According to Bruce Kaufmann, “we’ve been talking about the AV/IT convergence as the reason for our struggles for at least 15 years; but that’s not it. The real problem is lack of acceptance.” Instead of continuing to talk about the convergence as something that’s happening, Kaufmann calls for acceptance of the fact that the convergence has already happened. AV professionals must commit to this reality and build upon it. “What we do is a function of IT. Once we’ve accepted that, we can move forward and do amazing things.”
Kaufmann cites inactive cooperative participation as the modus operandi for AV integrators: sitting at the table and contributing an AV-only point of view on the project. Focusing on only the niche capabilities has worked well for AV professionals in the past, but the speed and depth of technological innovation makes that a luxury the industry can no longer afford. “We have to be able to walk into the room and be an authority on the overall project, and have a point of view on how the whole thing should run, not just the audio.”
How can an AV consultancy provide a relevant point of view on a larger IT system? Start by hiring IT professionals with an AV background, rather than the opposite. If the convergence is complete and AV has been absorbed into IT, the focus of AV businesses needs to be adding more IT to their AV capabilities.
Dictation of Standards
By creating AV-specific networking standards, the AV industry has effectively developed a language unto itself. Although this is a significant accomplishment, it means that while AV was focused on its own standards, we missed out on creating broadly-applicable IT networking standards. AV-specific standards also have to be translated and woven into larger IT networks — an extra step that makes IT managers cringe.
“We didn’t develop any of the universal standards like HDMI, DVI, Wi-Fi, or USB. The IT and consumer industries have dictated these standards to us. As an industry, we had to react to them.” That’s why, Kaufmann argues, AV was inevitably absorbed by IT. All major networking standards and transmission methods are IT-based, and the equipment that uses them lives on an IT network. It makes sense that IT would thus become the all-encompassing industry that it is.
Having to create products and solutions based on IT standards isn’t necessarily a bad thing. “We need to accept it, own it, and adapt our businesses accordingly.” It’s not breaking news that AV system decision-makers at schools, houses of worship, and enterprise business centers are CIOs or IT directors. “It’s an IT world,” Kaufmann says matter-of-factly, “AV just happens to be one of the tools there.” The next step after acceptance of this fact is determining the best way for AV businesses to adapt to it.
Accept It, Own It, and Win the Day
The AV industry is not going anywhere. While the challenges are real, there are ways to move individual businesses, as well as the industry as a whole, forward.
When approaching new clients, Kaufmann encourages them to view Human Circuit as a design build partner. His reasoning is that if he can address the entire technology stack, and eliminate the need for some of the people at the table, he will have positioned himself and his capabilities in a much more valuable light.
To do so, he and his team must commit to changing their design point of view. “We design client networks to address the entire technology stack: AV-IT, control, security, access, you name it.” Because he’s designing with all infrastructure in mind, Kaufmann has found that he’s able to create a single network that is more affordable and easier to operate and support without sacrificing elegance or robustness. This is the project ownership piece Kaufmann called for earlier.
Human Circuit has also added service agreements and support contracts to its professional service offerings. As a single resource taking responsibility for the entire technology stack (or a large section of it) from beginning to end, Human Circuit has successfully adapted its business model to give its clients what they need versus only what the AV industry is equipped to provide.
These changes didn’t happen overnight; years of toil, true acceptance of what it takes to make it in the modern AV industry, and a rebrand taught Kaufmann what he’s just shared. He leaves you with these words:
“Being in AV today is hard, and it’s going to be a struggle. There are an increasing number of new technologies outside our core competencies, and we just have to figure them out. We have to study this stuff and change the way we think about our work. If we want to remain relevant, we have no other option.”