Whether your firm has joined the chorus touting “AI” or is more conservatively accurate in the programming of “machine learning,” there’s a non-stop buzz in the industry around the advancements of computing power and advanced algorithms used to analyze dizzying amounts of data from an ever-expanding networked technology install base. Either way, an opportunity for the audiovisual (AV) industry is the chance to both connect to these devices and capture useful information for providing next-level service, support and even new sales from data trends and insights.
“If it’s written in Python, we call it machine learning; if it’s written in PowerPoint, we call it AI.” – Rob Thomas, General Manager of Data & AI, IBM
That quote is funny and clever, but what it emphasizes is the public’s acceptance of the term AI. From consumer to commercial, the implications of learning from massive amounts of data is on the minds of manufacturers, integrators and vendors alike. It’s likely that most AV firms have already tapped into the logical connections and have been doing so for years: on-premises networks with AV gear attached through control systems. Now that we’re greater than 20 years into the 21st century, the connectivity has shifted to the Internet and the ability to operate, observe and troubleshoot is one of the highest value propositions for selling new AV systems or upgrading existing infrastructures to allow for always-on connectivity.
The Upside of Access
With great connectivity comes great responsibility. It’s not something said to Peter Parker, but it is akin to having superpowers when the ability to access a client’s AV tech stack is a mere mobile app or browser login away. Of course, the service and support aspects for aiding clients anytime and anywhere is a smart profit center for savvy AV vendors, but the real opportunity comes in the proactive maintenance and preemptive troubleshooting that can largely be automated with ease. Back when venues like network operation centers were one of the few 24/7 99.99999% up-time AV installations, the costs were sky-high. Now that same level of up-time is possible through automated checks and maintenance logs that are generated and sent well ahead of failure.
Commercial clients can now expect high uptime as nearly a standard offering. Yet with machine learning, the opportunities extend well beyond break/fix and preventative maintenance. It’s now possible to understand utilization patterns and create a trend analysis to not only provide prescient service but also create new sales opportunities for upgrades and replacements well in advance of failure or obsolescence.
How many vendors reading this could easily pull a prioritized, date-matched report showing the full inventory of AV gear in any/every client and know to generate automated notifications to sales about any replacements and updates to nearly outdated technology that was installed years ago? Likely the answer is “not many.”
The Cons of Knowing So Much
While the upsides are plenty, there some clear issues to consider. Chief among these is privacy and security, which go hand-in-hand for most situations described herein. There’s a line between proactive maintenance and concerns about jacking into a client’s network to access their AV technology.
And though sales and marketing will be swooning to get their hands on this kind of client intel, it isn’t hard to imagine how clients might respond negatively to big-brother-ish “so, we noticed your gear needs updating” messaging used without both permission and context. If people are already weird about how retargeting works with marketing today (search for a product only to find it popping up everywhere else you go online), knowing about their AV investment also needs a conversation to establish permission and the client’s level of comfort with vendors tapping into their systems unannounced.
An easy step is to begin including specific verbiage in the sales contracts to have the client approve this kind of proactive support. With their early blessing, it’s both a value-add and sets the expectation that access to their AV systems is possible for their benefit.
Information and Power
The axiom that information leads to knowledge and that knowledge is power rings true in the context of access and availability to client systems and the associated data. The greater the access, the greater the amount of data that can be pulled from a client’s AV system, the greater the risk and potential liability.
The opportunity for the AV industry to get ahead of this and provide some guidance and governance around this would be wise. In the interim, vendors will continue to take the chance to both connect to these devices and capture useful information for providing next-level service and support. It’s just a matter of time before they’re mining client systems for new Sales leads, and while that’s not a bad thing, it could be unwelcome by a significant number of clients.
AI or machine learning? While it’s more than semantics from a technology standpoint, that point is moot when it comes to leveraging the data to make informed decisions. The question is: by whom?