While the pandemic was a catalyst for many things, in the AV world it brought the benefits of software-driven collaborative tools delivered through the cloud not only into every business, but every home too. Countless organisations will now be continuing to enjoy time-saving, easy access Webex, Teams or Zoom video calls daily instead of reverting to their previous face-to-face get-togethers.
This was a trend already in development, but the forced reliance on cloud-based communications brought the adoption of a broader range of software-based AV services into sharper focus, and these have the potential to transform our industry.
So it was interesting to see the analysis of market research consultancy, FutureSource, in this month’s issue of Installation International. Chris Pennell, writing about Pro AV convergence, highlighted vendors that are ‘offering unified communications in combination with AV-as-a-Service, combining the procurement, deployment and management of devices and software with maintenance and help desk support through a single subscription’.
This certainly seems to be the direction of travel. However, as private, public and hybrid cloud deployments begin to eat away at the traditional preference for on-premise AV solutions, it does present a challenge, particularly for the channel: how to accurately define AV-as-a-Service.
AV solutions have always been multifaceted and multi-layered. Projectors, displays, audio codecs, media players and encoders are all very different hardware components of the broader AV portfolio. And none of them are useful without the software to manage AV content.
Customers might know what problems they want to solve with AV solutions, but how does our industry clearly explain how AV-as-a-Service will work for them? This is made even more difficult because AV-as-a-Service means different things to different people. For some it’s about installing hardware on-premise but offering an as-a-service price; for others it’s a much more software-based approach with tools such as digital signage and IPTV managed centrally.
Another aspect relates to the change in how vendors, integrators and customers relate to each other. The current approach is on a project-by-project basis, with the initial install followed by occasional upgrades, or additions to the existing system. An as-a-service model by its very nature, suggests an ongoing, long-term and less sporadic relationship in which integrators manage and monitor solutions accessed via the cloud and deliver support to customers remotely.
This will have benefits to customers whose budgets favour a regular subscription rather than a CAPEX-heavy upfront purchase, but it also means administration work in the background between vendors and their channel partners to come up with an equitable solution.
AV-as-a-Service has some way to go before it becomes the de facto standard for our industry, but if we can find ways to define the different cloud-based solutions on offer, then it brings multiple advantages in terms of efficiency, price and access to cutting-edge AV technology.