How an “AVSM” mindset can supercharge growth in the AV industry.
In the last few articles, I talked (ranted) about the gap between the AV world and our customers. This gap has been the source of misunderstanding, poor experiences and lack of relevance at the big kids’ table.
I recently saw an article discussing how special and unique we are in the AV industry (due to our various requisite talents and vast knowledge that spans physics, mechanical engineering and so much more). I had to respond in saying that we ARE NOT SPECIAL; we are SPECIALISTS. We have a set of skills and bodies of knowledge that we bring to solve problems in all different ways — from making conference rooms that just work better to mind-bending special event spaces with effects that make Disney jealous.
But, I reiterate: We are no more impressive than the security team in the IT group that spends their days fending off (in some cases) millions of intrusion attempts into the network. We are not more special than the procurement team that manages a dozen different systems trying to procure equipment based on every changing spec while also trying to import and export equipment globally with varying laws in every country.
We are all specialists that work to further the goals of the companies we work for/with.
There is one big difference, though. All those other folks live and die by ITSM. They follow the various playbooks; they deliver results that can be benchmarked and continually strive to improve their outcomes. Let’s reach back to the start of this series and recap the five volumes of ITIL.
*KEY CAVEAT! I am in no way an expert on ITIL or the other systems that I will talk about in this article. Any definitions or explanations are deliberately high level to keep things simple. This is not a manual as to what we need to do to improve our industry. Instead, this is a call to action to take a new look at how we do the things we do and to pressure AVIXA and manufacturers to get on board to help us deliver more effective services.*
Here they are.
- Service Strategy.
- Service Design.
- Service Transition.
- Service Operation.
- Continual Service Improvement.
In all things, it’s key to remember that we are not delivering TVs and codecs and speakers and all that jazz — we are delivering a service. These are services that people rely on every day to get their jobs done. These are services that need to be measured and reported on.
Service strategy was all about defining the service’s needs and ensuring that we meet the customer needs and exceed them. Service design was getting into the nuts and bolts of what we deliver and how we deliver it. Service transition was how we build it and roll it out. Operation is pretty straightforward; it’s all the machinations of how we keep the lights on. This involves people, automation and applications to keep track of it all and report on it. Finally, we come to continual service improvement. We must always strive to be improving the service we deliver. But we can’t mistake that with “a better TV” or “a better microphone in the room.” Those are just parts of the overall service. Sure, the audio quality may get a little better, but how many people will honestly notice? If we did things right the first time, we incorporated mics, speakers and acoustic treatments to ensure we met the needs of the users.
Continual improvement is about adding interactive displays so that they can do things they have never done before. Or maybe it’s about adding Alexa for business so that we can start calls with zero-touch, and of course, following all five volumes to make sure we do it right.
These days, everywhere we turn, things are being offered as a service we used to do in-house — software, infrastructure, platforms, everything. And as we all know, AV is no different. For various reasons, most AV companies want that opportunity to lock customers into far more “sticky” relationships and deliver things in this manner.
I can tell you many, many enterprises desperately want to get all the AV nonsense off their capex books and flip it to an opex cost center.
Now, in the conventional IT world, this is relatively easily done. After all, one of the significant benefits in the world of ITSM is that we are all playing off a standard playbook! So, this makes the world of __aaS viable. It allows Managed Service Providers (MSPs) a mechanism to come in, measure where you are at when it comes to service delivery and, in common terms, agree to meet or exceed your current performance in those areas.
Let me give you an example: You decide that you want to explore outsourcing your help desk. You have your own metrics data and have seen how you stack up against your peers, and you know how much it costs you. So, you reach out to an MSP and ask them to come to talk to you. That MSP comes in and tells you that they can resolve X many of calls per day, they can image new systems for fewer dollars, they have all the customer satisfaction surveys (OK, the annoying part of ITIL Volume Five is that every support incident usually gets followed with a survey — so you get loads of emails asking you how the service was. Every. Single. Ticket! It’s a good thing, but it can be annoying. So in actual fact, survey response rates are even their own metric!) showing how happy users are, and all of the stuff that allows you to compare apples to apples to decide if this is the way you want to go. After all, you make widgets; a help desk is not a core competency!
So you decide to go with the MSP, and you start doing weekly KPI reviews to ensure that nothing slips between the cracks. And there are data points on every aspect of the service. And as you go along, you have defined and measurable data that the new service is better/worse/the same as what you were doing. Contracts will even set triggers that if your numbers on X go (above or below) Y, there will be a penalty, bonus or termination of contract or whatever was defined by the business. Metrics, Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s) are the measure of how business effectiveness is judged.
And with ITSM, we have that mechanism.
Here’s the difficulty in translating this to AV: In the AV world, since there are no standardized metrics or KPIs, you have no way of comparing/benchmarking against anything. Enterprises just have to hope that they are getting the service they need. This is not to say that there is nothing; if you polled a dozen of the largest AV providers and a dozen large enterprises, you would for sure see some commonalities. But the reality is that we would not be able to compare them to each other. They are unique to that business.
I see much in the industry press about AVaaS, and all I have really gathered is that it seems like a good idea to everyone. The only problem is that the two sides see it as a benefit for different reasons. The AV industry sees a sticky recurring revenue stream, and they see themselves as the new AWS/Azure. The enterprise world sees a way to get this annoying hardware-intensive day-to-day nonsense off the books. So both sides want it. But here’s the rub: If you want to come in to take over my AV estate, and you say that you will do it better, you can’t prove it. As there are no standards, you can compare what I have with what you deliver … you cannot say you will do a better job. It’s just not possible.
On the other hand, similar to the example above, if TriNet wants to come in and take over my HR desk — they can prove it. They will break out volumes of data about call volume, time to resolution, reduced speed in onboarding, etc. It can show you numbers against your current numbers, the industry as a whole, and all sorts of things so that the customer can see that they will indeed likely do a better job.
AVaaS can happen. There are some serious issues with how systems are deployed and how SLAs are set and managed, but these are just business process issues. But the people who stand to gain the most are the large AV companies; this is the type of thing that sets them up to have a clear path to making AVaaS a real thing and have themselves regarded the same as the large IT MSPs. This is how they get the needed data to show that they can indeed do a better job than the customer is doing at present, show case studies of metrics before and after they take over, those types of things.
The call to action is for the AV industry to take the action to start defining this. Within the AV industry, for the longest time, standards have eluded us. Virtually everything we tried to get on the same page with was torn to pieces. Compare us with the broadcast industry, and we look like a bunch of troglodytes. This, however, is not about if an Extron extender will work with a Crestron matrix or a Cisco camera can plug into a Poly codec. This is about qualifying and quantifying the services we deliver daily. This is about taking those metrics that are loosely in use today and codifying them so that everyone is working from the same playbook.
In my eyes, this is the greatest challenge facing our industry. This is not about projectors or LED walls or DSP’s. This is about measuring the delivery and effectiveness of the services that we deliver. And this should be the number one task at AVIXA. If they do not drive it, then we will still be stuck in our tribal existence. Then, once the IT industry gets sick of waiting, they will define things for us! Remember, in my last article, I shared the organization’s case where they started getting hammered on their services — and they had no idea what they were even being judged on!
The IT world runs on defined, repeatable and benchmarked data across the globe. And we are part of AV. It’s time we acted like it. By owning this now, by driving standards and metrics that are meaningful and taking into account our industry’s idiosyncrasies, we can drive things to ever better outcomes and ever happier customers. Whole sub-industries may arise, and with them, business opportunities for those that can come in and do better.
We have been doing this for longer than the IT world, this is the next step of maturity in our industry and I hope to see it take shape.
As always, I look forward to your comments and hope to see some great discussion.