Don’t Bring Me Gadgets… Bring Me Data!

By and large, our industry has four players… we have manufacturers, we have dealers/integrators and consultants (let’s be honest though, they are really two sides of a coin) and then we have the end user.Twenty years ago, a user would come to a consultant or a dealer and say… “I need a room built out!” and we’d all go to work.

Then about 15 years or so ago, the manufacturers wanted to get into that loop more directly. And as a result, they started to direct their marketing and training efforts towards end users so that the end user started to direct what equipment was to go into their builds, and let the dealers know which way they wanted to go.

As a result, we have seen a big shift towards the end user taking a larger and larger role in how systems are specified and designed. And we have seen this same pivot at InfoComm and other industry shows to not just welcome those end users… but actively court them.

However, we still have one big disconnect. For the most part, the manufacturers really understand the dealers. And it shows. What they don’t understand as much is the end users, although they are getting better. About 13 years ago, I took my first trip into the world of being an end user. And I will tell you, it was an eye opener. I started to see very clearly where some of these gaps were. But at the time… the most valuable resource to me was my Polycom Rep, Roberto Blanco. (He is at Zoom now and likely a very very happy man.) And what Roberto did that I have not had anyone else do to the same extent, is that once a month or so, he would come by my campus at Verisign, and we would just wander around and talk. I would tell him about my issues and sometimes he had ideas on how to possibly deal with them. Sometimes he didn’t and would just take that info back to his product team. Then we would go for gelato at a great place in Mountain View! (I did wonder sometimes if he just wanted to get the gelato and I was his excuse.)

The value to me was Roberto NOT selling me anything, but just listening to the issues, and taking it in and understanding my viewpoint. There were even a few times he pointed me to competitive solutions! (Sorry Roberto! But I think the statute of limitations is up, so you should be OK.)

The other day, I attended a Bay Area meeting of the AV User Group and we had a series of presentations. And one stood out above all the others. I am not going to get into which one it was, but I do want to explain WHY it was the outlier.

In the industry, we have lots of STUFF. Gadgets, widgets and thingamajigs galore. And dealers need to be intimately acquainted with all of them. Why? Well because we annoying end users bring them problems and they figure out which widget to stick in the middle to fix the problem. So in a really general sense… I am not particularly interested in widgets. Oh sure, I am a geek at heart and love that crap, but when I have a problem to solve, I look at it like this: My job is to capture the essence of what my problem is and convey that to the dealer, and the dealer’s job is to listen and bring me solutions. We do have standardization in place, and manufacturers we use and ones we don’t, but in general I count on the vendor/partner to be in the know about the gadgets.

Image via Workscape

In the grand pantheon of issues that end users have to solve, there are the widget-focused issues of getting images on screens, and sound where we want it and all that goes along with that. However when looking at my list of problems to be solved, I have two words that always come up: data and metrics. And these are harder to define to a dealer or a consultant. Not that they won’t understand them, far from it. I count on them to do so. But if you show me a machine that goes “BING!” — even if it’s the most expensive machine that goes BING! — it’s still one of many. And in the end, we will select one of the many machines that go bing in order to fix the issue.

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However, should you bring me something that gives me data, data that I can’t get from other sources, and it allows me to build metrics that I have never before been able to build… now we’re talking. You have my complete and utter rapt and focused attention. And more importantly, that widget that did some cool thing… in six months there will be a better widget and so we may switch. But if the thing you brought me is a data source, and I build applications and API integrations out of it, then guess what? That is one seriously sticky product! I may upgrade it, but the depth of the integration usually determines that I won’t be replacing it with some other alternative.

I cannot emphasize this enough… the products/solutions that matter most to me are ones that answer questions around usage/efficiency and that allow me to effect better outcomes. This includes automation, data about what is happening in the room (sensors, etc.) and implementations of AI/ML/DL that help me affect outcomes. Here are two quick examples.

  1. How many people are in the room? We see it all the time: A room seats 12, but there are only two or three people using it. With solid data around actual usage, I can implement changes in the ratios of S/M/L sized rooms and I can communicate with users that habitually book the convenient room as opposed to the RIGHT room. I can release a reservation if the room is booked but empty. I can even block a room if I see that its not reserved but people are in it. Or just extend a meeting if it’s open. These are MASSIVE issues in the world of the end user. And a fix is worth practically any cost.
  2. What’s going on in the room? How about alerting security that there is a laptop in the room but no people? How about being able to tell that the clock on the wall is on the wrong time so that we can get somebody to fix it… (that $29 clock is the timekeeper… and a broken or mistaken clock can actually have huge ramifications). Or even the ability to determine if people look confused so that we can deploy a technician.

The possibilities are endless. WITH data… we can effect change. WITHOUT data, it’s just guessing. These are just a few examples, but there are loads of other things that can potentially be done.

In the world of the end user, we constantly need to show value and ROI. It’s not enough to put in the coolest technology in the world… we have to show how well it is being used. Our world is one where we need to show the value in whatever we do. We need to be able to collect data that informs better use of the spaces and better long term decisions.

Bring me that data… and the world is your oyster!