AV services, or the evolved AV-as-a-service enables businesses to spread the cost of AV purchases, obtain regular refreshes of hardware and software, outsource critical support and maintenance, and scale up or down according to need. Paul Bray finds out how to make it work, and explains the benefits and pitfalls for would-be suppliers.
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Having taken the IT world by storm some years ago, the acquisition of software, AV services and even hardware on a monthly subscription basis, or ‘as-a-service’, is now making steady progress in the AV market.
Preferred business model
“AV-as-a-service (AVaaS) has established itself as a preferred model for businesses seeking cost-effective, flexible and scalable AV solutions, and pretty much everything we offer can be bought as-a-service,” says Gerry Fredericks, head of growth at integrator, Pioneer Group.
“AV and IT as-a-service have gained significant traction in recent years,” says Andy Sullivan, co-founder of integrator, Tateside. “These services enable clients to have the newest hardware, installed and maintained from a professional partner, without the need to spend capex budgets, while having a support plan that’s catered for their business. This is a highly attractive option for many companies.”
“The shift to hybrid work environments, with a need for simpler, more cost-effective meeting spaces, has propelled the AVaaS model forward, since it reduces the upfront professional service costs typically incurred at the installation stage,” adds Jonathan Mangnall, EMEA managing director of Utelogy.
Support is paramount
“Customers are mainly interested in support, and our most popular request is to bundle in a maintenance package to prolong the life of the equipment and add ongoing support,” says Sullivan.
As Microsoft Teams Rooms and Zoom Rooms roll-outs increase, suppliers can at least offer the software licences on an as-a-service basis, observes Siegfried Hermann, EMEA president of Lightware. “There are also IT and AV integrators offering the complete room solution as an AVaaS model,” he adds.
“Solutions such as video collaboration and conferencing, digital signage walls and content management, innovation space technology, and virtual and mixed reality are all part of AVaaS,” adds Nimish Nair, business development manager at Runtech.
“We’ve noticed an increasing number of global integrators and IT partners developing complex AV/UC managed service models,” says Mangnall. “These are crafted to satisfy the requirements of large enterprises that are seeking top-notch, proactive managed services which can deliver the user experiences necessary for the contemporary workplace.”
Room for change
If AVaaS has yet to become the dominant model across the AV world, this may have more to do with attitudes than suitability. “Often AV is still treated as part of the investment budget in new buildings, and costs are seen as capex, not opex,” says Hermann. “Besides that, many traditional AV suppliers and integrators are not offering a complete as-a-service model.”
“The prevalent procurement approach for AV equipment is usually project-based and centres around capital cost,” agrees Mangnall. “It often overlooks the total cost of ownership over the equipment’s lifecycle. For the AVaaS model to truly take off and lower the TCO of AV solutions, this procurement model needs to evolve from being budget-centric to being outcome-focused.”
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In order to succeed, AVaaS solutions needs to offer top quality. “They should provide a best-in-class AV service, including long-term, ongoing feature development and a clear roadmap to deliver real value over time,” says Liam Hayter, product manager for micro broadcasting at Vizrt. “As customers’ needs change and grow, suppliers must stay close and drive real value through regular feature updates. If the service stagnates, it’s a huge warning sign that it’s not the right approach.”
Successful solutions must also provide everything the customer needs. “We’re developing a comprehensive AVaaS service offering, including installation, maintenance, technical support, training and system upgrades,” says Fredericks. “Offering a holistic solution ensures that our customers can rely on us for end-to-end AVaaS support.”
Managing expectations on both sides is key. Clear SLAs help to build trust and accountability, so make sure you’ve got established, transparent SLAs with defined service response times, uptime guarantees and performance metrics which set appropriate expectations.
“For example, recently a client wanted priority support for an auditorium and CEO boardroom – both have high-profile usage,” says Sullivan. “We were able to offer a one-hour SLA within London on these high-profile spaces, whereas the remaining thirty meeting rooms had a four-hour response.”
Timely and effective technical support is crucial for customer satisfaction – of course. “We have a dedicated support team that can promptly address customer inquiries, troubleshoot issues and provide solutions,” says Fredericks. “And we’ve implemented robust monitoring and maintenance systems to proactively identify and address any issues with the AVaaS infrastructure. This includes monitoring performance, identifying potential bottlenecks and providing timely maintenance and upgrades.”
However, providing an enterprise-grade support service could prove problematic for smaller integrators, believes Hermann. “The average AV integrator in EMEA has fewer than thirty employees. It’s difficult for these to offer complete as-a-service solutions.
“Manufacturers will need to support them with extended warranty offerings, backup hardware and regular refresh cycles.”
Suppliers should also maintain regular communication with their clients, and treat their questions and issues as a priority, according to Hayter. “This is essential to manage the customer relationship well. Keep in contact, engage in conversation, provide feedback, and be prepared for agile product development with rapid iteration.”
“Conducting periodic performance reviews with customers helps us assess their satisfaction levels, gather feedback and identify areas for improvement,” adds Fredericks. “It also provides an opportunity to discuss potential expansion or customisation of AV services based on the customer’s evolving requirements.”
Within the supplier, the relationship between pre- and post-sales may need to change, according to Faye Bennett, founder of Faye Bennett Consultancy Services.
“The unification of sales and service functions to deliver end-to-end solutions is incredibly important. The customer journey isn’t just a one-off sale that’s then handed to the service team for post-project support. It’s a long-term partnership that evolves with changing needs, and so it needs to be treated that way. It’s the post-sales support that makes the lifecycle management of the solution valuable to end users, and that means investing in post-sales support functions that truly deliver on-going value.”
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Moving to an AVaaS model
Suppliers considering moving to an AVaaS model need to do so with their eyes open. The aspects that can prove so attractive for the customer, such as reduced up-front expenditure and regular hardware refresh, can generate matching headaches for the supplier.
“Moving from a capex model to a consumption model presents financial and cash flow challenges for smaller integrators,” says Mangnall. “This perceived financial risk and the prospect of a major overhaul can deter businesses from transitioning to the AVaaS model.”
“Rapid advancements in AV technology can lead to the risk of technological obsolescence,” says Fredericks. “We’re investing in ongoing research and development to stay ahead of emerging trends and technologies. Regularly assessing and updating AV service offerings will help us avoid becoming outdated in a rapidly evolving market.”
Determining the right pricing strategy for AVaaS can also be challenging, adds Fredericks. “We need to balance competitive pricing with profitability to ensure sustainable business growth. Conducting thorough market research, understanding cost structures, and monitoring customer value perception are crucial for pricing optimisation.”
And security and compliance must be watertight. “We must prioritise data security, and comply with relevant regulations to protect customer data and privacy,” says Fredericks. “Implementing robust security, conducting regular audits, and staying informed about industry best practices are essential to mitigate security risks.”
But the benefits for the AVaaS supplier can far outweigh the drawbacks, and go well beyond the obvious advantage of a guaranteed and continuing revenue stream.
“AVaaS is an effective conversation starter with customers,” says Brian Trampler, senior product and strategy manager at Black Box. “Even if they don’t immediately opt for AVaaS, it plants a seed for future AV deployments. Personal interactions, such as discussions with engineers, play a significant role in guiding customers towards suitable AV solutions, rather than relying solely on promotional materials.”
“We’ve historically gained business through word of mouth, recommendations and repeat business,” says Tateside’s Sullivan. “We’re now experiencing more clients finding out about our service offerings, and we’re taking over pre-existing or expired AV service contracts as well as new ones.”
At Pioneer Group, AVaaS has enabled a sharper focus on technology upgrades and innovation. “It gives us the ability to continually update and enhance our AV service offerings with the latest AV technologies and features, and so differentiate ourselves in the market,” says Fredericks.
Adaptation to client change
Surpassing all these, however, the benefit most often cited by AVaaS suppliers is the opportunity to forge stronger and more lasting relationships with customers.
“Moving into AVaaS has opened a richer dialogue with our customers, partners and end users for a more positive, long-term feedback loop beyond that of the traditional AV sales model,” says Hayter. “With even more direct and constant communication with our end users, we learn what they’re searching for and how to adapt faster and better for the future.”
“Strong customer relationships can lead to additional revenue opportunities through upselling, cross-selling and customer referrals,” adds Fredericks. “AVaaS also allows us to collect valuable data on customer usage patterns, preferences and performance metrics. Leveraging this data through analytics helps us gain insights into customer behaviour, optimise service delivery, and tailor offerings to better meet the needs of existing and future customers.”
Full story in the August/September issue of AV Magazine.
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