Article Originally posted in Commerical Integrator Magazine - September 30, 2013
A/V integrators have long worked to become a single-source contractor to clients by providing not just audio and visual controls but increased integration with lighting fixtures and environmental systems such as HVAC and shades.
Manufacturers have pounced on this and captured market share by providing complete lines of connected products to provide one-stop shopping.
There are business and technology reasons for this rise in complete and competing (and near closed) ecosystems, but there is a possible hidden danger: The commercial integrator industry may have sown the seeds for our own replacements.
It wasn’t long ago that the idea of communicating via video and accessing our audio and video libraries on our phones seemed like futuristic fantasy. Times have changed.
Over the last five years the baseline expectations for the features and functions that our devices offer as the basic operation has grown exponentially. We presume that these devices will do more for less in smaller packages and can get upgraded features with a simple wireless connection.
In fact, the trend appears to be toward replacing higher end A/V gear with a single mobile device often interfaced to a monitor when a bigger experience is desired.
Consumer manufacturers are building product lines which are not only designed to connect signals together but also to work as a single system. These ecosystem lines incorporate the ability to sense (or be told) which units are in line and handle all functions of the connected units, from power to content selection, transport and in some cases control of external systems such as lights and thermostats.
Are these systems a friend—building off a client’s comfort level to allow for up-selling the benefits of a more dedicated system?
Or are they a foe—usurping all but the highest end installs?
Consider a product such as Enblink. This USB stick connects to a Google TV box or integrated monitor and provides control of lighting, door locks, thermostats and security. Such ease of installation and setup seems like a natural choice for IT departments who are increasingly managing a greater share of commercial integration projects
Stewart Barnett of Portland, Ore.-based Interior Audio Inc., & IA-CG, which specializes in commercial, residential and marine markets, has his doubts based on product consistency and support but does see a possible concern in the growing “convergence” involvement. “I think in the next three years larger IT centric firms are going to buy A/V integrators.”
With a streamlined approach and click-and-go installation, the doorway to consumer-based products may be a threat. These consumer Ethernet-based products, however, have a long way to go, says Barnett. “In my opinion they are all beta.”
Not in Our Backyard?
Until recently, the commercial integration market felt fairly detached from the encroachment of consumer electronics devices into “integrated” systems, especially compared to how dramatically it affected residential integration.
Commercial jobs are a different animal, it was argued. The systems and devices require a certain grade of design, durability and isolation.
This was before tablets became so ubiquitous and end users started demanding the right of bring your own device (BYOD). Apple’s ecosystem of products has begun to edge its way into more commercial installations. One of the first demands from many clients is that the systems to be controlled have an app to connect multiple itinerant consumer interfaces.
Are our end clients beginning to see the line between dedicated devices and off the shelf systems as blurred? There is certainly evidence of this as dedicated touch screen sales have reportedly dropped significantly over the last few years as tablets become the preferred interface based on end user familiarity and cost.
Is this the tipping point?Many integrators express doubt that these boxes will take over. Jacksonville, Fla.-basedFultech Solutions started out as an automation company 18 years ago and has been had astrategic focus on commercial projects since 2009.
When using more consumer grade systems, says CEO Dan Fulmer, “the problem with just about any other system out there is that there is a limit. I have had the experience several times in my career; I have had to tell people point blank there is an absolute cap on what we can do [with the system. Beyond that point we have to rip the system out and start over. Wouldn’t it have been better to spend a little bit more to have that flexibility?”
The manufacturers of integration systems have a lot to factor in when considering the friend or foe questions as it pertains to consumer electronic systems. While compatibility with the latest hot product helps to drive sales of connected systems the relationship could be viewed as tenuous.
Is the wariness the same as toward industry competitors? According to URC director of business development Mitchell Klein, it’s more about assimilation than competition. URC has long been a dealer-focused manufacturer and recently has begun to gain commercial system successes with an updated product line. URC has also explored the consumer off-the-shelf market with its popular universal remotes.
“I don’t see any of these as a threat. If you are a dealer, and you have blinders on and all you are trying to do is wish that things didn’t change and stay the ways they have always been, then yes these are huge threat for you. When a standard like this comes out which enables all kinds of possibilities that were not possible before, you as a dealer you have to modify your business model plan a bit. It is still going to require a fairly high level of expertise.”
What are your thoughts?
Do you see a real threat and have you developed expanded business plans to include more recurring revenue services?
Have you begun to consider offering varying levels of gear?