Q&A with Paul Depperschmidt, Cisco Systems
A long-time member of the pro AV industry and former executive at companies like Polycom and Tandberg now works for Cisco to build bridges between AV and IT.
PAUL DEPPERSCHMIDT , CISCO SYSTEMS: Depperschmidt, an InfoComm Certifi ed Technology Specialist (CTS), was the AV trade association's Educator of the Year in 2007 and played various roles in InfoComm's Professional Education and Training Committee. After having spent parts of his career at Polycom and Tandberg, he was recently tabbed to manage Cisco's AV integration market development—sort of the pro AV representative in a giant IT company. How does he see the two industries coming together?
PRO AV: You were at Tandberg when Cisco bought it and rattled some nerves. What was your reaction?
DEPPERSCHMIDT: There's a path that AV as an industry and AV integrators are headed down and it's not a bad thing. It depends on how you look at it. Is the glass half full or half empty? Cisco expects that what is a $2 billion market today for telepresence and conferencing will be $8 billion in four or five years. An integrator may look at that and say, "How am I going to compete?" But I ask them, "If I told you that in the next three years I need you to triple your AV integration business, could you do it?" Most of them look like deer in headlights. That's what we may be faced with in the next few years. We may not have enough talented AV companies that know how to make this work properly. That sure seems like an opportunity to me.
PRO AV: Was it fair to say that Tandberg's AV dealers were worried Cisco's dealers would muscle them out?
DEPPERSCHMIDT: Sure, one of the biggest fears of AV integrators was that all Cisco partners would get access to the product line and the AV guys would get lost in the shuffle. For the foreseeable future the telepresence line will be restricted. I'd say the mix right now is about one-third Cisco partners, two-thirds Tandberg partners with access to telepresence products. But AV dealers had good reason to be concerned. We changed our entire structure on Feb. 1. The existing telepresence partner programs for Cisco and Tandberg disappeared. Now there's a new partner program that combines both. When you wholesale dump one process into another, it's not always the smoothest thing.
PRO AV: What specifically have Tandberg dealers struggled with?
DEPPERSCHMIDT: Mainly the order process, but also the new certification process and levels, which won't be Earth-shattering, just different. As much as possible, we tried to retain the best of both certifications. It's not like Tandberg dealers are starting from scratch; we grandfathered many of the requirements. But some of the partners looked at Cisco's requirements and said, "I don't see how this is going to pay off for me."
PRO AV: So current Tandberg-certified dealers are in the new program. Do they need to add certifications?
DEPPERSCHMIDT: Just expand on them. In most cases they're good to go for six months. But at the end of those six months, they need to be at a different stage. What we're asking them to do is not outrageous. The partner has to stand on their own. If they're going to promote the telepresence solutions, they have to be able to sell, design, install, support, and maintain them. There are [also] higher certifications to shoot for, but they're not required.
PRO AV: How will all the AV-IT convergence play out?
DEPPERSCHMIDT: I remember standing in front of an NSCA business conference in 2003 and telling them that this AV-IT thing was going to be about real-time communication on an IP network. I'm not sure a lot of people picked up on the subtleties. They're assuming if they pick up a Cisco CCIE or a Microsoft-certified person that they have the chops to be in telepresence or digital signage. It's not necessarily true. If you need to run HD video on a network, it takes different skills. AV integrators don't know it all. IT integrators don't know it all. So it's still an open opportunity. The companies to watch are telephony integration companies. If you can do voice over IP, you can pick up the video part. But they typically can't do the last mile, which is the AV user experience. And if that's not right, the rest is wasted effort. Does an AV company have a future in all this? Absolutely. If they have the expertise, they may offer a one-stop solution, or they may be brought in by someone as an AV contractor and not supply the video codec, but they get everything else—the design, the other AV products, plus the maintenance.
PRO AV: Are you the only CTS at Cisco?
DEPPERSCHMIDT: [Laughs] There are a few of us, but then again, there weren't many at Tandberg.