AV as a Service: Thoughts from InfoComm 2018

Earlier this month at InfoComm 2018, I was honored to present at the Interactive Multimedia & Collaborative Communications Alliance's Emerging Trends day on the topic of AV as a service, or AVaaS. At first, I thought it a simple topic... a mere accounting trick, shifting from purchase basis to a lease/rental basis for AV equipment. I couldn't have been more wrong!

As I prepared for this session by interviewing my friends and contacts among vendors, integrators, and users, I realized that AVaaS isn't just about more flexible payment options. AVaaS is about upgrading the integrator/customer relationship from equipment supplier to productivity/workflow partner. In other words, the AVaaS story has a lot more to it, tying in to bigger trends changing the way we work and a new set of expectations for the AV community.

Smart Devices, Difficult Decisions

One major trend driving the shift to AVaaS is the level of innovation we're seeing among hardware manufacturers, as seen on the InfoComm show floor. While vendors didn't showcase any real game-changing, revolutionary, new products this year, we did see a lot more than mere incremental improvements. For example, devices are getting much smarter. Video cameras, for instance, aren't just about higher pixel counts, but also "intelligent framing," which is the ability to pan/tilt/zoom automatically based on where meeting participants are situated in the room.

This is extremely cool stuff that will make a huge impact on the meeting experience. But enterprises face a tough choice: Do they buy these smart devices now, or wait for second-generation of this technology, which is sure to come soon.

Vendors are doing their best to protect end-user organizations by doing a lot of their development in software that they can push out to update room devices. This approach helps to some extent. Your meeting room video camera, microphones, projectors, touchscreens, etc., may all work better now than when you purchased them, due to software updates. But this protection can only extend so far. With next year will come more powerful chips and better hardware design. Vendors will have new hardware products that will be more powerful, and enterprises with today's hardware will feel left behind.

Shift to Team Focus

Protecting customers from fear of missing out (FOMO) on new hardware is enough of a motivator for integrators to change their entire sales models, but it's not the only part of the AVaaS story. Historically, integrators served to resell vendors' hardware to customers. Business collaboration gear was complicated, and enterprise AV/IT teams needed expert assistance to choose and procure the right systems for their meeting rooms. If today's AV/IT teams no longer have the stress of the purchasing decision thanks to AVaaS, they can shift their focus from product specs to workflow enablement.

There's a lot to unwrap in that last statement.

Many of my session attendees, both customers and integrators, told me they've started this journey. They all said that the most exciting part of it, and the part of my presentation that they really related to, was the discussion about the shift from reselling products to enabling workflows. The new "millennial workflow" isn't just for millennials anymore. We must enthusiastically support the new project/team approach to work, and the new expected work/life balance, or watch our best talent leave for greener pastures. This means changes to our workspaces to ensure easy and constant access to project materials and team members in a natural, comfortable, collaborative experience. But don't expect to find a one-size-fits-all "kit" to enable this; you'll need to customize on a room by room, and team by team, basis.

This changes the fundamental relationship between integrator and customer. The discussion no longer can start with, "Hey, let me show you the latest gizmo and explain why you need one in each of your 500 meeting rooms." The discussion now must start with, "Tell me which of your teams are using this space, and walk me through their workflows. Then we can bring in some tools to design a space that empowers them to work the way they really want to be working."

This shift changes the nature of the expertise expected from integrators. It won't be enough that they know how to program the latest room control panels. They'll need to understand the dynamics of various team workflows and meeting styles in order to support today's working teams on a custom basis.

Benefits All Around

Everyone will benefit from this shift to AVaaS. Vendors will have more assurance that the next generation of their hardware will find homes in customer locations via existing AVaaS contracts. End-user organizations will have no more FOMO, and a much better relationship with their integrators, whose role shifts from salespeople to productivity enablers. Even the integrators will benefit, although they do have to do the hard work in the short term to change their business models. In the long run, integrators will have a more stabilized and predictable revenue through recurring service contracts than their current model of always hunting for the next big sale.

My big takeaway after four days of chatting about AVaaS with InfoComm attendees is that it's a lot more interesting than a mere business model shift. This isn't just something about which the accounting department has to worry. This is about changing the very role of the AV industry from technology providers to workflow enablers. The results of this will go far beyond increased ROI for our AV gear. We may be the catalyst for a new era of team productivity, and that is something to really get excited about.