What Cisco Sees in AV

Like you, Cisco managers are thinking about how to sell AV systems. Tomorrow and 10 years from tomorrow.

At a time when IT networks are finally delivering what we imagined when we first heard of Novell, it’s clear that media networks are the next frontier–selling AV systems means selling networked AV. Naturally that’s Cisco’s viewpoint; the company is investing hard in making it a reality and that investment will impact this market.

It is already a reality to some extent. AV is no longer just about content presentation, display, and playback (although that remains a key expertise because quality matters more than ever). But it is also about content distribution to destinations and devices of all kinds that are constantly changing, depending on audience and business case. Modern AV networks will move audio and video internally inside an organization (telepresence, training, user-generated video) and externally to customers and partners (telepresence digital signage and messaging to mobile devices).

This means, says Cisco’s Thomas Wyatt, that AV experts and IT experts will be mutually dependent, not only to make systems work but to drive the AV market itself and to generate the business that keeps us all in business.

Wyatt is VP and GM of Cisco’s Digital Media Systems business unit, part of a larger Emerging Technologies Group (ETG) led by Senior VP Marthin De Beer who will give Infocomm’s first-ever keynote address on Tuesday. Wyatt led the acquisition of the digital signage company Tivella in 2007 and works intimately with AV systems integrators and the product line that will be on display at Cisco’s booth (C5802).

“Whether you’re Cisco or an AV partner, it comes down to understanding your customer’s customer”? Wyatt says. “What is going to move the needle for the client with their customer? What customer impact is the client trying to make using the AV systems?”  This means understanding not simply that the media network has to “work” in terms of delivering reliable, quality video and audio, but exactly how the network will be used and to what end. What is a customer’s priority? What can be good enough? What has to be better than good enough? And then as the expert, can you tell them what is really possible and what is not?

It’s significant that Wyatt is focusing the sale on the customer’s customer. It casts the AV and IT vendor as a consultant, whose role is to understand the business objective of the AV system and help their client envision a business outcome enabled by AV. Big change not only in technology but in sales relationships. He talks about “video experiences” (and points out that the Cisco booth at InfoComm is designed to showcase working models of various video experiences–ones that overlap digital signage with telepresence, telepresence with “show-and-share” etc).

“Many people in AV already have deep relationships with some of the people who are the buying decisionmakers,” Wyatt says. “IT people will already have relationships with CIOs who are also decisionmakers.”? But he says, existing relationships may or may not know the marketing and HR executives, people who will increasingly have a stake in the network. As business systems and departments converge, he says, the key is to leverage existing relationship into expanded collaborations. “Budgets will not come solely from one department,” he points out, saying an AV system has to be a value proposition across multiple departments and budgets within an organization. “It’s at the operating committee level” the combined business case is getting these deals done, not the siloed application.”

A look at the Cisco’s ETG tells you two things. First, Cisco is betting hard on video, an investment that drove internal product roadmaps (see the monster CRS-3 router ) and acquisitions (Tandberg, Tivella, Scientific Atlantic).

The other telling thing is the organization of the group. De Beer presides over Wyatt’s unit for digital signage and media systems, as well as security unit, a building control unit, and the videoconferencing unit that deploys the new Tandberg-driven telepresence technology. It’s a vision of voice, data, security, video, co-habitating on a single network. Someday. Someday farther in the future than may matter to you.

But in the short term, Wyatt points already to triple-digit growth in digital signage for Cisco and real-life digital signage installations that are 1,000 screens, “where just three years ago we were tinkering with 50 networked screens.” Agreed–I’m thinking right now of a real-life digital signage installation I know of that’s 7000 screens.

One reason for the convergence of AV and IT expertise he says is the need for software to drive the use of the network-based applications. There needs to be scheduling interfaces, routing interfaces, diagnostics, permissions, security, etc.  “We’re helping our customers deploy, fill, and maintain the network,” he says. On the Cisco booth you can see the Digital Media Suite of products which combines webcasting, video sharing, IPTV, digital signage, etc. under one management software to make content once and deploy to all. For example, take a look at the Media  Experience Engine, a transcoding distribution platform that also derives metadata and supports this kind of create-once, show-everywhere model.

In the near term, Wyatt sees that a market transition that is in “early innings,” as customers begin to understand and seek out network-enabled video experiences. “Progressive AV businesses that are combining their expertise with IT partners are seeing business start to accelerate around that cross pollination.”

“Part of the reason we’re continuing to invest in InfoComm, is this community is the future.” It’s a future that, like IT before it, will require moving away from the silo application mindset and toward more interconnectivity and interoperability, both technically and for business/sales/go to market strategies. It will also mean consolidation of businesses and convergence of competition on common markets, he says. And for the foreseeable future it will mean Cisco at the table. So here’s your chance to learn more.

Marthin De Beer keynote: Tuesday June 8, 4:00 p.m.  5:30 p.m.Las Vegas Hilton: Ballroom A

Marthin De Beer is the Senior Vice President of Cisco’s Emerging Technologies Group (ETG). Under his leadership, ETG is responsible for cultivating a steady stream of new businesses that can drive 1 billion dollars worth of revenue in 5-7 years and take Cisco into new adjacent markets. De Beer most recently led the development of Cisco TelePresence, Digital Media Systems, Linksys One, IP Video Surveillance and Cisco’s IP Interoperability and Communications Systems (IPICS).

De Beer has more than 20 years of experience in the communications and software industry. He has been at Cisco for 12 years directing key platforms such as the Cisco Catalyst Switching platforms and Cisco’s IP Telephony and VoIP systems. De Beer was also responsible for Cisco’s Global Enterprise IP Communications solutions and led the introduction of Cisco’s Architecture for Voice, Video and Integrated Data (Cisco AVVID) solution.

De Beer was also a founder of two start-up companies and previously held senior marketing and engineering positions at Hughes LAN Systems, Persetel Computer Systems, and Atlas Aircraft.

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