What the AV and IT Convergence Misses

*Originally published on CommercialIntegrator.com

The AV and IT convergence is often misapplied. Brawn takes a closer look at the differences between AV, IT and digital signage.

Sit back and grab a hot cup or a cold drink and (hopefully) enjoy the discussion. This one is about those of us in commercial AV, IT, and/or digital signage… because it touches all of us (and our customers) in one way, shape, or form. It is about evolution and paradigm shifts in technologies, and how digital signage is ultimately different from both AV and IT, while still embracing parts of the other two.

This is about the differences in each practice (i.e., the objectives) that are not covered in the overused (and often misapplied) term convergence.

Suffice to say, that at some level AV and IT have converged. For over a decade a plethora of articles have been written about the “need” for AV and IT to converge.

I suggest that while AV and IT frequently work in unison at the infrastructure level, they have not really completely converged and may never fully do so. They are certainly tangential to one another with varying amounts of overlap. The point is that they are distinct in their work processes. Let’s begin by looking at AV and IT as industries and groups of technologies.

AV & IT as Industries and Groups of Technologies

Historically the commercial AV industry has focused on technologies, products, and systems.

The pro AV industry is charged with the creation, transportation, display, collaboration, and communication of information to the intended audience. The goal of AV integration is to give clients a full range of total solutions from which to pick, and then make the operation and communication of audio and video seamless.

The growth we see today is directly linked to the expansion of the internet and IT networks, interfacing with all the software and hardware in a digital world. From the 1980’s to the mid 1990’s the professional audiovisual industry was driven by individual technologies installed in an environment, but typically isolated in scale and scope.

Since 2000 the commercial AV industry has been driven by expanding communications, sharing of data, and introducing collaboration and interactivity, both internally and externally. This is where IT comes into the picture.

One IT subject matter expert suggests an inclusive definition; “Information technology is the use of computers, storage, networking and other physical devices, infrastructure and processes to create, process, store, secure and exchange all forms of electronic data.”

The Harvard Business Review introduced the term information technology to make a distinction between purpose-built computers designed to perform limited functions, and general-purpose computing machines that could be programmed for various tasks.

IT now embraces an array of technologies and related disciplines. The foundation of IT is still basic computer-based information systems, including computing hardware, operating systems, application software and the data that is processed to produce useful information.

Over time, each of these IT components and functions has become more complex, embracing ever-growing subsets of technologies and methodologies. IT no longer just happens locally; cloud computing environments now complement and even replace on-premises resources of the traditional data center. All these developments have made IT more complex and require greater specialization and new roles and responsibilities from the IT workforce.

IT creates, manages, and services the backbone of where AV often exists. To me, the most appropriate way to look at the relationship of IT and AV is one of symbiosis. Of course, there are IT people who can take on AV-centric projects, and AV people who are familiar with IT, but the work processes and responsibilities are different. Without fear of contradiction, what can truly be said is that IT and AV are codependent.

Hopefully the different and overlapping roles in AV and IT are clearly stated, but where does digital signage fit in to this discussion? Isn’t this just a subset of both AV and IT? The correct answer is a firm yes, and an equally firm no.

Digital Signage & AV and IT Convergence

Certainly digital signage uses displays and media players to convey the message and they also use networks to connect disparate displays. So, in this simplified sense the answer is yes… but in a bigger overall perspective, digital signage is different.

In a conversation with our own digital signage expert Jonathan Brawn with his DSF, DSEG, and AVIXA hats firmly in place, he noted the following, “AV is technology driving the experience whereas digital signage is the experience driving the technology.”

At the heart of digital signage is the content. It is famously said that content is king, but we would add the word relevant to this statement because content just for the sake of content does not do the work that the digital signage network is intended to perform.

It may be advertising based, trying to sell something or improve a brand identity, or it may be informational in nature and part of a mainstream communication platform.

The key consideration in all of this is the objective of the content. This establishes the parameters of the viewer’s experience. It is the content that is the behavior modification device, enhances the experience, and promotes a positive reaction to the call to action.

If you look at the constituencies of AV, IT, and digital signage they are different. In commercial AV there are manufacturers, distributors, integrators, and consultants, plus end users who make up the core of the industry.

We see a broader and more intertwined constituency making up the digital signage market. Hardware and software manufacturers, distributors, designers and consultants, VARS and integrators, content creators, advertising firms, investors, network providers and operators, maintenance and service providers, and end users all make up the digital signage market.

Only a few years back, less than 25 percent of commercial AV integrators considered digital signage a major part of their core business. While this is increasing, and some companies have an increasing focus on digital signage, the AV industry overall still lags.

Keep in mind that both the AV and digital signage industries are growing at approximately 10 percent each per year and forecasted to perform at that level for the foreseeable future.

As we all know, InfoComm and ISE are the 800-pound gorilla trade events of the commercial AV world. At the association level a few years back, there was a name change from InfoComm to AVIXA to recognize the experiential nature of the convergence of AV, IT, and digital signage. A name change alone is not sufficient.

What is needed is a paradigm shift in thinking. As most know, the trade show for the digital signage industry, the Digital Signage Expo (DSE) closed their doors due to the pandemic in the fall of 2020. This has left a void to be filled. The uninitiated will simply say “go to InfoComm!”, but I suggest it is not quite that cut and dried.

The reason for the DSE was that it provided a welcoming home for the full constituency of the digital signage industry. It was never a huge show, but it was focused on the participants in the industry. If you attended, you knew exactly what the show and attendee focus was.

Wrinkles and warts aside, it felt like an annual get together of likeminded individuals not unlike what InfoComm feels like to the AV integration and consultant community.

The good news is that AVIXA understands and has verbalized openly that it needs to create that welcoming atmosphere of the former DSE beyond the simple addition of a booth or pavilion. They know that it is not either/or but additive. AXIVA, along with the Digital Signage Federation (DSF), are collaborating on creating a home for the full constituency of the industry.

AV, IT and Digital Signage Are Different

The benefits of this are significant. Not only will a void be filled, but by working hand in hand AV, IT, and digital signage will thrive. In this case one plus one can be more than the sum of its parts.

I point out that this is the potential, and that is important. To be successful the proverbial devil is in the details. The intent is there on the part of AVIXA and the DSF. InfoComm will embrace digital signage in a more significant manner. Invitations will be sent, and we will soon see the results. Patience is the key, and it will not be immediate… but I for one place my bet on this being a success.

Hopefully, you see why I claim that AV, IT, and digital signage are different, and tangential convergence aside, they need to be treated as such.