Necessity Is the Mother of Invention

necessity mother invention

Many of us are approaching our third month of stay-at-home orders (while others on the West Coast are looking at their fourth month). We — or at least I — spend much of our time thinking/dreaming about when this will come to an end so that we can get back to a normal routine. However, as you have read and heard in many other places and publications, likely, there will never be a “new normal.”

That frame of mind will apply to our industry, too. Forward-looking firms are thinking right now about what this new normal will look like, and are beginning their pivot to meet that standard. So, let’s take a moment and think about the future — there are some things we can take for granted. Social distancing will continue for the foreseeable future (maybe as long as 18 months). Budgets for nearly all types of organizations will be tight — firms will hold onto their cash in an unpredictable economy. So, in light of these things we know to be true, what will firms need for AV? Keep in mind, reader, I don’t have all the answers, but I know that the necessity of the moment will create new ideas and creative (and technical) services.

Remote and Support Management

Many verticals in our industry have in-house AV support. Depending on the size and number of installs, these may take the form of IT people assigned to support AV or could be full AV in-house integrators. Whether we like it or not, as firms begin to assess their current situation and look for areas to save, these staff members may be seen as expendable. A significant part of in-house teams’ roles is to provide support for ongoing meetings, conferences and other events. If those events are canceled, then the staff has too much free time (in some circumstances). Needless to say, in many places, internal support also does other things, and workers’ time may filter into these secondary tasks. Either way, there are new opportunities for outsourcing AV staffing and support. Integration firms may see this outsourcing of support as a reliable way to put their own install/event teams to work. In the case of meetings and conferences that are still taking place on corporate campuses, there may be a desire from the support team to avoid crowded spaces. This is a fantastic opportunity to think about selling remote support and management services. An example: Several months back, Gary Kayye showed off a product called Teleportivity that provides those services exactly — now is an opportune time to build and offer similar functions to your customers.

Digital Signage and User Design

The above isn’t the only option to fill a hole in the market. Give consideration and imagination to digital signage and user design. We will likely need to devise ways of directing people around buildings to prevent them from being close to one another. Think about elevators, stairways, lobbies and meeting rooms. Are there opportunities here with AV technology, combined with digital signage to determine when spaces are full? Are there ways the two can direct people to other locations, or means of access? Be creative in your respective market segments — some restaurants have implemented various uses of digital signage. As we move forward and seating is limited, and long lines are prohibited, can digital signage assist with this? Can we design systems that allow establishments to share information on digital signs?

In terms of user design, we have focused on this for years. However, our ideas rely on the availability of a support person. We have also made our systems very flexible, which adds layers of complexity. Perhaps that is now changing: Is there an opportunity to direct resources in your firm to focus on designing foolproof user interfaces (not just control, but the entire system)? If firms indeed begin cutting the positions of support people, these simple spaces will be vital in keeping an organization afloat. If you aren’t already, start offering these services to your customers. Implement touch panels in spaces that can be accessed via smartphones or tablets. Begin focusing on the creative parts of the services you offer.

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I’ll preface this next part by adding, this will be way out there for many commercial integrators.

Bear with me — but what if we start considering the residential market again? Theaters have taken an enormous hit from the economic shutdown. Film producers, however, quickly pivoted to releasing movies directly to home streaming services. As more and more Americans are staying home, is there a market for installation and support of these home setups? Think beyond the television and speakers. There are lighting, accessory device and home networking options to think about. It may be easy to think “everyone knows how to do that,” but, judging from the calls I have received from family and friends asking for technical support, I’ve begun to think otherwise. Firms likely realize that some — perhaps a lot — of their staffs can work from home, saving enormous real-estate costs in office buildings. Are there packages and support you can offer to remote offices?

Touchless Control

Last preface before I make a point: I have been accused of being a germophobe my whole life. I am the guy that uses his jacket sleeve to open doorknobs. This next part should be read with that in mind.

I think it is going to be a long time before society feels OK about touching things. This provides an unusual predicament, given that most AV equipment requires touch or close contact. Think about touch panels, remotes, microphones and playback devices. Before COVID-19, how often were they cleaned or sanitized? Here’s where you come in: Begin developing and offering solutions for “touchless control.” Think about voice control and motion control as much sought-after options. Think about tools like Crowd Mics that use a person’s cell phone as a microphone in an audience. As we get back to events that require a lot of mic-passing, no one will want to use a microphone that someone else just had by their mouth. Enter new products that companies are putting out. Perhaps one of the most significant announcements over the past few weeks is the Tauri from Aurora Multimedia. This is a quick temperature scan that, in the future, will also offer other options, including perhaps digital signage and control. Can you find creative uses, and segments, that would find value in such a product?

Necessity is the Mother of Invention

The saying “necessity is the mother of invention” will undoubtedly play out through our industry over the next several months. I am going to guess that none of the predictions any of us made in January about AV will end up correct. But, there is excitement and opportunity in the unknown. Now is a time when creativity, thought, knowledge and experience will help your firm survive the crisis and thrive in the reality, the new normal.