Editor's Note: As part of S&VC's 20th anniversary, we are bringing you 20 Years Ago in the Industry, a retrospective glimpse of the industry and S&VC
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May 1, 2003 12:00 PM

Editor's Note: As part of S&VC's 20th anniversary, we are bringing you “20 Years Ago in the Industry,” a retrospective glimpse of the industry and S&VC through the eyes of industry notables. This month S&VC talked to Alan Brawn, who is national product marketing manager for pro A/V at Samsung Electronics America. Brawn has more than 23 years in the industry and a broad background in the business, including positions with MCSi and Hughes/JVC.

Q: How has the industry evolved during the past 20 years?

Our industry has evolved from a simple industry of technologies that appeared complex to complex technologies that today appear simple. We've gone from a product-centric industry to a solutions-centric business and from standalone systems to full IT connectivity. In the early days, we'd do maybe five individual conference rooms, and never the twain shall meet — your boardroom was not connected to your meeting room and so on. Today it all needs to be connected. In terms of running our businesses, we've gone from installation domination to engineering domination. We've gone from huge differentiation in products to almost parity. What remains in the 20 years is the four Ps: products, programs, price, and people, and people are more important than ever before. We essentially have parity in product, parity in program, parity in price, but you don't, and never will, have parity in people. So people are still the most important commodity and, frankly, more so than ever before.

Q: What factors have played a role in changing the industry?

The evolution of technology and, more specifically, from the mainframe to the desktop PC to the laptop — and in the last five years, the IT infrastructure. The so-called need to do more, and do it more quickly, has spawned the technorevolution. Back in 1993, when I was with Hughes/JVC, we offered the first 1,500-lumen light output projector. It was $70,000 and 360 pounds. Today, commonly, we have 1,200-lumen projectors for $3,000 and 3 pounds. So this has all been driven by the mainframe, the desktop, the PC, and the laptop and the ability to crunch numbers, crunch words, the Internet — and it all relates to that.

Q: What are the challenges in your own area of business?

There are universal challenges that relate to the four Ps; beginning with product, there is a challenge caused by rapid product development, sometimes too fast, to the point where we don't give our infrastructure time to catch up. In programs we have to figure out ways for the equipment dealer to remain profitable. Of course, price: ever eroding, and it's getting lower and lower. You go to a dealer, and you say, ‘Guess what? I have a lower price for you today!’ They're not excited. They say, ‘Oh my goodness!’ Because that's just another case of eroding profits. We do that only because you have parity in product and parity in programs. Last but not least is people, because people are the big differentiator, and it's extraordinarily hard to find good people with a great work ethic. We still suffer in our industry with people who grew up in the '90s business environment where business was booming. Today you have to have people who are willing to work hard and study, are willing to educate themselves, and are self-managed and self-motivated. The biggest challenge is finding those people.

Q: Will the industry merge/converge with the information technology industry or telecommunications industry?

Obviously. This may be a rather harsh statement, but the day of pure pro A/V is either over with or nearly done. If you're in the pro A/V business, you have to recognize that the network is the backbone and that everything hangs on the network. Whether we're talking about connecting rooms in a building, buildings to buildings, or countries to countries, connectivity and the network is the key, and it all relates to bits and bytes of data. We have become a data-driven, connectivity-driven industry. The most successful companies in the future will be those with expertise in IT, pro A/V, and audio. The perfect new company is one that has equal doses of those three things.

Q: Where do you see all of this heading in the next 20 years?

In the next 20 years, wireless is going to rule. We are not going to have wiring technology as we know it today. We're going to have video over wireless, and data is going to be expanded. The whole wireless revolution is in the process of taking off in the practical technologies — not the wireless that works here but not there, but universal wireless capability. Also, flat-panel technology will dominate the digital display and presentation arena. Another area is personal connectivity; we're going to see new technologies emerge in products like phones and PDAs in new form factors. Today we see cell phones, tablet PCs, PDAs, but we're going to see a merging of all of these personal connectivity devices that are going to allow you to get onto that network no matter where we are. I really see a continuing, and perhaps even expanding, need for the new pro A/V systems integrator. I don't see us not having the desperate need for people and companies who specialize in connecting all of this together to make it work.

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