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How the Pro AV Industry Must Evolve in 2023 and Beyond 

The Pro AV industry has traditionally relied on the one-time “sale” of goods and services, but this may not be the way customers want to be served in an increasingly unpredictable business climate. Tune in as Ben Thomas of the ProAV podcast and Marketscale joins Tigerpaw Radio host West McDonald in a deep-dive conversation on the future of the Pro AV channel. In this episode you’ll learn: 

  • About the current challenges for growth and training facing the Pro AV and integrated technology industry 
  • How the XaaS (Everything as a Service) model holds so much potential for a channel that is looking to gain more long-term contracts with their clients 
  • How Ben sees the industry addressing the lack of standardized training for Pro AV professionals 
  • What must be done to proactively attract more talent in a channel that hasn’t been very good at talent acquisition 
  • Ways for integrated technology and Pro AV providers to better collaborate with one another to drive positive change for the whole channel 
  • About the role of technology automation and “AI” for those looking to remain relevant to their customers 
  • How providers can effectively assess and identify new opportunities for diversification and expansion

If you are in the Pro AV channel or are looking to add Pro AV services to your portfolio of offerings, this is an interview you simply can’t afford to miss! 

While you’re here, scroll down and SUBSCRIBE to the Tigerpaw newsletter! It is filled with a treasure trove of educational content designed to help you sleep better at night as you build a better business for you and your customers. 

0:00:03.7 West McDonald: West MacDonald here and we thank you for tuning in to another episode of TigerTube, and if you can’t see us, that means you’re listening in on Tigerpaw Radio, so thank you very much for that. Hey, while you’re here, if you’re on the resources page or on our YouTube channel or listening to us on your favorite podcast area, make sure to like and subscribe this episode, we do a lot of great learning content. And on that note, today, I’m very excited obviously, to have a very special guest. And it’s Ben Thomas with pro AV. And Ben how are you doing today?

0:00:56.6 Ben Thomas: I’m doing fantastic West. Thanks so much for having me on the show day.

0:01:00.7 West McDonald: Are you kidding? Absolutely, I am definitely not a pro AV enthusiast, but I am an AV enthusiast. We had that discussion, we were doing the prep stuff for my home theater, which is a big cobble together, but I promise it’s all really good stuff.

0:01:11.7 Ben Thomas: Look, it runs together far, much more, I think that people wanna admit days. So welcome to the community, nonetheless.

0:01:17.8 West McDonald: I appreciate it, thank you very much. And listen, Ben, nobody knows you better than yourself. So would you mind introducing yourself quickly for audience?

0:01:24.4 Ben Thomas: Absolutely, yes, so my name is Ben Thomas. I am the head of Pro VA here at Market Scale, so we are basically an organization that really helps our partners, our B2B partners, focus on their community-generated content, leveraging existing teams, leveraging existing organizations, and really more empowering the people in the community to have a voice, right. So through that, have my own show called Pro AV today, where we bring on experts from across the industry, talk about things, not only maybe some of those core Pro AV verticals, but we get a little bit tangential from time to time. So if you wanna listen, learn a little bit more about the industry West. I think it’s a great show for you to jump in on, for sure too.

0:02:05.8 West McDonald: Absolutely love it. Thank you very much. Hey, and listen, one of the things we’re facing all kinds of challenges no matter what channel were in, right. And being a host for a show like you, speaking with a lot of different industries that certainly there are challenges that face… Just the way that we typically do business. First of all, is that the case with the Pro AV channel and integrated technology industry? And is it sort of changing how they have to look at scaling and growth?

0:02:36.2 Ben Thomas: It really is. So one of the cool… Well, I hate to say the cool thing that came out of the pandemic, but during the pandemic specifically, or we’ll call it a little community, it’s a pretty big community, but we’ll call… Our community saw a lot of success with hardware sales integrations, traditional kind of sales and things like that. But what’s happened on the back end is that you’re seeing this massive shift a little bit more towards the, what I call the as a service model, where product life cycles are extended. But we’re this weird crossroads where technologies advancing at an insanely fast rate, so really, one of the things that we’re having a lot of conversations about as an industry right now is finding ways to continually create value for not only our end users and buyers but for the community as a whole. And that is AV as a service, but it’s a recurring revenue model for manufacturers, integrators, distributors to continually to serve that community. In my opinion, that’s the biggest growth obstacle for us in the community right now.

0:03:39.2 West McDonald: Yeah, and I just wanna touch on that for a second, ’cause this mention is, I’m kind of an amateur, enjoying the AV world that I did get an 85 inch television, a Samsung, it’s their top of the-line model. I won’t say the price, but it was absurd.

Ben Thomas: It’s expensive, yes.

West McDonald: It is, but a phenomenal TV, but it starts to get me thinking when I’m looking at high-end sort of displays like that or anything else. It starts to make me think more like a car, right? Do I have the option to buy… To have the option to finance, ’cause I very rarely get extended warranties on certain technologies because I know I’m gonna be bored before the next iteration. Right. So that’s me as an AV consumer right. So is that having some of the appeal is just that people can look at different ways that they can actually finance this and get newer technology more often.

0:04:30.8 Ben Thomas: It is, yeah, that’s one of the ways… And I’ll kinda give this example, you’re seeing this trend right now, obviously during the pandemic, where there was a lot of remote in this massive hybrid environment and coming out of it… You do still have some of that, right? But there’s this large kind of mass return to office, and what’s happened, you look at conference rooms, for example, during the pandemic that kind of served a smaller community, maybe three, four people in a conference room, and then bringing together all the remote individuals, right. And what we’re seeing now is with this influx people coming back into the office, there’s a need for obviously still some of those hybrid environments, but you’re looking at miking more people, you’re looking at sound intelligibility site lines for people, things like that, conversations that weren’t being had necessarily at the scale they’re being had now. So when you look at the as a service model specifically, it’s a great way to always be able to have somebody speak into that as an integrator, and as a manufacturer in the AV side. We have good insight into what technology can do and some of the best ways to implement it as to where maybe somebody who’s an IT decision maker or even the AV hobbyist in a company might not always know the best practices outside of the technology. So there’s a lot of different ways that we’re seeing AV as a service jump in, but one of those primary ways is I call it long-term consulting, right.

0:05:51.6 Ben Thomas: And then active replacement of gear technologies, so I think those are a couple of great ways that we’re seeing the community continue to serve.

0:06:00.5 West McDonald: Yeah, and I think we’re still in the midst of this work from anywhere mix that we don’t really have a solid understanding of how much is gonna be back in the office, how much gonna be remote. And it’s kind of a great experiment, so I gotta think that as a service offering for someone that has to have that blend of remote work with the office without the full name commitment, right. Saying, I just don’t know what it’s gonna look like a year from now. Don’t worry about it. Here’s the program we have for you as a service. We can shift it as we move, I love it.

Ben Thomas: Yep, absolutely.

West McDonald: How do you see this industry addressing the lack of standardized training and education for employees in the field? I know that’s always a big problem, especially for businesses that kind of start off as, I don’t wanna call them hobby businesses, but people that love what they’re doing, discover they can actually make a living at it, and then they get at it. But they may not be the best at training and bringing people up in this space, so what do you think some of the things are how the industry can actually address this to do a better job?

0:06:56.6 Ben Thomas: Yeah, we do, and I wanna shout out organizations like Avixa who who have the CTS program and things like that, who are doing a great job on the… I’ll call it the macro certification level. One of the things, and this isn’t AV exclusive, this is really across B2B and enterprise specifically, one of the things that we’re seeing is it’s really difficult for people to come in cold to an industry… Right. And if I’m expected to go through 15-20 hours of training right off the bat, I’m gonna just miss a lot of stuff. So the best way that not only our partners, but really in B2B across every industry that we serve, you’re seeing a lot more things like micro-learning and micro-skilling as to where it might be traditionally, like you look at a CT certification, that’s much more macro, that’s going through a little bit more of the project management side, the installation side, and it’s great. It’s fantastic to be CTS Certified, but we run into these challenges from time to time where we have these CTS certifications, and because of the change in technology, people may have missed something as basic as learning how to over under a cable, which is something that you have to know in the AV Industry. Or how to terminate a cable. Or you talk about, you know, signal flows and where you need amplifiers and things like that. Those are really micro-skills that have such a massive impact on our jobs, our day-to-day jobs.

0:08:23.3 Ben Thomas: So one of the things that, like I said, across AV, but not only across AVs, you’re seeing the shift to kind of micro-scaling and as products come out, as new services come out, as new technology comes out, making those incremental updates. It’s an incredible way for our brain to handle things and process things and then build on skills that we already have.

0:08:43.4 West McDonald: I love it. Yeah, and it does remind me, I like to call it almost a mentorship in a sense that you’re not doing the whole thing in one big trench, but over time, I’ve done quite a bit of that over my career in my own training, is helping people like you said learn those micro lessons along the way, right?

0:09:01.2 Ben Thomas: Yeah. Absolutely, and one of the things to… I’ll call this out, and this is one of them, everybody, an AV pretty much knows is we have a bit of a recruitment problem, we sometimes make it challenging for people to get into the industry. You know a lot of the traditional paths are musicians or hobbyists or people who are tangentially attached to technology, find their way. But we don’t do a great job of recruiting the newer people, and part of that is because there is a lot of tribal knowledge that exists in the industry to where it’s a little bit intimidating, right. So we’ll talk about standardization, we talk about micro-learning, one of the best places for us to roll that out as a community, is it that one-on-one level. And not only does it work in Pro AV, it works in a number of different industries. But, with the technical specifications required an AV, it’s very, very important for us to kinda level set as a community and have a point of entry and not make it difficult for people to make that jump from maybe another industry into AV.

0:10:00.2 West McDonald: Yeah, and that is a common problem for some niche channels, but where my pedigree comes from, 20 years plus experience is known as the office equipment channel. And any time I’m at a party, people ask what I do it for a living and say, “oh, well, I work in the office equipment channel”, their eyes glaze over and I have to move on to my hobbies in a hurry. It’s almost like the channel is invisible. I’m not sure that AV suffers quite to that extent, but I’m very familiar with those challenges. We’re trying to actually recruit people because they have no idea what it is in the first place, people aren’t looking for it, right.

0:10:31.1 Ben Thomas: Well, judging by people like my wife, where I could start talking about resolutions and vet rates and her eyes glaze over pretty quickly, I recognized that people can be pretty intimidated by a lot of the specs coming in cold.

West McDonald: I know, and like micro LEDs and local diming.

Ben Thomas: We don’t even know what the heck’s happening with TVs these days, much less being able to explain it to other people, right.

0:10:57.0 West McDonald: Yeah, display technology is just off the charts. Right. Wow. Hey, I wonder if you can share with me how do you see the role of technology and automation impact in the future of the Pro AV integrated technology industry? So we’re obviously, Tigerpaw we’re an automation company, but outside of what we do for business processes, what do you think that role is?

0:11:18.0 Ben Thomas: Yeah, so there’s a couple of different ways, right. The AV community, kinda of like I said, we’re at this weird crossroads of rapid technological innovation and extended product life cycles, right. So we’re seeing the demand for more function from a specific piece of hardware technology, and a lot of times what will happen is. So I’ll use a camera, for an example, I may say it’s 2018, I roll out a new camera, but then I’ll make incremental upgrades, and one of those upgrades might be AI facial tracking or audio gating or specific beam targeting, things like that. That’s really one of the ways that you see a lot of, especially in hardware, you see those kind of incremental upgrades and AI and technology, but on a more macro level, I was actually reading about this yesterday, the Detroit Lions stadium uses artificial intelligence and facial tracking to actually in real time make adjustments to digital signage based on demographics, right? So if I’m in Section 232 and I’m with a group of my friends or maybe a big group of people who are my age, we are gonna get different targeted ads based on the people who are in that section.

0:12:34.4 Ben Thomas: And that’s really the next generation of how our hardware and our technology is enabling different industries, whether it be the digital signage space specifically, you talk about advertising, you talk about things like all the way to being able to concession patterns, right? So there’s a lot of different ways that we’re integrating into technology, and it’s not only from a hardware update standpoint, it is actually in the evolution of things like digital signage, advertising, predictive analytics, things like that.

0:13:00.3 West McDonald: Yeah, it’s really neat to hear about a different use case for a computer vision altogether. I’m actually working right now in an e-guide for the alarm and security space and looking at different use cases for that. What a great idea. That sounds very much like what you’re doing on… When they’re tracking you on Facebook or using cookies on the website, and surprise surprise and add for that thing that you keep checking out, shows up in for your different feeds. Right, and it’s just really neat to hear about that for the same can be done with visual advertising on these displays as well. Really cool.

0:13:31.7 Ben Thomas: Yeah, it was funny to the context of the article, ironically was they were able to predict which sections based on beer sales were more likely to have fights. So the initial application was so they could send more security and then they’re like, oh, but we can like hyper-target ads and update our digital signage, and we always find a way to shoe-horn technology everywhere. So it’s funny to see how that’s evolved.

0:13:58.7 West McDonald: Oh, I’m telling you, I love seeing these side bar uses. So another one for computer vision, although developed for object recognition and facial recognition, really for security, Walmart uses it to make sure that people that are using the self-check-out are actually paying for the number of items that they have. So if you walk through and they see that you actually move 12 items into a bag but you’ve only scan 10, then that AI will kick in and alert the attendant to go over to that station and help you to scan those other items.

0:14:28.5 Ben Thomas: Yes, I call them subtle suggestions or subtle nudges to people that should be like, hey, something is off here, we don’t know what it is, ’cause I’m a computer, but something is off here.

0:14:41.3 West McDonald: Yeah, guilty as charged. I was shopping through self-checkout, it was probably about six weeks ago, and I grabbed the wrong paper towel, and so when I saw the price come up, I said, oh no, that’s more expensive it was gonna pay. I ran it back, the lady helped take it out of the system, and I went and grab the other pack and then proceed to put up my cart and waved to her and started going out and she goes, no, no, no, we were wrong on that one being in the wrong place, but you still to pay for the one, you just took. Absolutely mortified. How can pro AV integrated technology providers effectively assess and identify new opportunities, right. So one of the things that I’m seeing you tell me if you’re saying in the Pro AV space, is that channels which used to be very separate or starting to really run into each other, they’re starting to do things that maybe they kinda left in other people’s lanes. A good example would be physical arms security providers are now also really having to take on cyber security to make sure that they’re giving that overall offering for the customer in that space. In the off equipment channel, which is typically service copiers and printers.

0:15:48.6 West McDonald: They are now moving in and managed IT services. Some of them are doing other things in display technology, and one dealer that’s moved into doing those internal LED panels internally, just like the ones that can see in Times Square, but for the inside of an office. And we’re seeing lots of that. So are you seeing that in Pro AV and what are some of the opportunities?

0:16:08.4 Ben Thomas: Yeah, absolutely. One of the things that I like to say is that our AV Industry is a support industry writer or that base level industry almost like trucking would be right. Where it doesn’t matter if you’re a fertilizer company or an aeronautics company, there is that common thread, which is everything is distributed by truck, air or whatever. AV has become very similar, where no longer is AV this kind of hyper-focused, okay, we’re only gonna be a technology industry where people come grab stuff from us and take it out. We’re not the backbone for a lot of people. Whether it’s things like experience centers, whether it’s things like hospitality installations and venues, all the way up to it, including things like healthcare, where we’re talking about mission-critical applications for pro AV patient tracking, things like that, and one of the challenges had been that, because naturally, we’re a pretty tight-knit community, but we’ve been a little bit exclusive at times and as different verticals like education and technology, or hospitality or even things like courts have needed us. It took us a while to fully adopt that because we’ve been a little bit about ourselves, but you know, one of the places I’ll use this example that I really love that AV has gotten into is the gaming market, by gaming, I mean like casino gaming.

0:17:31.6 Ben Thomas: So you look at a state like Ohio who just legalized sports betting in restaurants and retail locations, that’s an entirely brand new market for most of us, right, you’re talking about. Sure, you’ve got an integrator that has maybe historically put some TVs or Crestron system in there, but now you’ve got fully integrated devices that are now OEM manufactured that have display manufacturers, that have ticket reader manufacturers, that have AI predictive analytics and cameras. So I love seeing the industry grow into markets like that. And it’s one of the things that we have to kind of be intentional about, because no longer do people always just come to us and say, hey, give me this, give me this, give me this. We have to go out and we have to get out of the traditional INFOCOM, ISC, NAB, IBC world. And go to these shows like TCEA, ISTE, and NRF, and even CES in some cases now, right. Say CES is an interesting show because it’s largely consumer-facing and it’s look, I’ll say it’s largely an automated vehicle show these days. But we have to kind of find ways to jump into these new communities because we kinda have to make people aware that we exist from time to time.

0:18:46.7 Ben Thomas: But, that’s my two cents. There’s a lot of great people doing verticalized work in the industry, and it would be a crime to discredit the work that they’re doing, but there’s so much opportunity for us as an industry because we play that supporting role now, and we’re not that nice to have where they have to have.

0:19:03.0 West McDonald: Yeah, no, I think it’s okay to point a finger on the fact that, yes, there are certainly some that are probably doing that well, I’m probably to agree that the majority aren’t, right. And we see that across all channels. I know that I am actually heading to ISC West, I guess, in March, and I was surprised to see a company because again, my pedigree comes from the office equipment channel and office equipment dealer who was actually providing an all you can eat, manage print service, which they’ll be putting on display at their show. Right. Unheard of before, right? So these cross-pollination, we do have to experiment a little bit more, I think all of us, and see how we can affect those verticals. Right.

0:19:42.8 Ben Thomas: Yeah. Well, I love that example too. Especially when you talk about safety and security, the ISC West organization and show has been wonderful, right. Now, what has happened, and you can speak to this as well, it kind of used to be these integrated door monitors and window monitors, and now it’s dang near almost exclusively, everything’s a video camera or a predictive touch screen or something like that. So it’s so crazy to see how technology has advanced, but our community has had to jump on and help support that security role, which is not an industry that we were fully in previously. So that’s a great example. I love you brought that up.

0:20:20.7 West McDonald: Yeah, it’s not… And unfortunately, there is a great series that HP put out called The Wolf. It would actually star Christian Slater, and it was a series about printer security, both physical and internal on the boards and the software. So it is a neat thing when you think that there’s that potential for those to come together. If you haven’t seen it, check it out. It’s actually a great little series, and I love Christian Slater.

0:20:46.7 Ben Thomas: Look, I’m always a fan of brands creating their own content anyway, so I definitely will go check that out.

0:20:52.4 West McDonald: Yeah, that’s awesome. Hey listen, I like to call this the impossible question, and I ask it at the end of every interview. But if there was one recommendation that you had for folks in the channel looking towards the future of their industry and what they can do to embrace it, what would that be?

0:21:11.3 Ben Thomas: Really, really simple, it’s renew the focus on the end user. So at the end of the day, the end user is what’s driving purchases in the AV industry, so whether it’s things like UX or usability or even practical, hey, do they even need or want this. Renewing that focus, renewing that energy into connecting with that end user is the number one piece of advice I would give, we get a little bit lost in our own world and our own channels sometimes, but at the end of the day, we are empowering people. We are empowering people to do their job or to have success in a specific area, so the more that we can stay in contact with them, I think always the better.

0:21:51.2 West McDonald: Okay, that’s great, I appreciate it. And if people are looking to get in touch with you for more information, how can they do that?

0:21:56.7 Ben Thomas: Easy. Just email me ben.thomas@marketscale.com I’m pretty much always available and we’ll probably… I’m probably at a show near wherever you are at some point in the upcoming future. I don’t like to keep my planned too long down here in Dallas, but I’m always happy to connect, always willing to learn and just kind of absorb knowledge, whether that’s from somebody in pro AV or whether that’s somebody in another industry, I like to be a sponge, so reach out to me and happy to chat.

0:22:23.3 West McDonald: Well, that’s great, and we’ll make sure we post the email address in the blog as well, and for everyone is tuned in today, they’re watching a listening to matter which platform we’ve joined us from. Make sure to subscribe like, and if you have the opportunity to give us some of your own comments, what are your thoughts on the pro AV industry and some of the ways that we can grow together in the future. So until next time everybody. Keep learning.

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