Integrators or VARs?

Over the past several years my job has evolved more and more into the IT world. This has given me an interesting opportunity to see how vendors act differently between the AV and IT areas. This hit home recently as I began to talk with value-added resellers that want to do business with my college.

My recent experiences with IT vendors is much different than previous experiences I have had with AV Integrators. For starters, they call themselves value added resellers (VARs). This may seem like a semantics issue, but I find it to be telling. They are not just selling you boxes, but rather they are selling you equipment and adding value to that equipment. Additionally, in my view, the name sounds more humble and customer-focused than “integrator.”

Let’s look at an example of how VARs can add value to computer deployment. They will put asset tags on computers, image the computers and provide us with a spreadsheet of all pertinent (serial number, MAC, etc.) information for each computer. The computers get delivered to us ready to deploy. Our staff only has to import that spreadsheet into our systems and put the computer on a staff member’s desk. This saves us hours of time and allows us to focus on other projects. That is an added value.

In the case of network installs or upgrades, they provide higher level services. They will send engineers to meet with us over the course of several days and help us plan to upgrade and think about what equipment is best. They don’t represent a single company, so they can provide multiple avenues for us, depending on budget and features that we specify. In several instances, the companies do this without directly charging us consulting fees. We are well aware that nothing in business is free, and we don’t think we are getting free engineering services. Our experiences tells us that we are getting it at a lower cost than we would get if we hired a consultant. These VARs provide the most important thing when trying to sell a product: Do we feel we receive adequate value for the price we pay?

My experience in the AV world is a bit different. First, most companies do not want to even talk about selling you boxes. I get this and I know that many people over the years have encouraged companies to get out of the box-selling business. However, I think there is still money on the table that can potentially be gained if you take the VAR approach. The first step for an AV company is to begin looking at themselves as VARs. I think that using terms like “integrator” seems to put forth the idea that these companies are the experts in the fields, and you need them if you want to do any install. It seems aggressive — if you want the equipment you need to take (and pay for) our services.

The fear with a company moving along this path is that people will take the knowledge you have shared with them and go buy equipment the cheapest way possible. I suppose there are some people out there that would do this, but I think it’s a minority. I am willing to pay more for a product if I know there is some value that comes with that higher expense. When I work on contracts with companies I let them know that obviously, I expect them to make money. If they don’t make money, they can’t stay in business and continue to offer me value.

What are some types of added services integrators could start providing? The integrators could take a room design from a client and review it. Does the specified equipment make sense? Are there other products that work well that could save money? After a room is designed, they could sell all the equipment in the design. Part of the delivery would be a spreadsheet similar to what we get with our computers. Having the information in a spreadsheet is helpful as it would allow us to start getting the equipment on our network without having to open boxes and get into systems to find the MAC address. Additionally, AV VARs could design rooms for customers. This may work well when upgrading or adding several rooms at a time. They could take it even further, receiving all the equipment to their facilities and building the racks. The racks could then be delivered to the customer as a turn-key operation. The important thing being that in the end, they deliver a product or service in which the customer perceives value.

It may be a wise time for many to start thinking about this approach. While I have not yet worked with a VAR who is offering these AV services, I know that many of them are selling AV equipment — so it’s only a matter of time before they start offering the services. Will you beat them to it?

Image via VAR Street