The Ponds Are Stocked In AV Land

When I was younger, I participated in a few fishing derbies. I remember one particular derby where I caught nine trout in one day, see photos. The derby was sponsored by the local K-Mart, thus the hat. My dad and I were overwhelmed by the luck I was having! The pond at YMCA Camp Sloper had been stocked with fish the week prior. We asked around and quickly figured out that the best bait to use was corn, because the hatchery-bred fish had not yet learned to eat pond food; they liked corn.

I was not the only one who had luck that day. The kid who took the trophy for the most fish caught like 23. I also did not take the trophy for the largest fish; but I was still a happy camper, and went back the next day and caught a few more on my own. I tried my luck again that summer, in the same spot, but I did not catch anything. The corn stopped working, so I went an bought some expensive fishing tackle, which looked great in my tackle box, but nothing was effective as the cheap corn was during that one spring day of the fishing derby.

“The difference is time” as they say. The climate changed as the pond got warmer, the fish retreated to the cooler bottom. The young hatch-lings that survived the fishing derby weekend had two options moving forward: they could adapt to their surroundings, and eat worms, bugs, and smaller fish in Sloper’s pond, or they could be eaten by bigger fish. I don’t think it was a conscious decision. Eventually, the pond life goes back to “normal”, there are less fish, and the ones who survived are larger and more healthy.

Now, let’ reel this back into AV land. I believe the ponds in AV Land are getting stocked this spring, largely due to the tax law changes. I think #AVtweeps are conscious of it; some are not making any decisions, while some are putting plans in place, to deal with the upcoming volume. Notice I said volume, not revenue, or profits, or tax shelters.

Assuming your customers are C-corps, you should see, and hear, a gradual crescendo in spending in 2018, ending with the busiest holiday season anyone has ever experienced in all of AV Land. Older, problematic digital signal processing, microphones, and touch panels will be updated. Corporate customers will start spending more money on large ticket items like immersive rooms and video walls. Ping pong tables will compete for space with VR and AR gaming setups. The more start-up type smaller businesses will finally start to outfit their huddle rooms with new video collaboration systems.

K-12 schools and community colleges will see more donations to support classroom technology as well as gaming lounges and black-box theaters. Sounds great, right? But take warning, according to the AV Land Farmer’s Almanac (you see what I did there?)…

Your service center calls could become unmanageable as the new gear mingles with old.  Bandwidth needs will spike as AV and IT converge, and go forth, and multiply, and higher resolution video traffic will bog down older switches. Fan noise will increase.   Credenza rack switches will begin to overheat. Meanwhile, sales and design teams will design more and more networked AV. Programmers will ask for more IP addresses. Lead technicians are going to make extra money working overtime, making it all work.

So, how do you, the AV integration expert, plan to catch the MOST fish, AND the largest, without wasting a bunch of time, and money on equipment you don’t really need?

  1. Start with corn: Standardize on no more than a dozen pre-designed systems that you can sell quickly with confidence.  Keep the prices down by keeping things very simple, but be sure to include an adequate materials budget and labor to cover the inevitable trips to Home Depot, Grainger, or Lowe’s. Give your AV installation crews credit cards or similar means to get small items ordered immediately. Get ‘er done.
  2. Bring plenty of worms: The big fish in the pond will want something more than corn.  They will want large format displays that make viewers say “Wow”. They will also want to upgrade projection systems with newer laser light source models. Worms are a little more tricky to put on the hook, but in the end, not complicated.
  3. Tackle your complicated designs using your most excellent people and engineering. Don’t let your best resources get bogged down with the “corn” projects.  Figure out a way to free up their time so they can focus on the larger custom spaces and bring your client’s dreams to life.  They are like the professional anglers on the television.
  4. Give everyone the tools they need to complete the projects, but be careful not to fill your tackle box with a bunch of expensive lures like I did when I was little.  Only buy the tools you need right now. Update your own conference rooms, but don’t over do it.  The same goes for hiring new people, look for the skills that you are going to need for your pipeline, and then hire the people who have those skill sets.
  5. Don’t mistake volume for market share. I thought I was going to win that derby.

The key to the next few years will be to anticipate the sales volume bump, and then scaling appropriately, by putting the right people and tools in place. By following the above suggestions, (and never, ever asking me for fishing advice,) AV integration firms should be able to realize the upcoming spike in revenue, without being caught off-guard.

Fish on!

fish

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AVaaS = Audio/Video as a Service

By now, most readers have heard the term SaaS, or Software as a Service, a new trend in the business of software.  Instead of investing large sums every time you upgrade, you pay as you go, by the month. Some common examples include Dropbox or Amazon Web Services (AWS). Some readers may have heard of XaaS, which stands for everything as a service.  So what about AVaaS? Audio/Video or Audiovisual as a Service, delivering software (DSP, videoconferencing, collaboration, and control code), professional services, monitoring, for a monthly fee. That’s right, I said a monthly fee for AV.

I am not the first blogger to write about AV as a Service.  My online colleague Nermina Miller attacked the subject way back in July 2015 when she worked for Infocomm, in her article Redefining AV as a Service.  More recently, rAVepubs blog squad writer Mark Coxon defined three areas to start selling AV as a Service: video conferencing, engineering, and digital signage.  Gary Kayye suggested audiovisual integrators start selling digital signage content years ago.  Some followed his advice, and the money, while others stuck with the traditional model, sell the equipment and installation, and then watched their flat panel margins shrink as the displays got thinner and thinner.

rAVepubs also recently interviewed the CEO of ZOOM, who has quietly snuck into the AV industry under the guise of videoconferencing Software as a Service.  But ZOOM is more than just SaaS, ZOOM has a professional services department, providing engineering and installation services.  If you are worried about ZOOM taking your business clients, Gary Kayye of rAVepubs asked the CEO directly about their policy:

If an AV integrator has an existing client relationship, all they need to do is register that client and ZOOM will not go or talk directly to the client without the integrator’s assistance. But, if ZOOM establishes the relationship directly, they will potentially sell the ZOOM system directly….But customers will purchase hardware by themselves […]

But customers will purchase hardware by themselves?  You heard right, the leading collaboration software company will sell them the AV system, but minus the hardware. The clients purchase the hardware directly from CDW,  or Amazon, and ZOOM does the installation, commissioning, training, and then charges a monthly fee for the ZOOM software.  Boom, ZOOM! That is how AVaaS is done, people.  Readers, take notes.

AVaaS is the OPPOSITE of what most AV companies call “Service”.  Say the word “service” to most integrators, and they will think “some old client called, they must have broke something, or they are otherwise unhappy, now someone has to drive over there and see what needs to be repaired, replaced, or just rebooted”

I try to explain AV as a Service using the cell phone model.  The average American cell phone user often spends a few hundred dollars on their phone, plus a monthly fee for service. Ok, I know, they mean cell service, aka coverage, but it’s the same model.

You need cell service or wifi to use your mobile devices, right?  You need the calling or chatting software, plus the other apps, to run on your phone, or it is worthless, right?  Some of those apps are free, some are a one time fee, others you might pay monthly.  Some SaaS sales models will offer the first month free, then a monthly fee, or a discount if you pay annually.  This is how you need to structure you AVaaS business.

OLD WAY: Integrator sells client conference room hardware, installation, and one time programming fee for the DSP and Control System.  Annual service plan is optional.

NEW WAY: Integrator sells the client the hardware once, or leases it to them. For the hardware to work, the client pays the integrator a monthly fee, which includes all service calls and software upgrades.  The client pay a monthly fee per room, just like you pay a monthly fee for your cell phone.  In return, they get free reports because you are now monitoring their AV systems for bulb life, energy usage, and downtime.

Savvy programmers will figure out a way to lock the AV systems if the client misses payment, just imagine the touchscreen and wall-mounted flat panel display saying…

PLEASE ENTER YOUR CREDIT CARD INFORMATION TO ENABLE AV SYSTEM

But most importantly, please remember that AV as a Service, is just that, a service! We are now in a service industry, not a sales industry. Customers can buy AV gear with a click of a mouse; what we offer our clients is our professional services. Keep that in mind the next time you get a “service call”. Instead of being annoyed, be glad your services are still needed. -pk

Like this post?  You also may enjoy “We Used To Be Heroes” by Paul Konikowski, CTS-D

Cybersecurity In Audiovisual Systems

You Should Consider Cybersecurity During All Phases Of An Audiovisual Installation

By Paul Konikowski, CTS-D

Earlier this month, the San Francisco Bay Area was graced with the presence of President Barack Obama, who was here to participate in a Cybersecurity Summit at Stanford University.  *Side note*, I am still unsure if it’s spelled as one word or two, cyber security, or with a dash, cyber-security, and the online jury seems to be rather undecided. So for the sake of brevity, I am sticking with the one-word-version, cybersecurity. *End side note*. At the aforementioned summit of cybersecurity experts, students, and information technology managers in Palo Alto, Mr. Obama signed an executive order encouraging the private sector to share cybersecurity threat information with other companies and the U.S. government.

Rising stock prices of cybersecurity software firms like Palo Alto Networks (PANW), FireEye (FEYE), and CyberArk (CYBR) have also reflected this increased level of awareness. Why? Because unlike guns or nuclear warfare, cyber hacking can happen right under our noses, for years and years, without anyone even noticing. Larger firms have realized that they need the best of the best to combat these criminals, and investors have taken notice to the growth potential of these new age software “heroes” who will do battle for a price, much like the Routiers, the early mercenary soldiers of the Middle Ages.

As audiovisual experts we also need to become IT cybersecurity experts, at least to some degree. At minimum, we have to know what risk we are adding to the network before, during, and after the AV installation. Here is a list of ways you can protect your audio, video, and control systems against theft and hackers, in no particular order:

  • Have a frank and honest discussion with the project team about cybersecurity. Find out who is in charge of the network, and who will need access to the systems.
  • Use motorized projection screens that are fitted into the ceilings to discourage theft.
  • Mount projectors using security boxes, or scissor lifts to hide them up inside the ceilings.
  • AV touch panels and camera controllers often have passwords, but are they updated?
  • Portable TVs and poorly mounted speakers are easy targets; don’t “tempt” thieves
  • Ping all projectors and flat-panel television type displays once every minute. If the display does not respond, assume it is being stolen and automatically email security
  • Interactive whiteboards, mice, and keyboards are generally trustworthy, but who is really checking that USB stick that automatically downloads this or that app to the laptops?
  • Don’t assume that the person in charge of your computer network is the best one to test the AV installation for bugs or security breach points. Hire an expert to test it.
  • Backup all files at least once a day to a secure offsite and/or cloud storage facility.
  • Microphones and tableboxes should be periodically checked for James Bond type “bugs” that can listen to private meetings. It’s not always the newest technology that you need to worry about!
  • Videochat and audio conferencing suites should never be left unlocked while not in use
  • Make sure that end users know when a camera is on or when microphones are open.
  • Digital signage and way-finding kiosks are updated via website; use unique passwords.
  • Unfortunately, most AV equipment racks are made by just a few manufacturers, and each uses one or two different key codes in their door locks. Once you have a set of the common AV rack keys, you can open almost any locked AV equipment rack in the U.S.
  • “Security screws” can also limit the amateur thefts, but any real crook will have tools.

These are just a portion of the areas that the AV Design Engineer and Project Manager need to address during a project. The real problems are the bugs and “holes” that are accidentally left in a program, that nobody catches, mainly because, no one is looking for them. That is why it is critical that today’s AV integration firms hire a well-trained, experienced QA (quality assurance) department who will double-check the engineer’s design, the programmer’s code, and the completed installation.

We all make mistakes, its human nature. And even when we don’t make mistakes, we certainly overlook things that others might catch. Having someone else check your AV design, bug test your code, or evaluate your network or website for cybersecurity threats will always uncover more than checking it yourself.  If you are not putting up “constant vigilance” against the hackers, and paying an expert to test your systems, then you are just living in denial, thinking that your systems are working properly and secure. If these hackers can break into insurance companies and Target, you have to assume that they are trying to hack into your systems as well, (or that they already have!)

constant vigilance