturer products utilize the cloud and standard network software. As advanced as the audio technology might be, the available solutions are still extremely hardware-laden.” Kaufmann challenges skeptics of this view to look in the back of any AV trade magazine and take note of what you find: “A big piece of hardware staring back at you.”

“We’re as hardware-based as the automotive industry,” Kaufmann says. “This is a huge limitation for us as far as keeping up with the new ways people work and network, not to mention the innovation speeds of other technology industries.”

Building hardware-based systems directly affects the first challenge of maintaining relevance. The server rack will not disappear anytime soon, but having products that must take up physical space, with no cloud or software alternative, is becoming rarer. “The pace of our industry is dictated by our manufacturers,” Kaufmann insists. “As long as they only make hardware products, we’ll continue to struggle for relevance. We’re just not as agile as we could be.”

Where the Challenges Originate

Identifying the challenges that stand in the way of AV integrators is an important step to overcoming them. By understanding how these challenges came to be, you can gain insight into how to strategize your response.

Stay tuned to Component to learn more about running an AV business in an IT world.

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