In the second part of our service and support feature we looked at how the role played by manufacturers differs from that of the integrator. We conclude by considering the relationship between manufacturer and integrator, as well as the growing presence of in-house IT departments in the decision-making process, writes Ian McMurray.
“I don’t see competition in providing higher levels of support and service to a client either from a manufacturer, integrator or distributor,” adds Jon Dew-Stanley, Midwich’s director of solution sales. “It’s a partnership with the combined goal of ensuring a successful deployment of technology for a client to meet their business demands and application need.”
But if all is rosy when it comes to the service/support relationship between integrators and manufacturers, what of the relationship with the in-house IT organisations that are increasingly playing a significant role in the acquisition, deployment and support of AV solutions?
“We find that where there is an in-house IT team, we become an extension to it,” notes Roland Dreesden, managing director of Reflex. “While the IT side of things demands a fairly tried and tested set of skills, AV is not yet at that stage. There are many variants of systems and products, and the skills needed, particularly on the audio side, are quite specific. We can offer additional specialist knowledge to complement the broad IT skills of the IT department.”
He has an ally in Adrian Edwards, customer services director at proAV: “Despite the forecast alignment of AV and IT technologies, we still find that there are distinct differences in support models. All the devices may sit on the client’s network; however the support models still tend to be different. For example, AV/VC support tends to be real-time, whereas IT focuses on the company’s ability to run all their services over the IT network.”
“On the whole, AVMI works well with its client’s internal IT departments and provides complementary services for AV environments,” notes AVMI commercial director Terry Wilson. “AVMI has adopted the ITIL service management framework from the IT industry to structure the delivery of its AV services. This alignment enables us to integrate more effectively with IT groups.” [ITIL – formerly an acronym for Information Technology Infrastructure Library – is a set of practices for IT service management that focuses on aligning IT services with the needs of business.]
“We’re fortunate in having our own specialist team for our unified comms and VC solutions and in most cases, once their credibility has been established, the in-house teams are usually grateful for the extra knowledge, experience and help,” declares Gareth Lloyd, marketing manager at integrator Saville.
“There are many stakeholders in an AV project and often in-house IT teams are very competent in the technologies they need,” avers Dew-Stanley. “It is essential that such clients have access to ongoing support resources to deliver their business the end result it demands, and Midwich welcomes the opportunity to be a stakeholder.”
Are there market sectors to whom provision of services by integrators are particularly attractive? It seems that it’s difficult to generalise, with much depending on each customer’s individual circumstances. Barnett notes that primary education establishments often don’t have the in-house skills or resource and, as such, are very receptive to support services. At the other end of the education spectrum, Dreesden points out that, over the past three years, Reflex has seen growing demand from universities for maintenance contracts, a function of them needing to use their rooms more frequently and for longer hours.
For Edwards, the requirement for the provision of services is more to do with the technology orientation of a customer: while technology companies will typically be more self-sufficient, encouraging users to self-help, a law firm, for example, will require a more hands-on approach from the integrator.
“There is no ‘one size fits all’ answer to who requires support services,” believes Dew-Stanley. “There continues to be a large variance in ability and skills available at any one time, driving a need to bring in support on an as-and-when basis. Even the most technically competent AV integrator can be receptive to using external resource when their own engineering resource is stretched.
Another driver is that of new technology deployments or complex AV systems that may not be a weekly occurrence for some. In these instances, services from Midwich are designed to reduce risk and ensure a successful outcome. It’s our added value.”
Reflex’s Dreesden is clear: the provision of services is a fundamental necessity for a successful integrator business.
“Ultimately,” he says, “it’s what an integrator’s business is all about. It’s our whole focus: to provide a start-to-finish service, from design to install and then support.”
The benefits of offering services are clear, and integrators have been quick to seize the opportunity. It’s not just integrators, though. Manufacturers and distributors alike are in turn developing and implementing the necessary support infrastructure that will enable integrators working with them to leverage the opportunity to add value – and, in the process, create their own unique selling propositions that make them more attractive to the channel.
In a world of products that can be difficult to tell apart, differentiation and competitive advantage can be achieved by integrators through an appropriate service offering. Increased customer satisfaction, including the provision of a ‘one-stop shop’ for support, allied to a deeper understanding of the customer’s business, unquestionably leads to repeat business. At the same time, integrator revenue becomes more stable and predictable, allowing for an improved ability to focus on the long term. Integrators are not yet ‘service economies’ – but that time may not be far away.