By Jack Stubbs
While significant fanfare continues to surround the evolving technology sector in the Puget Sound region—as tech companies of all sizes continue to impact the hot office market—the audiovisual (AV) industry, too, is an evolving field.
On January 25th, 2018, AVIXA, the Audiovisual and Integrated Experience Association, launched the Pacific Northwest chapter of the AVIXA Women’s Council, signaling that strides continue to be made when it comes to highlighting the role of women seeking to make their mark in the Puget Sound region and beyond.
The AV industry, a multibillion-dollar sector that comprises the manufacturers, dealers, consultants and programmers of audiovisual products and services, is being transformed locally in the Pacific Northwest and more broadly across the nation as companies look to integrate AV systems into their operating strategies.
Most are aware of the impacts that the booming construction industry is having on the region—leading to a shortage of labor, higher construction costs and pressures on project schedules—but the AV field is one sector in particular that growing companies are looking to capitalize on.
“Over the last few years, the construction industry has been booming here in Seattle, and AV is certainly wrapped up in that. And across the country, larger companies look for AV support for all their facilities across the country,” said Lauren Yockman, audiovisual business unit manager at McKinstry, who is one of the co-founders of the new chapter. “In addition to that, we’re also seeing more of the consumer technology creep into our commercial world as people are bringing in their own devices for collaboration and presentations, so we’re having to stay on top of those trends as well.”
And while the audiovisual industry is evolving in terms of how clients implement their strategies, a broader trend characterizing the field is an effort to integrate more women into the changing field. AVIXA—which focuses on connecting and fostering talented women in the industry—in recent months celebrated a landmark moment in continuing this trend.
The AVIXA Women’s Council, founded by Debbie Williamson, president of Tempest Technologies, and Yockman, is now comprised of ten chapters across the nation. And one of the goals of the new chapter is to build upon the momentum that the industry has experienced over the last several years by continuing to connect women in the industry, according to Williamson. “I’ve been in the industry for quite some time, and some of the women who have begun chapters in other areas have worked in the industry for a number of years,” she said. “I think my goal is to create bonds with the women who I already know in the industry and offer women who might be considering coming into the industry a place where they can learn what the industry is all about. We’re offering women the insight that there’s a career [here].”
In the broader context, the mission of the new chapter is to promote and highlight the impact that women can have on the AV industry—one that has been changing over the last few years. “With the Women’s Council [Pacific Northwest Chapter], I’m hoping to expose women to different fields within the industry. Back when I started, it was very rare to see a woman involved in the industry other than in administrative or operational capacity; it was even more rare to see a female project manager or field services installation technician. We’d like to get more of these women involved,” Williamson said.
Comprised of ten chapters across the country as of February, AXIVA is currently looking to expand even further, and hopes to eventually start a chapter in every major market across the nation. In August 2017, there were six distinct chapters; and currently, Yockman estimates there are around 12 to 14 nationally.
And while locally in the Pacific Northwest the hope is to connect women looking to make an impact, the sector has been expanding on a global scale, as well. According to AVIXA’s “2017 AV Industry Outlook And Trends Analysis for the Americas” report, the professional AV industry in the Americas (including the U.S., Central and South America), generated $65 billion in 2016 and is expected to generate $83 billion by 2022.
One of the factors that characterizes the AV industry in the Pacific Northwest and further afield is that the various technologies that the industry encompasses—such as audio/production equipment, media storage and distribution and video displays—are being deployed across more sectors, according to Yockman. “As we see broader deployment throughout the market, it really stands [to bear] that the industry’s technology has picked up, especially locally in the Pacific Northwest,” she said. In support of this idea, AVIXA’s 2017 report indicates how the media space in North America is characterized by a a trend of adopting new technologies, embracing new formats and experimenting with new distribution business models. According to the report, streaming media, storage and distribution platforms generated $17 billion in 2016 and now account for over 26 percent of the professional AV market.
Along with this broader shift—towards adopting a wider variety of technologies and implementation methods—there is also a trend occurring as a result of a world that is more digitally focused, according to Williamson. More across-the-board adoption of technology and media means that the client-integrator role is changing. “We’ve seen a lot of transitions in the last ten years going from the analogue world into the digital world. We’ve seen changes in how our clients are using technology; our role as integrators has also evolved along with that. We used to be the subject matter experts for our clients; but now, with access to the internet, they come to us already educated to a great degree. Where we used to be product specialists, now we have to be able to broaden our horizons to offer our clients value in other areas,” she said.
More specifically, from a practical standpoint there is a shift occurring that means that engineers within the industry are having to take different approaches when it comes to providing solutions to their clients, according to Yockman. “We’re seeing a strong convergence of AV and information technology in the industry. Our AV engineers are having to dive much deeper into AV infrastructure and the different layers within it to be able to provide scalable and reliable solutions for our clients,” she said. “Maintenance and monitoring is playing a huge role in that, and with these deployment options, users are able to get the real-time data information and analytics that help them to develop long-term strategies throughout their organizations.”
Another of the trends characterizing the evolving industry is a shift emphasizing the client experience in the implementation of technology. According to the report, systems installation/integrations services represent the second largest share of AV spend (13 percent), behind only media servers (26 percent). Across the board, clients of all size and scale are looking for a more ready-made experiences, according to Williamson. “We’re seeing a trends more towards client experience; a lot of people are picking up in-house installations and wall-systems. They want to be able to walk into a room where everything can be standardized,” she said. “they want to be able to schedule rooms remotely, and their expectations have gone towards the service side of things. We’re seeing [this with] small- to medium-sized businesses and enterprise clients.”
In spite of this overall tendency towards a desire for product standardization from a client’s perspective, the broader industry is characterized by differing standards in terms of the way that training and preparation for the industry is conducted on a national level. And the Pacific Northwest is feeling this disconnect more acutely than other areas, according to Williamson. “One of the biggest challenges for the industry is that there aren’t nationwide standards [in the audiovisual industry. As an innovation company in the Pacific northwest, there are contracting and licensing challenges as you move into other areas,” she said.
In light of the challenges in shining a light on the evolving industry in the Puget Sound region, the hope is that AVIXA’s new Pacific Northwest Chapter will help to promote female talent in the field, according to Williamson. “We’d love to hire more people, but there currently isn’t an AV school that we can send people to. So it’s up to us to educate our team members; it takes a lot of time to home-grow an individual and train them to be in the industry.”