Three professions form a symbiotic Venn in the professional audiovisual industry: Manufacturers, consultants, and integrators.
Manufacturers make the audiovisual systems components, consultants choose and combine components to meet the client’s needs, and integrators install the systems as designed.
As Josh Srago describes it, “Imagine the project design is a paint-by-numbers. The consultant’s role is to draw the lines that show what the project should look like and to provide the numbers. We [the consultants] then work with the integrators to ensure the correct color of mauve is used.”
Josh should know: he’s worked in every circle of the Venn. Starting as a consultant liaison and training manager for an AV manufacturer, he then moved on to direct AV engineering for an integration firm, and then became Design Engineer at TEECOM.
Why Would an Integrator Move into AV Consulting?
Moving from integrator to consultant can be a natural progression, says Josh, because as people become more knowledgeable about systems, they look for more challenging design opportunities.
“I made the move, personally, because I wanted more control over the project outcome,” he says. “When I bid projects for consultants, I would see inefficiencies in the design and I would point these out, but was unable to change them. It was to my advantage to move to the consulting world to have more of a say that the projects were done efficiently and met all the parameters for design, which I was unable to do when I was working as an integrator.”
While there are integration firms that offer design services, a consulting firm is the preferred lead on complex projects: i.e., those that network multiple systems or are integrated into a building’s architecture.
“As an integrator I had done meeting rooms, I had done some hospital systems, but I wanted to get into these true experience centers, where I could design environments,” says Josh. “I haven’t experienced a lot of integration firms that get into the true environment design the way TEECOM can.”
Conquering Career Challenges
When asked what the biggest challenges were in transitioning from integrator to consultant, Josh has three words: “Coordination, coordination, coordination.”
“From an integrator’s standpoint, you are getting a project once it’s already been designed and it’s ready to be installed,” he explains. “All the legwork that came before that, the design decisions, the team conversations, the value engineering — none of that is apparent by the time an integrator comes on the job.”
A consultant must be able to step back, look at the architectural design intent, recognize the impact that their decisions will have on the environment, and possess the diplomatic ability to raise issues to the team as appropriate.
“Being able to tell the architect, ‘I’ve got this going on, and this will be affected,’ is a skill you have to learn,” says Josh. “How do I coordinate ceiling speakers with a wood slat ceiling? How do I coordinate conference tech with an all-glass meeting room? Our role is to create efficiency that clears the way to make the integration easier.”
Part of the learning curve involves understanding the vocabulary for each specialty. “What’s the vocabulary for working with an architect? What’s the vocabulary for working with network engineers? There’s a whole new set of people you’re dealing with on a daily basis,” says Josh.
Another challenge for Josh was learning to work with a team of peers. “I came from a small integration firm where I had a department of two,” says Josh. “At TEECOM, I came to a team of 12. That was a big transition, just understanding how to collaborate and work with a team. It was also one of the big selling points, of course. There’s no design that TEECOM does that’s done in a bubble. There are multiple people that have input. I had never had that.”
Mentoring and Education are the Path to Success
TEECOM supported Josh’s journey through structured mentoring and in-house technical education. “The senior staff always makes time to answer questions,” says Josh. “All the way up to the leadership team, Blair and Larry and Mark in particular.”
Weekly Knowledge Share sessions were very useful, too, says Josh. “People are presenting topics they are subject matter experts on in order to benefit a larger group. That promotes a learning environment, a constant development of who we are as consultants.”
The coordination challenge was something Josh would often ask mentors for help with. “There was a constant push to coach me through that communication and ensure I was doing it on a regular basis so I didn’t forget to do it and get lost in how I had always done something,” he says.
Changing Industry Roles
The big industry discussion these days is about how the practice of audiovisual design is changing rapidly. As AV converges with IT, and enterprise scale integrations become simultaneously more complex and routine, clients are looking to low-voltage technology consulting firms to provide strategy that helps them plan their investments.
It’s the consultant’s role to look three, five, even seven years into the future to anticipate how emerging technology will impact a client’s business, facilities, and personnel. “The integrator’s role is to be the execution arm of those planning stages,” says Josh. “In that sense, moving from integrator to consultant becomes less about the engineering leap and more about project management, partnerships, and relationships.”
Research and development is crucial to strategy, and consultant engineering firms that have established a product-agnostic, internal R&D department will be best positioned to lead the effort. TEECOM’s R&D arm, TEECOMlabs, supports our consulting staff throughout client strategy, providing another differentiator between consulting and integration firms.
If you’re an AV integrator who’s interested in AV consulting, the marketplace is on your side. Consulting firms such as TEECOM are hiring, and TEECOM has the internal structure in place to guide your career path.