Redefining an Industry

I may be late to the party on this topic but I wanted to give my thoughts on a discussion started by CEDIA’s Vin Bruno when he stated that perhaps it was time we stopped calling ourselves “integrators” and started calling ourselves “technologists.”

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There have been several takes on this to date. Some like the idea. Technologist is a fairly modern term that encompasses technology as a whole and could really apply to any discipline or specialty.  On the down side, technologist is a broad term that could really apply to any discipline or specialty. Being a “technologist,” someone may approach you to discuss IP security cameras when your business focuses on high end collaboration, and then you would have to explain, “I am not that kind of technologist.”

This begs the question, “Do we need to add some type of descriptor before ‘technologist’?”

Then we get right back into the swamp of acronyms and terms we already use to describe the type of “integrators” we are. Would we have Unified Communication Technologists, Home Theater Technologists, Commercial Cinema Technologists, etc.? If so, is “technologist” really the important part of the term at all? It seems the qualifier is really the important part of that title.

Others like the idea of staying with the term integrator. They say it is a better descriptor of what they do, integrating different products into a complete system that works as an “integrated” whole. I don’t disagree with that sentiment in principle, but there is a growing problem with the term.

More and more, the devices we used to “integrate” are being pre-integrated by manufacturers. It is a common trend right now. Look at QSC creating USB integration for cameras in their DSP products. Look at systems like Mondopad and Surface Hub where the traditional flat panel, touch bezel, PC, microphone, and camera that needed to be “integrated” together now come in one SKU. Perhaps even look at Biamp, a company who has traditionally been known for audio. They are writing whitepapers on video transport and HDCP Pro specifications. Why would they be doing that? Is video being integrated into their DSP and audio distribution products soon? It seems like it’s coming.

The point is, that we actually do less integrating than we used to, and the trend may continue, making the term “integrator” even less descriptive of what we actually do for clients in the future.

Regardless of your preference and the reasons behind it, I have one reason that I think both terms fall severely short.

They both fail the Google test.

When people need help with VTC or their home theater they don’t google the word “integrator” or “technologist.”

I did a rudimentary poll of friends and family that work outside our industry. I asked them what they would search for online if they needed help setting up a system in their conference room or help with their TV and audio system set up.  Overwhelmingly they said they would search for conference room or home theater “installation.”

Yes…”installation.”

I can FEEL you all bristling at me right now. How dare we be relegated to being installers? We do design and programming and extension of signals and UX design that an “installer” could never do. However, that doesn’t really matter. What matters most is how people who want to buy your services start searching for them when they need you.

Now when I asked the same people what they would search for when they were looking for someone to help select technology, the word “designer” came up almost every time. A lot of integrators describe themselves as “design-build” so it seems at least in part they are on the right track. I think the genesis of that comes from adopting the vernacular of construction companies that are design-build. It works, but most people don’t think of an AV system as being “built.” It seems design-install may be a better term just based on what people’s existing ideas of our services are.

Now is there an organization that uses Design and Installation in their title? It seems that CEDIA may be farther ahead than they thought when it comes to creating a description of our industry that our end users themselves understand. CEDIA is after all the Custom Electronic Design & Installation Association.

I have also seen people suggest terms like “Communication Partner,” which could work as well and may be closer, but I’m not sure I’d search for one online when I need my speakers adjusted.

Now some of you are saying we shouldn’t let others define what we do and we should define it for them. That is fine, but know that this type of effort requires us to educate the market on the terminology that we want them to use. That takes a marketing effort and marketing dollars.

If we think of programs like CTS, we know that the initials are seldom recognized outside the AV beltway. Marketing that to end users has been slow, and I don’t expect redefining our industry would be any easier, especially if we don’t want to jump on the “design” and “installation” word associations that already exist in our clients minds. According to their reports, InfoComm spends between $400,000 and $500,000 on marketing each year, and some of that is marketing the organization internally to the members. It will take a larger commitment to redefine ourselves as an industry to the masses and I’m not sure the funds exist to do it.

It seems CEDIA may be on board to invest in that as well.

Remember it’s not cheap, so we really need to be sold on the term we pick. After all, we are paying to promote it at that point.

So do we need to redefine the industry as a whole or is it enough to just tackle the “What is an integrator?” question every time that it’s asked like we’ve done for the last decade? 

I doubt we’ll get consensus on the matter as it would mean we have to agree on a standard term we all use, and as you know if you’ve been around AV for a while, standards really aren’t our thing…

Chime in below!  What should we call ourselves and why?  I’d love to hear your opinions.

Check out these other pieces to get more background on the conversation as well and some additional thoughts.

AV Futures?

MHO:10 What’s In a Name?