In his InfoComm 2001 keynote address, former InfoComm president Scott Walker correctly predicted that the AV revolution would be digitized. Walker’s speech focused on the future of the installed audiovisual industry within the decade. Although this change occurred more slowly than Walker expected, the industry has reached the critical point at which integrators and consultants must prepare their businesses for the shift from trucks and hardware to cloud-based managed services and support. The future form of installed audio is Hardware-as-a-Service (HaaS) and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS).

While the idea may be daunting, it is possible. After adapting his communication technology consultancy, Waveguide Consulting, to this shift, Walker acknowledges that it does indeed come with growing pains, but it can absolutely be done. “It requires a change in mindset — some new thinking,” he says. “As I like to say, you have to go where the hard stuff is. You have to run into the fire and try to do the things that still need solving. And that, to me, is where and how you grow your business.”

Changing your Outlook

Creativity is vital when any industry evolves. In order to meet the inevitable shift facing the AV industry, Walker believes it’s the only way to find the solutions AV clients will need. “I think the biggest limit to recreating our businesses isn’t resources — it’s imagination. Many people just can’t imagine their business differently.”

This is the change in mindset: industry professionals must get creative with their business offerings and start recognizing the opportunities in the digital domain. Instead of seeing the work as custom art (though artistry is part of it), Walker advocates viewing it as a long-term, global commoditization: the work is a valued commodity that can be replicated on a large scale, and that’s okay.

“Customers want standards that can be deployed around the world. They need our help to make sure the rooms in Buenos Aires work like the ones in New York, work like the ones in Johannesburg, and so on.” Thinking about the work with terms like ‘niche,’ ‘custom,’ ‘special,’ and ‘one-off’ is part of the problem. The industry needs to collectively redefine itself with terms like ‘global,’ ‘pervasive,’ and ‘standardized.’

Now is the Time

As businesses of all sizes adopt audio- and videoconferencing into their day-to-day operations, lack of a standardized AV plan is becoming increasingly painful. Clients are just now realizing that in addition to getting global with their IT plans, they must strategize for their global AV systems. “To my mind,” says Walker, “episodic AV purchases — room-by-room, or even city-by-city installations — are a mistake and don’t make much sense anymore.” Clients need streamlined hardware solutions, with a unified software interface that employees can operate efficiently in all of the company’s offices worldwide.

This type of system standardization and ease of use is likely what the client wanted all along, but didn’t know was possible, and therefore didn’t ask. Although many consultants are digging deeper and thinking on a more global scale, AV customers continue to struggle to ask the right questions of integrators and consultants and, historically, professionals in the industry haven’t asked the right questions either.

By digging deeper and being creative, the industry as a whole can adapt its thinking to first understand the clients’ pain, ask the right questions to draw out that global vision, and adapt AV businesses to succeed in this new model.