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Solutions replace technology as the focus at ISE 2017

For a show as huge and diverse as ISE has become, it might seem like a fruitless exercise to try to discern the emergence of any single major theme, writes Ian McMurray. However, both Brad Grimes, director of communications for InfoComm, and Dave Pedigo, VP of emerging technologies at CEDIA, believe that two have emerged.

“I’ve had a number of conversations with our exhibitors, and an important shift in our industry is becoming increasingly clear,” says Grimes. “We’re starting to go beyond the technology, and pivot towards the solution. What does this achieve? What outcome will the customer get from this?”

He cites as an example some remarkable technology that Avocor is demonstrating which sees IR embedded in the glass of the screen. “But,” says Grimes, “the people at Avocor are emphatic: they’re looking to provide a solution. They’re entirely focused on the customer experience.”

For Pedigo, the overriding impression from the show is the move towards voice as the user interface to the smart home – a phenomenon currently driven largely by the Amazon Echo and Google Home. He acknowledges that that will take more time in Europe, given the limited availability of the Echo and as-yet-unavailability of Home – but is certain it will happen.

“It’s all about use cases,” he says. “There are just so many occasions when it’s easier to use your voice than a control panel, remote or app. Those won’t go away, of course – people like things they can touch – but now, the industry is able to give our users even more choice. Voice is complementary to what they already have.”

Delivering a better experience
That fundamental idea of exciting technology being seen, not as something in its own right, but as something that provides a valued solution and delivers a better experience to users, is one that both Grimes and Pedigo see as a significant change in the industry.

“Our customer is no longer just the AV guy at the end user,” continues Grimes. “What we’re delivering as an industry is now widely seen by our customers as part of their enterprise technology strategy. What we’re doing is of enormous interest to CIOs and IT managers. What they’re focused on is ROI, productivity – and solutions, and they’re the people who are going to be writing the cheques that will keep our industry going.”

Both men see an important – and shared – challenge. Technologies such as Alexa can be seen as symptomatic of a shift towards standards. In a world that has historically prided itself on its ability to deliver custom solutions, that can perhaps be seen as threatening.

“In reality, it’s an opportunity, believes Grimes. “As an industry, we need to understand where our skills really lie. We deal in environments and experiences, and the interaction between audio, video, acoustics, lighting and so on. That’s our area of expertise – and it has no less value in a standards-based world than it did before.”

Pedigo agrees. “What custom installers must realise that they bring isn’t so much those technical skills, but a real understanding of how to deliver to a home owner exactly the right solution that precisely meets that home-owner’s needs,” he says. “That can be in the simplest of things – adopting good practice for voice control, for example – that can make a big difference to the end result.”

The last word goes to Grimes.

“When it comes to ISE, it may be the technology wow factor that brings people through the door,” he laughs, “But what our customers buy is something that solves a problem for them.”