By Alesia Hendley (Republished with permission from Commercial Integrator. For more information, go to CommercialIntegrator.com)
Considering supply-chain woes, the ascendance of software, the move to interoperability and other factors that will shape the year ahead.
What’s in store for the AV industry? The last two years have certainly been unpredictable, but the last few months of the year have been extremely promising. In-person events are back in full swing, and business has begun to pick back up! That means that, for lots of #avtweeps, many aspects of business are headed in an upward direction.
After 2022 has come to an end, it seems like the right time to discuss what the future may hold for our industry in 2023. Let’s dive in!
We can’t possibly address the future of our industry without talking supply chain. So, let’s attack it right from the start! I think there’s been some improvement here, as we’re beginning to see slight shifts in availability. But to ensure that Commercial Integrator readers get a well-rounded perspective, I sought expert input from key industry thought leaders.
Rob Voorhees, who is a business development manager with Exertis Almo, acknowledges that our industry has been hit from all sides. “Using audio as a category example,” he begins, “there have been times this year when we’ve been faced with nearly no amplifiers in stock due to the chip shortage. When we began to find amplifiers, we were then faced with no mixers available.” He describes this as a constant challenge these days. But, sounding an optimistic note, Voorhees continues, “Now, toward the end of the year, we’re seeing amplifier levels gradually increase, speaker inventory is nearly at pre-pandemic levels, and mixers are slowly starting to ramp up, as well.”
Voorhees readily grants that there are still products — he points to DSPs — that are low on the supply-chain totem pole, but he is encouraged by what he’s seeing. “I think we’ll continue to see improvements in [the] supply chain,” he declares. “I would not be surprised to have near-normal levels in these categories by mid-spring 2023.”
Rachael Harris, who currently works with the team responsible for video streaming inside a large financial institution, doesn’t expect a whole lot of gigantic shifts in 2023. “[But] I do think that the year will innovate in its own way,” she acknowledges, “by forcing us to continue figuring out how to deal with the problems that developed during 2020.”
Nyere Hollingsworth, who leads global technology teams, agrees with Harris, predicting that we’re going to see continued supply-chain disruptions in 2023. He pinpoints what he sees as the breaking point: “[When] manufacturers that were filling the gaps with available inventory start to see that inventory dip below levels necessary to satisfy demand.” Hollingsworth doesn’t expect these issues to ease up until the latter half of 2023, as newer production units start to hit the market. “As a result,” he adds, “we will have to continue to get more creative with existing inventory and products and reset expectations for project delivery.”
As our industry continues to face supply-chain issues, it’s up to us to develop, innovate and get creative to push things forward. From Hollingsworth’s perspective, a big part of that is the shift away from proprietary hardware and toward software-based solutions. As Hollingsworth puts it, “The gift that the supply-chain disruptions brought us is an increased focus on developing software solutions [for applications] that we would historically have addressed with hardware. I’m increasingly excited about the advances in signal distribution and media processing over commodity hardware that will allow us to automate services and solutions and create user-friendly interfaces and repeatable designs.” He adds, “These will deliver the immersive experiences that our end users are demanding.”
Harris openly acknowledges that long lead times to receive gear are expected to continue into 2023, calling it just part of what end-user customers have to deal with now. “I think we’re going to see end users becoming more agnostic about the brand names that make up their inventories,” she predicts, “even to the degree of considering software solutions for jobs that have been typically handled with hardware.” Harris continues, expressing her belief that users will get more creative about their options. “[They] want more understanding about how their systems work and what they can do to be part of keeping things running smoothly,” she says.
Product Advancements in 2023
“Our industry has been moving at light speed with product development for nearly three years,” Bryan Hellard, owner and lead researcher of UC Test Lab, observes, noting that we’ve witnessed a complete change in work habits and location in that time. He explains that companies have introduced new products, and adapted existing products, to accommodate this change. “I predict a continued effort to increase meeting quality, regardless of the location of the user,” Hellard declares. “AI in devices will continue to improve. Cameras will get better at framing, with higher accuracy rates. And audio devices will get smarter, increasing [in] their ability to automatically reduce static and acute noises without affecting voice quality.” He continues, “In the future, I see imaging systems with multiple sensors or a larger single sensor capable of capturing participants individually with high quality, regardless of physical location in the room.”
After many years of testing and evaluating products in our space, Hellard attests that meeting equity has truly become a major focus for manufacturers, integrators and end users alike.
Mike Slamer, who is executive AV engineer at Warner Bros. Discovery, adds his voice to the conversation about UC&C technology and its advancement. “I believe that we will continue to see manufacturers delivering personal devices and equipment designed around the ‘prosumer’ [who is] looking to achieve a higher quality of experience,” he predicts. From Slamer’s perspective, the name of game is agility, by which he means considering humans’ innate ability to grow and adapt as well as our craving for familiar routines. The nexus of those factors might be ease of use. “When it comes to routine and technology,” he says, “folks just want their kit to work.” Continuing, he points to a range of prospective clients — “from large corporate offices, to campuses, to tech hubs and colleges, right down to each individual” — who recognize ease of use as the top priority.
Slamer also clearly states that, today, delivering an excellent experience is paramount in facilitating successful video calls. “Clarity in messaging, a clean video feed and a robust audio experience are so important when discussing the issues of today,” he declares. “People understand this now more than ever — and that goes for organizations, too!”
Slamer points to Logitech, Poly and Jabra as three companies that have already established themselves as bridging the gap between enterprise and personal-device technologies, a trend that our experts have touched on. He elaborates, “I believe that 2023 will see the continuation of this trend, leveraging USB and Bluetooth technologies in ways that will ultimately improve a device’s compatibility and lifecycle as global supply chains continue to shift due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.”
Interoperability Steps Forward
From Hellard’s perspective, interoperability was the biggest industry story of the year. “Interoperability took a dramatic step forward with news that, soon, we will be able to run Microsoft Teams natively on [Cisco meeting devices],” he enthuses. What’s more, Hellard is looking forward to even more native integrations coming from vendors that, he says, might fear being left behind. He adds, “We’re still waiting for that non-PC-based, magical device that can run every service natively with a touch of an icon. Even if that doesn’t materialize in 2023, we’re off to a great start with the partnership between Cisco and Microsoft.”
So, what are some takeaways? Software will be prominent. Interoperability will remain a crucial factor as we power through supply-chain issues. And we’ll have to apply our creativity to designs as product advancements continue to push the envelope.
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