AV Expands and Opportunity Grows

InfoComm 2017 is just over a week away and the industry is again subject to the news of yet another acquisition. These have become so commonplace anymore that the only comments that seem appropriate are “Farewell Brand X,” followed immediately by, “Let’s see how the newly expanded Brand Z is going to expand their services while not diminishing the quality of service.” That second statement may not apply as strongly to the manufacturer acquisitions that we’ve seen in the last few years, but it certainly applies to the integration firms that are expanding in this fashion.
When the news of Diversified acquiring CompView hit my Twitter feed from Commercial Integrator yesterday, it caused me to sit back and ponder what this means next. Looking at the activities of Diversified, they have acquired integration firms across the United States, acquired programming resources, and announced a new consulting group that is targeted at partnering closer with the end users to whom they are providing services. They are positioning themselves to be a full-service provider from cradle to grave of any building. It’s truly admirable what they are attempting to accomplish on such a grand scale.
From another angle, though, the Bay Area is a thriving market with integrated technology projects popping out of the ground on a near weekly basis. Integrators from all over the country are trying to figure out how to get a bigger foothold in the region. In consulting offices where both companies provide services, how many consultants asked, “How many companies are left on our bidder list,” when the Diversified/CompView news hit? That’s the disconcerting angle with all the integrator acquisitions we have seen lately – the fewer qualified companies offering services to the end users can create an environment where fewer options for the service means that there will inevitably be an increase in the costs of the same services. It’s simple economics. If the supply of services is at a premium, charge a premium price.
Given the current trend in corporate environments where proprietary signal transports are being removed in favor of an enterprise, cloud-based collaboration system, how will these two trends end up resolving? There’s opportunity in this kind of an environment for the mid-level firms to expand their influence by simply offering the “hang-n-bang” solutions efficiently and economically.
This isn’t to say that the industry should be afraid of acquiring competitors and growing. These are the growing pains that are to be expected of an industry that is in a massive expansion mode right now. But with those growing pains come a lot of responsibility to maintain the quality of service and ensure that the workforces are offering a consistent experience across all offices from the headquarters to the most remote field office.
Will the AV industry consolidate itself into five major international integration firms and a dozen or so manufacturers? It’s very possible that we will reach that point at some time in our future, but it’s unlikely to be in the next few years. The fact is our industry thrives on the diversity and creativity aspect. One manufacturer will create a new product that offers a whole new user experience and others will follow suit while putting their own spin on it. The same is true for the integration and design side. Services are the new “it” offering and more companies are finding ways to improve their offerings so that they can bring something unique to their clients.
That innovation will continue to push the industry forward no matter if there are over 1000 manufacturers offering products or seven conglomerates with subsidiaries all over  the world; no matter if there are five international integration firms that employ over a third of the AV workforce, it will always be the creative ways of solving end user problems and creating unique experiences keeping the lights on and the doors open.
The industry will continue to shift as it seeks out its new identity based on the next generation of leaders and the next evolution of how people interact with technology in their lives. So, unlike me, keep focused on the bigger picture and know that we’re all in this together – no matter how few different companies we gather a business card from in Orlando.

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