No industry is immune to change, and this is even more true for technology-based economies whose life cycles can be measured in time spans as short as three months. If you’ve worked in the audio-visual (AV) industry in the past decade, you’ve witnessed a hardware-centric community transform itself into one driven by software and innovation. I’m a computer scientist that’s found my way into the AV community almost by accident. I’m glad it happened because it’s given me the opportunity to witness the revolution of a $12B stable hardware industry into an innovative space that’s defining how we work, play, and communicate with one another. Many of us have embraced the idea that the AV industry should own the user-experience in our shared spaces – after all we’re developing the technologies and products that produce the visual and auditory experiences in lobbies, conference rooms, hallways, and huddle spaces. It’s a big responsibility – but an exciting one.
Lately I’ve been asked by analysts and the AV media about “life after convergence”. After all, we spent the past decade anticipating how the IT and software industry would converge with AV and now that it’s happened it’s natural to contemplate its effects – both obvious and unintended. Once such side effect is the ability to now view the artifacts we create as platforms for what really matter – compelling AV services delivered to the user. While it’s tempting to think about the boxes, cables, displays, mounts, and panels that make up AV, it’s valuable to think about the AV industry in two parts: IoT + Hardware as a service. That’s how we’re starting to view our own product, Solstice, and I know many of our partners are beginning to think about it as well. Each generation of AV gets smarter; sensors, reporting mechanisms, and standardized APIs allow us to access and control each piece of hardware like never before. This allows us to focus on providing value through software and services that are delivered on the hardware unit.
So what is “hardware-as-a-service” (HaaS)? It’s a focus on the delivery of value to the user as a service and not by selling that same user a “thing”. Of course, in the world of AV, there will always be a “thing”. After all, as I’ve pointed out before, AV is the last-hop to the eyes and ears of the user. Fundamentally, what AV does is bridge the physical and digital worlds through sight and sound, and that’s partly what makes it interesting. But, we should really think about the hardware as a socket that allows us to deliver services to the user. Think of an electrical plug deployed in your house that allows the electric company to provide you with a monthly service of power. You really don’t place much value in the socket – but you’re willing to pay the electric company a monthly fee for the service of electrical power.
HaaS is a business model that allows companies to sell hardware, software, maintenance, monitoring, and even analytics for a monthly fee. The hardware is bundled into the cost of the monthly service and managed services along with a service level agreement (SLA) can often play a role. HaaS will begin to play more of a role in the AV industry over the next few years. This is because AV hardware is less and less specialized, driven by large-scale consumer markets and Moore’s Law, and rapid prototyping that has shortened hardware development times. This allows us to view the hardware we are building as a commodity that supports the value of software – much like that electrical socket in your house.
This isn’t just a technology side-effect – it’s driven by real value. Think about all the old gadgets you have in that drawer at home that have become commoditized and are no longer supported/useful. Or, maybe more pertinent, the closet full of old video matrix switchers that only support VGA input you have. In the world of HaaS, users don’t have to own the hardware; instead, they own the service that they want. If you purchase a computer, it’ll lose a significant portion of its value in the first year. This is why companies like Microsoft have launched Surface as a Service programs. You could argue that bike sharing servicesare really a HaaS model – you don’t need to own a bike, you need the transport service that gets you around for $15/month.
As we look at the evolution of the AV industry – I am sure that HaaS will move to the forefront in the next few years. I know we’ll be looking at it closely. After all, what we really do is provide a software service that makes your meetings better. It’s not about the hardware, it’s about how the software can intelligently provide services and experiences the world wants.