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Opinion: the future is AV as a Service

Managed services and a more IT-literate procurement process are the next steps for AV integrators, says CDEC's Spiros Andreou

AV as a Service has been talked about in this industry for some years now with many integrators beginning to offer managed services to their clients. We’ve always tried to be at the forefront of this as I think it’s undeniable that the future is in service and support rather than unit sales. Traditional equipment supply and install is breaking down, there’s no margin left, and the barrier to entry is low for new local competitors, so much so that many integrators are now selling kit at near cost to focus on service and maintenance contracts.

This combined with another major change in the sector, the ‘IT-ification’ of AV, has meant G Cloud has been coming up in conversations recently. A UK government initiative, the G Cloud framework is designed to make procurement of cloud services easier for public sector bodies – suppliers describe the services they can provide, and buyers simply search the G-Cloud catalogue to find the service that best meets their needs.

Huge opportunity
As IT continues to invade the AV world, I’m having more and more conversations with CIOs, CTOs and IT managers who are more used to this style of procurement than the traditional AV frameworks which are overly focused on product. When it comes to engaging with IT departments, speaking their language and working in a way that suits their style is crucial if we are to bridge the gap between how AV and IT operate, and benefit from the huge opportunity the IT sector represents. With the vast majority of meeting rooms now equipped by IT departments rather than AV managers, we believe G Cloud has the potential to disrupt the sector while also offering added flexibility to the integrator who can target the IT industry without a protracted procurement process and without having to be on tender frameworks where service is still an afterthought.

We’ve joined G Cloud 10 with a number of disruptive technologies covering cloud-based digital signage and AV control and management systems. These systems have the potential to transform the industry with their low cost of ownership as well as the added flexibility and reduced risk they offer. Customers will be able to come to market more quickly, and have the flexibility of scaling up or down easily and without massive costs. Should they want to grow their digital signage network anywhere in the world, we’ll be able to grow with them without massive cost or time implications for the customer; similarly there’s no need to invest in a hardware-based room control solution, when a cloud solution will do the job effectively, enabling the addition and removal of rooms with the click of a mouse. This gives organisations the ability to move campus or office, with just an internet connection needed to control their AV and BMS systems.

In the future, I see this trend developing further with more cloud-based AV and packaged solutions offering conferencing, control and more within a screen to suit meeting rooms, classrooms and many other spaces. AV devices will have AVoIP, collaboration, videoconferencing and more all built in and connecting to the cloud.

Positive outlook
All of this suggests a positive outlook for the customer as the industry heads towards its own Blockbuster moment. In IT the focus is on the user experience, making it as easy and intuitive to use devices as possible – think Netflix rather than video rental store. The customer experience is significantly better in the cloud, rather than having to rely on a specialist team to manage and operate a cabinet full of boxes, anyone can access what they need with ease. While there will always be a place for specialists, this will be more in spaces such as theatres rather than in corporates or the public sector.

But is the future less rosy for integrators, especially as they’re losing influence when it comes to specifying equipment? There is currently a big gulf between AV and IT solutions and there is a battle going on here that I believe will be won by IT on volume. IT have very different support packages and it’s worth keeping an eye on developments in this area. While the industry will continue to change, integrators that focus on the customer experience, work to ensure that IT understands their offering and evolve their business to a revenue model can be sure of exciting times ahead.