In sales, your best client is likely the one who buys repeatedly and recommends you consistently. For a long time, I had two of my best clients fit this description while I was in sales; one was a large airline, the other was a large church. What these two organizations had in common was a need for fully integrated audio, video and lighting (AVL) in multiple venues. I submit that today with the advent of the Internet of Things (IoT), it should be easier to have more than just two best clients for any AVL systems integrator. I submit to you today that churches and the Internet of Things have a future together.
Integration Surpasses Box Sales
One of the systems integration firms I worked for years ago had one of the largest online box sales websites as another business unit. The online sales team had a nice sales pipeline of inbound leads pouring in through web forms and, most importantly, phone calls. The presence of a salesperson on a call helped to sell (and up-sell) more than the online order forms. In spite of the tremendous success of this ‘box sales’ model, the online ordering could never do what we did: integrate the AVL purchases.
You have have heard it said that online AVL sales are the future in a highly competitive and commoditized market space. Amazon may be the ultimate example of online vs. brick-and-mortar when it comes to consumer goods, but commercial level sales will always benefit from your greatest advantage: you. There’s room at the table for both online purchases and integration sales.
Once you’re highly competent in your craft, you can give away all that you know freely; for it is the way you know that can’t be duplicated.
Systems integration is about knowing how to bring their existing AVL tech stack into the future and knowing the best way to enable volunteer operation and future growth. How you know that is greater than a signal flow diagram. It is about understanding the pain points and desired outcomes church leaders have for interruption-free operation.
Sometimes, I see systems integrators advertising ‘free’ systems design with the purchase of equipment. This is a box-sales mentality that doesn’t offer the systems design as a value; it lowers it by making it free. As a dollar amount, free is terrific, but it actually lowers the value proposition by prioritizing price instead of elevating integration.
IoT Is a Game-Changer
Most of the fuss about the Internet of Things (IoT) has been focused around consumer home electronics. At it’s core IoT is about connecting things in simple, relevant and timely ways so that the user benefits from the power of connected automation (“smart appliances”). The genesis of this in the AVL industry has been automation control that made Crestron and AMX standards for integration. It is up to the manufacturers to build in the connectivity and narrow artificial intelligence (AI) to look for certain actions and behaviors to make their AVL gear ‘smart’ and connected in a way that benefits users currently do not expect. From pre-ordering (or at least notifying) consumables and self-diagnosing recurring issues through automation scripts to identifying usage patterns and presenting recommended energy savings, all of this can point to a unified mobile/desktop app to bridge the user experience for disparate technologies into a useful user interface with pre-emptive actions handled via automation.
Note that this is a departure from notification status alerts. Monitoring can only point to what’s already happened. Predictive analytics built into the systems themselves provides users with a new level of awareness to change the behaviors of old habits into new patterns of usage.
Consider the implications for multi-site churches managed by a technical director who could have the power of a unified AVL system that exceeds today’s power-up and power-down cycles as glorified touch panel on/off switches with a connected system that self-manages certain operational aspects and gives helpful suggestions resulting in improved efficiency, accuracy, and economic benefit in addition to reduced human intervention.
There is an impending need for a way to manage the large amounts of data from diverse locations with the consequent necessity for quick aggregation of the data and an increase in the need to index, store, and process such data more effectively. In my opinion, there is opportunity for a consortium of AVL industry leaders to present a unified architecture to link the existing technology infrastructures (DANTE, CobraNet, DMX, SMPTE, NetLinx, Cresnet, etc.) into a cross-communication, translation hub. Using the scalable infrastructure of something like Amazon Web Services, the growth potential and data aggregation and analysis is exponential.
Selling the Future
Of course, what I’ve described above doesn’t exist today. But don’t let that stop your integration firm from considering how to redefine your value proposition from connecting equipment to fully integrating systems for the scalability of church technology infrastructure and management. How you do that will largely depend upon how you can add a new layer of integration expertise into a unified user interface (UI), likely via AMX or Crestron, that goes beyond system control to system visibility.
Your best church clients would likely allocate budget today if they could have a holistic view of their audio, video, and lighting systems in one place; even better if it can help them operate in a more unified and consistent way with greater efficiency, easier operation and lower operating costs.
The shift towards this future begins with how firm markets and positions your business to churches. The changes are notable, such as focusing on what’s in it for the church when they fully integrate and automate more than operation (what most do today at some level) and shift into macro-level objective views of systems performance. This has the added effect of focusing on certain brand and technologies that support robust network connectivity, which further polarizes the online box-sales commodity model away from an integrated solution, forcing churches to consider the short-term gain of low-cost equipment against the long-term advantages of a unified system.
The future of ‘things,’ as it pertains to the AVL industry, is an inviting opportunity to add greater value to systems integration through intuitive automation and the analysis of data through an ever-increasing network of connected devices. Churches, like other vertical market clients, will benefit from the manufacturers and systems integrators that help them predict, analyze and visualize their AVL systems.
How do you see the Internet of Things affecting AVL systems in the HoW market? Share your views and opinions in the comments below.