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Cloud-based business model

Blake Augsburger, founder and CEO of amplification specialists LEA Professional talks to Installation about the company’s birth and the industry in general

What led you to launch LEA Professional back in January 2019 and what does your background bring to the role?
I think it was largely the compelling nature of the opportunity that was presented at the time. Cloud technology had been tested in several challenging non-AV markets and had proven itself useful, reliable and, eminently enabling for big thinkers both on the integration and end-user side of IT. At the same time, we had access to some of the smartest and most experienced engineers in amplifier technology so we had a unique opportunity to couple world-class, amplifier technology with proven cloud platforms from global brands and create a professional-grade, IoT connected amplifiers that could deliver exceptional sound performance, excellent reliability and also facilitate new business models – not least service agreements via remote monitoring and management.

We knew the idea was new and strong and we were also confident that our group was uniquely positioned to realise the vision but we were surprised at the depth of interest from integrators and end-users; the positive feedback from channel partners and the wave of goodwill from the pro audio and systems integration communities.  It has been a phenomenal two years as we introduced the product, established the channel, deployed for customers and we’re now an established global player with a connected infrastructure platform.

Prior to LEA, I led and grew the largest group in pro audio and systems integration and my education is as an electrical engineer so my background provided depth on the engineering and management side of the enterprise but I also think that relationships with potential hires, channel partners and customers provided LEA with an edge over other, larger, more corporate organisations. 

How’s it going generally, and how has Covid impacted on the business?
Taking the entrepreneurial route when we did ensured we were lean, agile and, customer-centric in advance of the pandemic and lockdown. We knew our market and our business in intimate detail and we were in close contact with channel partners and customers so we could address their needs – and in many cases opportunities – in real-time with comprehensive solutions!

The pandemic has been tough on some sectors of the industry more than others and also some regions more than others and that’s difficult to observe but I am incredibly proud of our extended team at how they have stepped up to advance our plans and support dealers and end-users with products and programs that allowed the customers to pivot. Our best examples of verticals where customers accomplished more with technology than they had in years are education, transportation and the courts!  In some cases, LEA is coming out of the pandemic as the go-to provider customers count on.

What are your thoughts on the pro AV market in general, and specifically amplification?
I think that Pro AV is facing an inflection point similar to that when digital replaced analog. Networked technology is facilitating AV experiences and new AV business models in ways few would have imagined five years ago and it cannot be accomplished with prosumer technologies. Pro AV technologies and Pro AV professionals are facilitating distance learning businesses, telehealth businesses, streaming media businesses, conferencing, e-sports and many more businesses and services. 

These businesses require professional-grade reliability, performance, security and interoperability.  We recognize this at LEA and we’re unencumbered by legacy investments we need to amortize, legacy teams we need to put to work, or legacy commitments we need to honour. The future is very promising so long as you’re not rooted in the past.

I see the amplifier as a central hub of the connected infrastructure platform.  We need to deliver the amplification fundamentals first and foremost but also create feature-sets and solutions for a host of new verticals and applications. It’s an extremely exciting time and I think LEA is optimally positioned to succeed!

One development that I think is very interesting is the emergence of the Resimercial sector at the intersection of commercial AV and residential.  The sector has existed for quite a while in Europe – and is the basis of the AVIXA and CEDIA partnership for ISE – but it has gained considerable momentum in North America in the past year. We have completed a significant number of projects and continue to see strong interest.

IoT is important to you, and Dante has been a huge success. How has IoT progressed over the last few years and where do you see it heading?
IOT has certainly progressed but the potential remains immense. The industry has advanced interoperability, security and affordability and so a network-effect has momentum wherein each new connected endpoint makes the network more effective and valuable.

I think we will see more DSP processing, matrices and, importantly, analytics move from the machine room onto the cloud and that will present even greater service agreement opportunities for dealers.  With these service agreements in place, dealers will be able to provide customers with preventive maintenance that boosts uptime and lowers cost of ownership and they’ll also be able to upgrade processing capabilities with the remote click of a mouse!  That’s a compelling proposition for integrators and end-users because there will be greater capabilities, versatility and more choice.  We’re seeing the start of this in corporate conferencing and I think the potential is even greater!

Tell us about LEA Cloud. How’s it going? Integrators have had to adapt over the past 12 months and your cloud platform – ahead of the curve, it is said – has allowed them to service clients in a safe, secure way. Please tell us more.
The pandemic challenged every business to be more resilient and versatile but integrators – by virtue of the strong ties to construction and the on-site requirement – needed to be even more agile and creative in finding new programs and tools to service customers. We saw that integrators around the world quickly recognized the advantages that cloud technology afforded them in terms of connectivity, feature-set, stability and flexibility and the adaptation was swift and positive.

The LEA Professional Cloud Platform, allowed global teams to respond to the needs of their customers from home without missing a beat. With stay-at-home orders in effect, system integrators relied heavily on cloud connectivity to control and monitor critical operational data points that are integral to maintaining system health. Integrators no longer needed to roll a truck to fix a minor issue, ensuring customers are given immediate, around-the-clock support. All of this together provided a unique opportunity for new recurring revenue streams for integrators to add to their service contracts.

The interest in the Cloud Platform was strong before the pandemic but the events of 2020 accelerated adoption and I think LEA Professional was there with the right offering at the right time. For evidence of that, just look at how many of our competitors have quickly followed our lead on cloud functionality, features and even how we market the cloud offering!

How do you see the future of LEA, pro AV audio, IoT and cloud services?
I see a strong future for this business. We have an exceptional, experienced and highly committed team that doesn’t simply share a workplace, we share a mission!  The idea that we can transform Pro AV in positive and lasting ways has already been proven in the past two years and now we’re confident that we can do even more.  LEA is the only company in the world that exists at the nexus of pro audio, IoT and cloud services and I am convinced that is exactly where we need to be right now – as a company but also an industry of dealers and end-users!

The business has especially strong potential in the enterprise market as we’re well-positioned on enterprise issues like open-ness and security versus legacy AV brands. We just introduced 802.1x security protocol which is important for banks, tech campuses and government that require authentication of LANs and WANs. Integrators and IT influencers and buyers also appreciate that our Open API for TCP Strings and Websock integrates easily into third-party control systems.  Our philosophy has always been to provide dealers and end-users with choice so they can decide the best technologies for each application. This approach has yielded strong traction in the enterprise and looks set to be a growth driver going forward.

I think this outlook is shared by our channel partners and customers – even competitors who now follow our strategy and even our marketing – and that you’ll see cloud-enabled professional-grade AV support a host of important industries and functions but also support business continuity, resilience, innovation and entrepreneurship.