On Tuesday, I attended the first-ever virtual iteration of NSCA’s Pivot to Profit event — P2Pv. The National Systems Contractors Association (or NSCA, as I mentioned earlier) puts on Pivot to Profit every year, but this time around the show looked a little different. In a great way. My recap from Tuesday’s event is here, and I’m back today with another story detailing what we learned on day two of P2Pv — Pivot to Profit Virtual — this Wednesday.
Before I dive in, a quick aside … because I’m writing this article, so I make the rules here.
This year, rAVe has been attending a lot of virtual events and digital trade shows. We even designed and built a virtual show platform from scratch to host events ourselves — the experiences coming to life as LAVNCH WEEK, LAVNCH WEEK 2.0 and LAVNCH EMEA. I’ve learned so much at these events; I can honestly say I’ve gotten more industry news, deep product education and thought-leadership this year than I had at traditional trade shows since I started working for rAVe in 2012. (My first-ever AV trade show was ISE 2013 in Amsterdam. Blast from the past, right?)
I say that I’ve gotten more education at virtual events this year not because these virtual events are better than in-person trade shows. I say it because, typically, the thing we’re all focused on on the show floor is perusing the products and stands! How could you not be distracted by all the bright, shiny LEDs and the gorgeous projection mapping and the intricate booth setups with the beer out front (as soon as it hits 4 p.m.)?
But this year, in a virtual format, we’ve all been urged to stay at home (or maybe you’re in the office with a scaled-down team), forced to do things differently. This year, the AV industry has had to be inventive in how it moves forward and makes industry connections. Manufacturers have had to find creative ways to introduce and show off new products in a digital format. Distributors have had to find ways to connect their vendor partners to end users and show their value. And they’ve all done it with grace. The point: It’s been amazing to see all this transformation and how the industry has stepped up to the plate in 2020. P2Pv was a fantastic opportunity to see firsthand how the industry has pulled through what’s been a challenging year.
Spiel finished. Thanks for listening!
Keynote: 2020 Legislative and Regulatory Challenges with Emerging Technology
The first session of P2Pv day two was all about legislation. And sometimes, unfortunately, business-crushing legislation.
The low-voltage AV industry is being targeted as many states are pushing laws that limit businesses’ ability to legally do work integrators are likely qualified to do. Keynote panelists — including Joseph Lee of Cisco, Ron Tellas of Belden and John H. Daniels of BICSI, with NSCA’s Chuck Wilson as our moderator — presented the challenges and opportunities for integrators among emerging innovations (like 5G; DAS; IP-enabled building automation; PoE, Power over Ethernet; low-voltage LED lighting; and IoT sensors/applications). The caveat is that these emerging innos can either disrupt integrators’ current business or enable more opportunity. So which is it?
“What we do [in AV] is really, really important; it’s mission-critical,” Wilson started.
The systems we work on are vital. What comes with that, naturally, is a regulatory environment. AV associations have been working together to make sure the environment we work in is effective, for business profitability. The Connected Technologies Industry Consortium, for example, (happening this year on Oct. 12) brings together various like-minded organizations through the NSCA to plan for 2021 legislation. Through this, the NSCA and businesses hope to educate legislators on what the technology concerns may be.
Wilson’s favorite slide, on what AV integration includes:
Keep in mind, all these technologies are well within the scope of the AV “integrator.” And how we connect it all together:
All these endpoints have become critical for building efficiency, safe buildings and more. In fact, “Connectivity itself has become mission-critical,” Wilson added.
Wilson continued, posing a question to the panel: Should we be more concerned than we are?
“One of the roles of government is to protect the health and welfare of the population,” Daniels responded.
If the government feels these are at risk, they intervene through regulation. When we’re implementing new technologies, such as what we’re seeing with PoE and IoT, what inevitably happens is unintended consequences. It’s not that they want to burden us, he added, but they’re trying to protect the health and welfare of the population. Our job is to be aware of what’s going on in legislation, then stay abreast of it to be able to respond appropriately. “If you’re not doing that,” Daniels argued, “then you’re actually putting your business at risk.”
Lee shared that an easy way to get involved, in addition to getting involved with NSCA and following the association’s legislative tracking, is to stay involved with your local city. Track regulation via the public works department and city council — even if it’s just signing up for policy updates via email. More importantly, once you’re involved in this legislative process, reach out to manufacturers and integrators, who can be partners to you. If you’re writing a letter on behalf of the business, for example, these companies can help get boots on the ground to be an extra set of eyes and ears to your testimony. Also, don’t forget the follow-up with all stakeholders: government chairs, local officials, etc.
Chuck Wilson’s call to action to the low-voltage AV market: stay informed, and get involved. Specifically:
- Engage with your trade associations, like AVIXA, BICSI, CEDIA and NSCA.
- Get involved. Your participation throughout the legislative process is vital.
- Go to local town hall meetings, and respond to action alerts.
- Know your legislative leaders (Senate & House) and ensure they know about your business.
- Keep providing your important perspective on technology and how regulations impact the adoption of technology.
Additional legislation challenges discussed on the panel today include standards, privacy concerns, untested user interfaces, public safety, cyber concerns and risk elevation. This important keynote helped us understand what’s at stake for integration businesses and what actions we can take in a rapidly changing world.
P2Pv Breakout Sessions
Customer Experience Linked to Innovation and Advanced Service Models
After a great day two keynote, the event’s breakout sessions proceeded. The first breakout session featured two guests: Peter O’Connor — principal, director of technology design, at Hoefer Wysocki — and Hannah Mey, associate VP of clinical technology solutions at Hoefer Wysocki. The theme at hand: the customer experience linked to service models.
Taking into account various points of view — client, end user, integrator, IT manager — it’s clear that end-user adoption and mindsets are now clearly embedded into new business models; end users have become more knowledgeable, too. The product pitch of yesterday is now creating a business case. How do we ensure each solution we provide is a sound investment for our clients?
Topics discussed by the duo:
- Earning a seat at the “big table”
- Technology life-cycle planning and managed services
- Investing in your business
- Advanced technology and collaboration solutions
- Changing an industry — how do we better it in both the integration and design world?
“So often we get caught up in the day-to-day hustle … but who are we as a company? What is our mission?” Mey said. The integrator is the glue between the manufacturer and the customer. For healthcare specifically, per Mey’s background as a nurse, she’s seen everything from antiquated technology that’s maximized to advanced technology that isn’t. Mey urged that we need to understand the landscape — like actual unit layout — before implementing a system.
Here’s an example:
Identifying patients by color in her diagram, Mey explained how a great design needs to identify whether the AV system/unit is centralized or decentralized. Look at the environment you’re going to implement to see what nurses and doctors have to do in their jobs. What are your end users, like nurses, challenged with on a day to day basis? What does the end user really want? Simplification.
The session synopsis: Discussed today were tools and approaches to get us thinking about customer experience — like technology lifecycle planning, investment strategies, audits and checklists. We talked about various ways to overcome the belief that your clients don’t want managed services, and we reiterated the rewards of cloud services and agent agreements (there is, after all, great value that comes as a result of managed services — like improved customer experiences and evidence-based cost savings).
Generating Your Own Top 10 List of Priorities for Surviving and Thriving
We’re all on the same page here — this year has been tough. We’re all doing what we can to not only survive but thrive. It’s not always easy to identify the priorities of our clients, especially today. That was the meat of today’s panel, and it’s clear integration leaders can’t afford to put their head in the sand during this COVID-19 crisis.
Session moderator Tom LeBlanc of NSCA took us through our next breakout session covering these realities; session two of today’s P2Pv was “Generating Your Own Top 10 List of Priorities for Surviving and Thriving.” I love this notion of sticking to priorities. Because if we try to take on too much too fast, we won’t survive (or thrive). Presenters also included Bruce Kaufmann, president and CEO at AV consultancy Human Circuit, and Laurie MacKeigan, president at Backman Vidcom (based out of Canada).
“As leaders, we need to be honest with ourselves and consider what the worst-case scenarios could be … [one of those is] cash,” MacKeigan said. We need to be realistic about how long the impact could be.
“In the worst-case scenario, I think you have to be constantly looking at what and who are income and revenue-producing, versus what and who are NOT revenue-producing,” Kaufmann added. We need to be constantly reassessing on a regular basis.
“In the worst case scenario, I think you have to be constantly looking at what and who are income and revenue producing” — Bruce Kaufmann
— rAVe [PUBS] (@rAVePubs) September 23, 2020
A few strategies the panel offered:
- Cross-training; while it could be an uncomfortable conversation, that shouldn’t prevent you from doing it
- Gather detailed business intel; look at verticals that are in an upswing
- Don’t cut marketing; make it more personalized
- Practice what you preach; this takes constant communication, taking the industry “pulse”
- Reimagine your role in solving customers’ needs
Important here are driving new revenue streams, pivoting in sales/marketing, improving processes and implementing new business rules.
“The plan is out the window, so to speak,” Kaufmann said.
In this chat, we learned that increased success could take on a few life forms — it could be as simple as finding a new vertical market to serve or recognizing that your business can function without as much costly office space. It could also be as complex as starting over with an all-new approach or introducing spacing and health-technology strategies to help customers adapt. Keep your eyes open to reimagine your role as an AV integrator in solving customers’ needs, the panel stressed. Traditional integration strategies rely on customer growth, but that’s changed. Integrators need to figure out what their customers need now and how they fit in. This might mean a new work model too — not just relying on old strategies.
The session synopsis: Even when we get back to “normal,” our business is forever changed. This session brought up loads of great points for integrators to convert that notion to reality. Integration-firm leaders who are ready to go from surviving to thriving have many possibilities — it’s just a matter of finding them.
Closing Session: Planning for the Future — Insights from the Emerging Technologies Council
We hope you didn’t log off early before P2Pv’s closing session, a fine wrap-up to both day two and the entire event. This was an important one, too, led by Sandi Stambaugh of SYNNEX and including some friendly and familiar faces: Mark Peterson of Shen, Milsom and Wilke LLC, Kelly Harlin of NEC and Dennis Burns of Advanced RF Technologies.
The closing session, “Planning for the Future,” stressed a few things in a candid discussion — like opportunities in AV integration despite the significant challenges of the year.
Everyone’s talking about collaboration, Stambaugh started. What happens next? What key trends can we focus on?
“We’re being measured by our remote technology and remote-meeting skills,” Peterson said. “The quality of your technology is going to be a message back into the people you’re working with.”
If you really want to improve interaction, you need to improve exploration of unintended interactions, Peterson continued. Getting engaged and involved — like through events like this, Peterson said — will spark innovation. Asynchronous and synchronous collaboration is another touchpoint. Now, we have to think more about our workday’s time, our peer-to-peer time and coming together in “synchronized sessions.” We need tools within the same ecosystem to enable those workflows.
Next-level technology — things like IoT, AI and analytics — are gaining ground too.
“IoT and analytics … bring a lot of benefits for verticals,” Harlin explained. Employing IoT devices in spaces help us understand who’s in them and how users are acting in them. For every application, whether it’s people-counting or triggering content, there’s a sensor for everything, it seems. Harlin explained that partners are looking to make it even easier to integrate sensors and AI too. For a lot of customers in getting back to work, though, it’s still about understanding the basics.
Regarding this technology like IoT and AI, “I’m looking forward to this opening up,” Peterson added. Think about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: being strategic and innovative but addressing the immediate need too. Voice control is a harder lift, for instance. It’s also about having the infrastructure to support new technology like AR and VR and remote sessions. There are opportunities here for strategic growth in the virtualization of data — e.g., BYOM (bring your own meeting).
“We’ve got to come to the table with some real, documented analyses” like what you find in IoT, Peterson added.
“This is our new moment,” Peterson exclaimed.
I greatly enjoyed covering NSCA’s P2Pv and providing these wrapups to share with the AV integration industry. Lots of lessons learned, and even more great insights to share. Let’s keep doing that — sharing. Let’s keep learning from each other.
See you next time.