A/V integrators are more than just audio and visual equipment suppliers. In fact, the extent to which integrators are willing and able to provide long-term support makes the industry unique. There aren’t too many fields where clients can expect dedicated support for years after an initial purchase, but that’s what reputable A/V integrators provide. It’s a service that companies should seriously consider, too, because A/V technology is constantly evolving, fueled primarily by the push toward more collaboration. Collaboration and communications being as important as they are now, it only makes sense to have a trusted ally in the A/V space.
What can audio and visual equipment suppliers provide, other than just equipment?
It’s best to think of A/V integrators as solution providers, and not just equipment sellers. Given the complexity of modern A/V technology and the speed at which business communications move, it takes more equipment to compete. It takes custom solutions that address a company’s particular needs, and this is what the process often includes:
- A meeting with the client’s representatives to determine goals – By the time a company approaches an A/V integrator, its leaders have an idea of what they need from an A/V solution. Perhaps its faster collaboration between project heads. Maybe it’s stronger brand identity. Whatever the company’s needs, they are fleshed out during a meeting with the integrator. Together, all sides come up with a game plan for the system and ensure they are on the same page going forward.
- A move to a complete digital, high definition solutions – As companies transition to the next wave of communication and collaboration technology, they are really embracing the digital and HD revolution in its entirety. More and more audio and visual equipment manufacturers are moving away from component connectors and VGA inputs. Those manufacturers are moving toward a reliance on the HDMI standard. It’s common for integrators to retrofit or replace older A/V systems, and transitioning to a high definition, digital format is a primary reason.
- Selecting equipment for its compatibility – One of the persistent challenges facing every integrator is the need to build a system for maximum compatibility. Every solution consists of many components that must speak to each other willingly. Compatibility is also a noted issue when updating system components and when after-sale service is needed from the manufacturer. There aren’t any simple answers to this problem, but manufacturers are getting better at emphasizing modularity into their products. A/V integrators are experts at identifying what components will work together without disruption.
- Accounting for the various details that can affect system performance – There are so many minute factors that can disrupt system function that only an expert can truly sift them all out. For example, high-bandwidth digital content protection, or HDCP, can intrude on an A/V system if it is not acknowledged beforehand. HDCP, in a nutshell, sets the rules for what a receiving device can display, as copy protected content is often transmitted to these devices. If a DVD player is licensed to output to five displays, and then a sixth is connected to the player, it can cause the whole system to interrupt service.Or consider the added control layers that EDID (extended display identification data) and CEC (consumer electronics control) adds to the equation. When setting up an A/V solution, it is up to the integrator to ensure that all relevant devices are working with each other and properly set up through their CEC device. This is the kind of minutiae that integrators excel at, and what makes them so valuable to their clients.
- Predict scalability over time – If an A/V solution had to be designed for just a single moment in time, everyone could do it. But, of course, that’s not how things work. Companies want their A/V system to scaffold and accommodate technology advancements going forward. A training room, for instance, may need to scale up in size and function as a company grows and attracts more new hires. An additional huddle room may be required as a company pursues additional projects and more project management is needed. There are plenty of reasons why scalability is a priority for A/V integrators, and there are plenty of ways to ensure a system can be built upon going forward. Reputable integrators are able to predict what their client’s needs will be in the medium and long term, and will provide equipment that will remain viable when those eventualities come to pass.
There’s a lot that goes into every A/V solution, clearly, and that should be a sign that companies should only consider integrators that have been there and done it before. A suboptimal system will not only be an expensive waste of time and money, it may curtail productivity by slowing down attempts to collaborate. For this reason, companies should select their integrator carefully.
What Reputable Audio and Visual Equipment and Solution Providers Look Like
But if a business doesn’t know what to look for in an A/V integrator, they will be vulnerable. Fortunately, there are some clear indications that an integrator is worth partnering with. For example:
- A reputable integrator has an eye on the future – It’s always a bit disconcerting when an A/V equipment provider just wants to sell some stuff and move on. There are equipment sellers that are like this, in that they are not client-focused. What companies should be looking for is an integrator that is willing to provide long-term support to their clients. In fact, some integrators are more keen on becoming partners with their clients rather than just selling equipment, and this is a win-win for both parties. Technical support is obviously an important component of any long-term support package, but it should go beyond that. Clients should also expect their A/V integrator partner to oversee system updates and periodic maintenance. And don’t discount the value of knowledgeable advice, as an integrator should offer insight when needed, such as when it is time to replace aging equipment.
- A reputable integrator should have a staff full of certified experts – Most industries have one or more associations that deliver training and lift industry-wide standards as a result. In the A/V industry, this organization is Infocomm. Infocomm is the most respected training organization in the field, and it provides a comprehensive set of training and certification courses to integrators.Some integrators take certification more seriously than others, but it is a shorthand approach to determining which integrators have educated people on their team, and which are likely lacking in essential skills.
- A reputable integrator should have extensive experience in the area – Yes, this should be true for most industries. Experience is always a good sign. However, experience is particularly important in the A/V industry because it is extremely competitive. The A/V field is constantly adding new integrators among its ranks, and this means that there is a huge number of businesses engaged in a constant tug of war over clients. What this all means is that an integrator maintaining a strong position in the industry is doing so for a reason.
- A reputable integrator should have a diverse portfolio of clients – There are many traits that predict whether or not an integrator is up to the task, and flexibility is among the most crucial. Integrators often come up against challenges that were not initially planned for, and their ability to adapt to changing conditions will predict system performance. It’s difficult to quantify flexibility, of course, but one approach is to look at an integrator’s client portfolio. If they have worked in multiple industries, or with educational and government clients, that integrator likely has extensive experience and knowledge in the industry.
When it comes to A/V solutions, business leaders should be picky. Simple equipment providers are only offering the most basic service to their clients. A true integrator can offer much more, and provide the kind of deep insight that’s needed when setting up and installing an A/V system.