It’s getting harder to say a company is absolutely an AV or an IT integration firm. By some measures, nearly one-third of the open technology positions at AV Integration firms are IT-related. Sure, there are extremes of strictly AV and IT firms out there, in which a company either only focuses on networking infrastructure and hardware on one end and audio equipment and video on the other, but there are a growing number of firms who cover the full gamut of related products and services. This is the reality of solutions provision today, in which vertical integration of capabilities can mean a larger share of the project revenues going to a single provider. Some may also argue that handling more aspects of the solution better ensures a quality result in the end. After all, the speakers and displays need to be optimized as much as the incoming content feeding them, which often is served digitally over IP networks. Further, much of the user interface or signal processing is done via PC-based software. Thus, AV starts to look a lot more like IT and sometimes vice versa. In some areas, such as unified communications perhaps, the separation is nearly indistinguishable.
This is more than a semantic debate. The answers to these questions determine who gets the work and who does the individual job. If you think audiovisual is just another end-point node on an IT network, then you might be an IT integrator looking to expand your offering into the audiovisual space. Or if you think of audiovisual as a set of technologies requiring their own special discipline and emphasis, you are likely a more traditional AV integration firm looking to keep yourself relevant in the face of a tide of incoming competition who is seeking to expand their own opportunity set. So far, few are ultimately just calling it ‘technology’ since that generic term downplays the expertise on either side and sounds too much like a white washing, leading to poor user experiences in the end. Any of these perspectives will determine how integrators pitch to prospects and the possible outcome of that effort.
Is it just an industry classification issue? Where this all plays out is ultimately at the very lowest level of a provider firm, whether IT, AV, or other integration/consulting type – down in the very resources they hire in. Peering down that dark tunnel reveals some interesting things about the true composition of what we might think is a pure AV industry.
First off, the very word ‘industry’ is fraught with challenge. Other industries, like manufacturing for example, can look themselves up in the U.S. classification system, abbreviated as NAICS, and then pull up a bunch of relevant data. This includes number of jobs, occupation types, skill sets, qualifications, and compensation, sliceable by geography or type of firm. None of that exists for the pro-AV channel or integration firms of any kind. Instead, pro AV (and IT integration too) is spread across several actual NAICS sectors, the most prominent being Electronics Stores and Movie/Video Production. Neither of those really fit today and are much larger than pro AV by itself. This makes these designations truthfully useless for learning anything about the state of employment in the AV channel.
So, what do we do? We start with a list of the top 50 AV integration firms. This list then helps us get visibility to the types of roles and skills being hired by those companies, in the form of occupation classification of the job postings, made available by the Bureau of Labor Statistics through Emsi, a data analytics firm specializing in the BLS data.
Two occupations jump out at the top of the hiring list for the top integrators – audio video equipment technicians (AVET) and computer user support specialists (CUSS). The first sounds like what one might expect of AV integrators as the title conveys an expertise in AV technologies. It’s the second title that seems out of place, since having computer in the name suggests a more IT bent. The description of the occupation further supports this notion.
Computer User Support Specialists (SOC 15-1151): Provide technical assistance to computer users. Answer questions or resolve computer problems for clients in person, or via telephone or electronically. May provide assistance concerning the use of computer hardware and software, including printing, installation, word processing, electronic mail, and operating systems. Excludes “Network and Computer Systems Administrators” (15-1142).
Other IT related jobs occur further down the list. Computer programmers, information technology project managers, and network/computer systems administrators are all within the top 10 occupations sought by the largest integrators. Skill sets and qualifications tell a similar story. A walk around the InfoComm show in June of this year also adds evidence, as many attendees come from IT positions and are seeking training in AV tech. The key takeaway here is IT professionals are a growing part of the AV integrator resource pool.
Many know this to be true already, based upon their own experiences with hiring in new capabilities. This data, and other data put forward by AVIXA’s new Pro-AV Channel Employment Trends Report, just provide quantification and validation.
The ultimate point of this is recognition and adaptation. The demands of customers are changing, enabling new companies with different skill sets to compete for business. In some cases, this means adapting through hiring in new occupations bringing the needed skills. And in so doing, means knowing what these groups require in terms of compensation and benefits. This is where employment studies and salary studies can help. Take a look at ours for more on this as you attempt to adapt your own firm to the changing market realities. Or don’t, but don’t be surprised if you are out-competed by someone who has chosen this more vertically integrated path.
The Pro-AV Channel Employment Report is available for purchase at www.avixa.org/EmploymentReport. AVIXA members are eligible for discounts