“…software is eating the world.” — Marc Andreessen
In 10 years or less, what was once the AV industry is going to be a be a footnote in the history of business technology, somewhere among the overhead projector and the fax machine. This hardware-centric industry we call home, this perpetual contest of who sells both the biggest and smallest piece of electronics will make way for software-defined AV (SDAV). It is inevitable. If you are already rolling your eyes, please do yourself a favor and pay close attention to what happens next.
InfoComm 2019 was huge, the biggest show on record. So how can I possibly believe that in this golden age of AV, the technology wave is about to crest? I will come back to that.
Once we are truly in the era of SDAV, you will see that the only hardware left will be the transducers: cameras, mics, speakers, displays. These devices will be cloud connected peripherals configured to work together in a logical space. There will be no HDMI cables or screw terminal connectors. There will be no room-based PC or AV equipment rack. It is just going to be the peripherals plugged into edge switches talking to a virtual server in the cloud. (Yes, even the server is software.) I can hear some of you objecting that there is no way that IT security is going to let all these cloud based devices on their network. Here is the thing. IT has already been going through this software transition for a decade. Cloud security and the IoT is huge business now and will continue to be. Even network switches are living virtually in the cloud…Yes. Network switches. So rest assured, a few properly-engineered peripherals that the IT department have full visibility and control over are going to be no problem. (Spoiler alert: It’s actually what they want!) So if there are no equipment racks, how are we supposed to generate revenue off a data cabling install and a few displays? If you are in the AV industry now and I am making you uncomfortable, then good. You should be.
So back to InfoComm 2019. Because if I had have been standing on the show floor with a sign that said “the end is near,” you’d probably be making a wide circle around me and possibly throwing change. There are a few reasons why hardware is still king. A big one is the relatively limited pool of software development talent in AV. There is huge money invested right now in self-driving cars, crypto-currency, AI, VR and other technologies that are frankly way cooler and cutting edge than making HDMI cables disappear (may they rest in peace). No offense to the software developers in our industry. You guys are the heroes, but also the exception.
Another hard truth is that the manufacturers of the hardware are going to ride this cash cow as long as they can. I can assume that these companies know and strategize about how they are going to make a play in the software space, and maybe they have a decent plan. Although I assume for most it is a such a different business model that the financial and social implications of the transition are too much to stomach… plus they are still making lots of money, so we aren’t going to find out which (or what else) is true just yet.
But as much as the “big booths” might hope they are going to band together like some type of cartel and keep their channel partners in check, ultimately they are not going to be able to stop what has already begun. I look at what Audinate is doing with their virtual sound card and opening up software licensing to third parties. I look at Utelogy. I look at Zoom… and even hardware companies that are already adapting to the change like QSC, Cisco and Logi. These companies get it and will ultimately win the day! (Or more likely in some cases get bought by big tech).
So what does this mean for us? The lowly Crestron and AMX programmers. The CTS and the “experts in your HDbase-T flavor of choice.” I understand that some of the larger companies in the hospitality and retail industries have fairly decent benefit packages… If software doesn’t sound like your thing, maybe these other career paths are worth a Google. But if you really like the business we are in (like me), it’s time to plan ahead. It’s actually late. You should have started planning yesterday.
Find Andrew on LinkedIn here.