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Opinion: enterprising collaborations

Corporate AV continues to blossom, says columnist Rob Lane.

It’s been a while since I’ve written here about enterprise (or corporate) AV, but June’s acquisition (subject to regulatory checks by Q3 end) of Datatec’s Westcon-Comstor North American and Latin American business by Synnex for a reported $800m – along with 10% of the Westcon EMEA and APAC business for around $30m – got me thinking.

Over the last few years, many traditionally experiential-leaning AV integrators have been expanding their businesses into the enterprise sector – the key collaboration market – and this year’s ISE was undoubtedly the most collaboration-flavoured yet (although huddle spaces and videoconferencing tech is still dwarfed by LED displays, projectors and the like in Amsterdam).

For distributor Synnex, of course, the main attraction of the Westcon-Comstor distribution package was Cisco. Ahead of the purchase, Synnex was the only North American distributor not carrying the tech giant. A massive 44% ($2.16 billion) of Westcon’s overall sales derive from its Cisco-exclusive Comstor business.

Unique opportunity

Synnex recognises the importance of the sort of business Cisco brings to the table: mainly enterprise space, of course – which Synnex is no stranger to. As Kevin Murai, Synnex’s president and CEO, stated: “We believe this is a unique opportunity that is transformational to Synnex and is aligned to our strategy of positioning the business to where technology is growing.” And where is it “growing”? Murai’s closing statement clarifies things: “Westcon-Comstor is a recognised leader in the security, UCC and networking space.”

Indeed, both distributors are set to benefit from the marriage, due to their obvious sector strengths. Synnex majors in SMB (small-to-medium business), public sector, retail, and enterprise; Westcon Comstor is also strong in enterprise, as well as global service providers and federal.

Dolph Westerbos, CEO of Westcon-Comstor, said: “Synnex is an undisputed leader in IT distribution, particularly in North America. Their breadth of customers and technology solutions will be a tremendous benefit to our portfolio. This transaction not only brings together two complementary businesses, but also two similar cultures around employee and customer success.”

The two companies are set to operate under a single go-to-market structure, “ensuring that vendor partners and solution providers receive the same levels of service with no disruptions,” according to Weston.

The likes of AVMI prefer to be recognised as tech integrators rather than mere AV integrators

Basically, any AV integrators who haven’t already cottoned on to the fact that enterprise is hot for AV tech need to wake up – fast. It’s not just a question of budgets (although corporates do tend to have deeper pockets than, say, retail, at the current time), rather a change in mindsets. The ongoing – and game-changing – convergence between what used to be the traditional AV and IT industries continues to have a huge effect on the adoption of AV tech in corporations. Where AV tech was once mistrusted by the IT and facilities management brigade, it is now being specified in exactly the same way as more typically IT-facing kit. It’s not quite as simple as that, of course (security is still an issue in some areas), but this does go a long way to explaining enterprise’s new relationship with AV.

Huge value

Cisco, of course, is part of this trend. A traditionally IT-facing company, and still the global leader in IT and networking, it has become as important to enterprise and IT-savvy integrators as it has to distributors such as Westcon and Synnex. UK company AVMI, for instance, sees huge value in its position as a ‘Cisco Master Collaboration Partner’.

Of course, what was once considered the ‘AV industry’ has started to meld, seamlessly in some cases, with IT – its much, much bigger tech cousin. Indeed, the likes of AVMI prefer to be recognised as tech integrators rather than mere AV integrators. It’s an increasingly significant distinction.

But what really matters is that integrators – whether they consider themselves ‘AV’ or ‘tech’ – have their beady eyes on enterprise, because this is one market, as Synnex knows all too well, that isn’t about to slow any time soon.

As research by Wainhouse Research, Hoovers, Herman Miller and Futuresource concluded many months ago, the UK alone has a market potential of 4.3 million meeting spaces. Food for thought for integrators, whether they’re Cisco savvy or not.