Budget, Inventory and ‘Standards’

ptz camera classroom

For years, I have been the poster child for standards in classrooms. I have made this argument for a very long time at my school and through talks and at conferences. The arguments for standardization are powerful and plentiful. The ability for staff to only need to be focused on a certain family of products is valuable when staffing resources are limited. Programming time is most efficient when you can reuse modules and layouts and previous programs. Customer experience is improved when they see the same thing in every space they walk into. Finally, after years of being on a set of standards, schools have a pool of used equipment that can quickly and easily be substituted for broken equipment.

At the school I am at, we standardized on Crestron over 18 years ago. All of the above has proven to be true over those 18 years. However, Crestron communicated in February that they will be raising their prices again! This is after an across-the-board price increase of 10% just over one year ago. This time there is a scattered price increase from 5-15% and affects a number of the products (touch panels, matrix, processors) that would be most popular in higher ed. Combined with the price from a year ago, this means that the majority of the products we buy will have increased 25% over the course of the year. As a smaller school, we may spend $100,000 per year with Crestron out of our operating budget. That is $25,000 less in product we can upgrade from a year ago.

You should read the Creston announcement for yourself, as there are caveats in it, like that the price increase takes place at the end of March, and current prices will hold for anything ordered before that and shipped within the year. Yes — take a moment to re-read that; the supply chain is still so bad that they are readily addressing the fact that much of this equipment will not ship out for a year.

Another facet of this situation is that many colleges and universities have skipped a year or more of regular classroom upgrades because they could not get the equipment.

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Let me recap all of this for you. Prices are up anywhere from 15-25% over the course of one year. Higher ed institutions will likely have requests for cutting internal budgets in the range of 5-10%. When you order the equipment, you don’t have any idea when it will arrive, and you have done minimal regular maintenance over the past two years. It is clear to me that this is not sustainable.

It is time for higher ed institutions to start looking at alternative options for their classroom designs. It also provides an opportunity for a company that is willing to change the typical business model. Currently — every company sells a black box that does what it is programmed to do. We can customize it, but we have to work inside of that company’s parameters. Whether it is Crestron or any of the other control companies, moving from one walled garden to another only kicks the real problem down the road. We need a company that is willing to sell us that box and allow us to write our own programming in the language we choose.

I thought for a while before writing this blog. Crestron has always been an amazing partner and I have had some great friendships and working relationships with some Crestron folks. This blog is not meant to attack a company that has been a bedrock of this industry for several decades. I also recognize that Crestron, due to its size and dominance, tends to get more public discussion on these issues. Many other companies have similar issues. Rather, it is simply addressing the challenges that so many of us have right now in higher education. I wish Crestron well, and hope that it continues to grow and thrive. I hope that many of the issues raised in this blog go away over the next year. But, for in-house integrators who are responsible for technology and budget in their schools, I think it is high time to rethink the concept and value of “standards.”