Widgets Magazine

What will an integration company look like in 2021?

Submitted by Chris Miller, Executive Director at PSNI
For years the Wall Street Journal held an annual Investment Dartboard Contest, where expert investment picks faced off against those selected by staffers tossing darts at a stock table. The experts won by a narrow margin—at first—but as time went on the darts came out ahead nearly as often as the experts. Maybe the lesson is that we take business too seriously and should make predictions about our industry based on a dartboard!
No matter how you make predictions, it’s a safe bet that in 2021 technology providers will struggle to be relevant to the end-user. Disruption through consolidation or innovation will continue. The end-user will consume more and more technology. They will become increasingly indifferent to the hardware integrator but more selective and aligned with their service providers. The next five years will not be a revolution but an evolution of ideas and solutions. Integration is a difficult business today and it won’t be easy five years from now.
The Five-Year View
From a financial perspective it’s safe to assume that by 2021 a recession or military conflict somewhere in the world will impact the U.S. and global economies. The “fast will eat the slow” adage will likely play out numerous times throughout the entire technology supply chain over the next five years.
Companies that started the shift to a services first model in the good old days of 2014 will reach maturity and continue to improve by developing processes, diversifying their offerings, expanding their expertise, and aligning themselves with other skilled technology partners. These companies will have separated themselves from traditional AV/IT integrators as their competition.
Strength in Numbers
Large and small Technical Solution Integrators (TSIs) will likely join formal networks of partners or will merge or acquire other entities. These conglomerates will combine the skills needed beyond traditional AV to provide scalable and competitive solutions on an enterprise and global basis. Companies that offer customized solutions and are highly focused on client business outcomes will maintain good margins and client relationships.
The services first model will still include selling hardware and software in addition to a new crop of ‘as a Service’ (aaS) offerings. The relationship with manufacturers will continue to be complex—sometimes partners and other times competitors. Cloud-based companies may evolve a very different go-to-market strategy. The fluid nature of their products and marketing strategies will likely benefit the client more than the solution provider, especially as it relates to margins. Hopefully, fee-based product offerings from TSIs will begin to reach their potential.
Employee Impact
Sales will likely grow more from existing enterprise accounts than with new clients. Sales people will exist but possibly not in the role we know them today as the primary means to grow business. Their role will be to manage client relationships. International opportunities will come in more rapid fashion to those companies that have the ability to deliver services.
The TSIs will begin to benefit from the influence of millennials reaching senior management and leadership roles. They will be the agents of change that will clear the slate of legacy approaches while supporting a new client-facing model. Employees will be recruited more for attitude. The pool of potential AV employees will increase as more men and women are attracted to our business—partly because it will be much easier to understand and relate to what we do in 2021. Employees, just like clients, will definitely be more mobile, creating a work wherever-and-whenever-you-want culture. The possibility of smaller fabrication spaces, fewer racks, less copper wire, and more software and cloud solutions will change how we use building space and showcase user experience solutions.
Corporate culture will evolve to support mobile and flexible workers, and employee training will as well. They will still need training, but likely in different ways with an emphasis on small bursts of knowledge—micro learning at its best. It may be less time intensive and costly to train staff. Certifications and badging will come in more simplified forms and formats.
Reinventing the Relationship
The buyer may confound the old style technology integrator. Clients will make more of their own technology decisions. To stay relevant and provide measurable value, the channel will need to be increasingly more competent in the markets they serve, understanding the unique business outcomes desired by the client. Contract duration will be shorter to allow clients more flexibility as their business model changes in the same time frame. Clients will require more metrics and data to support their investment and to achieve their business objectives. The client will expect every solution to be simple to use. In spite of all the possible changes in this industry, relationships will still mean something in 2021. Tradeshows will still exist to support those relationships.
From an organizational standpoint, the successful TSI will still be focused on the core of the business. Processes and efficiencies will be front and center to meet client expectations and fast, cheap, and good will be what they expect.
Some of these predications won’t happen by 2021. Others are already happening and will mature possibly as early as 2017. Some predictions just won’t happen—that’s why they are called predictions. Because this field is a calling for many of us, let’s hope that whatever happens, the industry stays fun as well as a great way to make a difference in the way people work, play, and live.
Special thanks to several PSNI thought-leaders who helped with these predictions: Dana Barron, Andy Sellers, Jeff Irvin, Scott McMullan, Alex DeToro, Kevin Groves, and Mark Gottwig.

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