Focusing on Vision

In AV, we are sometimes very product-focused. Manufacturers build best in class products and then engage a dealer channel to make sure those products have a solid strategy to get into the marketplace. Integrators get trained on how the product works, many times engaging with the manufacturers to become certified in the installation and/or programming of the products. Then the integrators websites proudly display a list or set of logos of all of the manufacturers’ products that they install and integrate. Technology, as it seems, is the core from which we think about and describe our businesses, whether from the manufacturing or integration side, and the products make up quite a bit of that description.

At this point, many of you are saying —

“Mark, of course technology is a large part of our vernacular. Technology is what makes these systems work and the delivery of that technology from both a product quality and integration standpoint are essential to our success.”

To answer that, I first want to draw your attention to the work being done at MIT’s Tangible Media Group and the Vision statement that drives it.

“From the three approaches in design research: technology-driven, needs-driven and vision-driven, we focus on the vision-driven approach due to its lifespan. We know that technologies become obsolete in ~1 year, users’ needs change quickly and dramatically in ~10 years. However, we believe that a clear vision can last beyond our lifespan.”

Products change quickly which means product-focused businesses will have to constantly reevaluate their overall business strategy and direction. Companies that develop the skillsets to do proper needs analyses and that take a needs-based approach can dramatically lengthen that cycle and potentially even get away with doing five-year plans to roadmap their business.

My guess would be that if you took the total number of manufacturing and integration companies in AV, you’d find they follow the 80/20 rule.

Eighty percent are most likely product- or technology-focused. In manufacturing, they are the fast followers. The companies releasing me too products six months after everyone else and their value proposition is usually cost savings, most likely passed on from not doing much R&D themselves. In integration, these are the companies doing labor-only installations of OFE gear or the companies bidding 45 lines of a spreadsheet, regardless of what those lines include.

Then there are the 20 percent that are needs-driven. These are the manufacturers doing their own R&D, introducing new products, hopefully, based on customer empathy research done with their end user and integration customers.  These companies introduce products and solutions that slice bread better, not just cheaper. They typically enjoy short time frames of prosperity based on the novelty of their newly introduced solutions, at least until the 80 percent catch up or figure out how to circumvent their IP. On the integration side, these are the tried and true design-build firms — integrators who develop relationships with their customers and learn where technology can improve their day-to-day business. These integrators are also typically well versed in managed services, giving their clients a consistent and reliable experience over the course of the intended life of the technologies and products being utilized in the current environment.

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My question is: How many AV companies, manufacturers and integrators alike, are vision focused? Can there even be such a thing in an industry that is so reliant on underlying technology, even if your company does have a needs-based approach?

Most of the discussion I see out in the space about the shift in focus of our industry association to experiences seems to be rooted in this same question.

Developing businesses based on vision is hard. It requires you to be open to realities that do not yet exist and requires a company to strike a delicate balance between the execution of existing strategy in the short term while still maintaining a focus on the horizon to see where the currents may be going to push your company in the future.

Many business consultants and coaches describe this conflict all the time when looking at businesses that fail to scale or fail completely. The management of the company can become so involved in the day-to-day execution of production, marketing materials, trade show organization, etc. that there is no one on the bridge actually steering the ship. The captain, therefore, becomes a deckhand and somehow everyone is surprised when the ship capsizes.

Experience in many ways is a vision-focused goal. It is a very fluid and subjective way to judge success in a business or industry, and for that reason, it scares the living daylights out of many technology people who want flow charts and concrete data.

I was talking about this from a trade show perspective with a friend earlier today. It is easy to take a product-focused approach to a show. You need a black tablecloth and a collection of boxes in a pelican case to set on top. A needs-based approach requires a little more effort to showcase a complete system or idea based on a particular application, like a huddle room for example. But having a vision for the future and creating an experience takes time, resources, and… vision. If a trade show that lasts a few days can take this type of effort, then how much harder is it for an integrator or manufacturer to base their businesses on vision?

I honestly don’t think there is one easy answer to any of this, but I know intuitively that NOT thinking about our businesses on this level surely leads to failure or constant reactive decision making, which causes turmoil in the long run, both for our businesses and our clients.

My challenge is to try to think about your business from a vison-based perspective. Is there a higher calling for you and your firm that goes beyond current market needs and existing technology? If there is, what mileposts in will you keep an eye out for to create a map from your current business to the vision-based approach?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on companies in our industry that you think have the best opportunities to execute on vision. Please use the comments below to let me know your thoughts.