Head along to the InfoComm show and you can’t help but be convinced the industry is in rude health. Big show; big numbers; lots of happy blokes (in the main) slapping each other on the back and enjoying free beer.
So why would one of the most influential figures in the industry convene the world’s AV media, along with a group of hand-picked, top-draw system integrators and heavy-hitting end users to tell them the industry is about to end as we know it?
Joe Pham is CEO of QSC and he did something really quite peculiar at this year’s InfoComm show. Rather than calling the usual press conference where the usual protocols are observed — new products, hand shakes, ‘thanks for everyone’s support’ etc — he used his time to, in effect, call a school assembly.
Joe’s 50-minute address was a fastidiously prepared, yet idiosyncratic, TED-style lecture on why the AV industry, as we know it, is soon to disappear.
Joe is a big film buff. A phamily (sorry) holiday in Dubrovnik gave Joe a binge-forged love of Game of Thrones (location filmed in the medieval Croatian city). More recently QSC took care of a large chunk of the technical undertaking of the Hollywood premiere of Avengers: Endgame. Joe’s a big fan. He even got to exchange fanboy pleasantries with Chris Evans.
Why do Joe’s movie habits mean anything more than a ‘hill of beans’? He wants us to be GoT’s Jon Snow; to be an Avenger; to have more than the vision to see the writing on the interactive whiteboard but to actually have the guts to do something about it.
It’s not easy. When everyone’s frantically loading their Kodachrome and snapping away on their SLRs, it’s hard to be the one not to advocate for opening yet another 60-minute photo developing store.
Joe’s favourite is Captain America. I suspect there are some in the industry who might liken him more to Loki.
Don’t get me wrong. Joe is as smart as they come. And no one in the industry can dispute the fact QSC has hardly taken a misstep under his leadership.
But what perhaps unnerves many in the industry is his apparent disregard for ‘the opposition’. Actually ‘disregard’ is the wrong word. He likes the opposition, because he likes the industry, but what the opposition is up to doesn’t concern him.
Joe sees the future very clearly. The future isn’t in manufacturing. He points to Andreessen Horowitz’s seminal Wall Street Journal article of 2011, ‘Why Software Is Eating the World’, as a prophetic take on the AV biz.
For a manufacturer, like QSC, you might think Joe’s industry critique could be distressing. Not so for Joe. He has taken a company that some 15 years ago was a Top 2 or 3 manufacturer of power amps and, under his leadership, is turning it into something else entirely — an IT company.
Joe reckons software is about to eat the AV industry. After all, if it’s ‘eating the world’ then it’s presumptuous to think we’re not immune.
What do we do about it? Good news: the answer, for now, isn’t to stop making stuff. After all, the world still needs to hear and see things.
But Joe is adamant that product designed, built and marketed in isolation is a doomed orphan of the software world.
Bad news: that sort of product accounts for the vast majority of what you’ll find on the InfoComm show floor.
PLATFORMS & ECOSYSTEMS
Instead, Joe insists that products need to reside within a ‘platform’ and a platform, thanks to software, can bring products together in a cogent manner. What’s more, you need to choose an ecosystem, where platforms can coalesce. Think: iOS or Android.
Q-SYS is the QSC ecosystem, but Joe wasn’t here to pitch his product, he’s here to tell you where it’s at.
I believe him.
Could today’s lecture be the well-rehearsed ravings of a self publicist and company man?
I don’t think so. Anyone who volunteers to chair the AVIXA board (a position which Joe currently fills) demonstrates to me that self interest couldn’t be further from his main aims.
No, Joe wants to raise Avengers. See the future and respond. Have the cojones to pipe up and not just make a better mouse trap, but to reinvent the way you do business.
It’s as inspiring as it is ambiguous — there were no handbooks handed out afterwards.
The world of IT tells us there are only a handful of Apples and Googles, and the rest of us either design things that work within their eco systems or make a living helping people to operate within those ecosystems. And if Joe’s right, that’s AV’s future. Maybe it’s time to choose.
P.S. Just got back from a follow up chat with Joe Pham in his hotel room. Which sounds more intimate than the reality of the situation: 1. Joe’s room takes up about half the top floor of the Hyatt, and 2. he invited the rest of the people attending his address today.
My primary interest was to see how his penthouse compared with mine (joke).
Joe was at pains to point out that he didn’t think the AV industry was somehow going away anytime soon, but intimated that the only thing standing between many small- to medium-sized manufacturers (who don’t choose an ecosystem) and obscurity, are longstanding industry partnerships/friendships. The descent into hyper-niche irrelevancy would be inevitable.
Joe also confirmed my iOS/Android ecosystem parallel.
I like Joe. He’s got all the über-geek credentials you could ever want but can play the hard-arse business captain role as well. Is he the ‘smartest guy in the room’? Who knows. Is he the only one who can read the entrails? Of course not. But he is one of the few thought leaders to stick his head above the parapet and say what he thinks. Even at the risk of his own reputation or his company’s competitive advantage.
What he did today was risky; you can’t explain it away as just another self-serving gab fest.