Custom electronics sales and installation have given rise to a worldwide technology melting pot, albeit a closed circle of sorts, comprised of integration companies from as small as solo entrepreneurs braving it alone, to some firms with offices across multiple continents. Perhaps separated only by language, an unwitting common thread loosely binds the aspirations of one and all: A universal desire to highlight technology as purposeful, yet fun, to people who initially are strangers, then convert this business relationship into an ongoing friendship prior to the conclusion of the process.
Custom integration companies represent an atomically microscopic business community relative to other industries such as medicine, banking, or restaurants. Who speaks out in representation for the interests of this diminutive but highly passionate industry? What provides resonance when jeopardizing matters arise?
For 33 years CEDIA, the Custom Electronics Design and Installation Association, has been the collective voice for custom integrators, not only for members, but by default, the industry et al. The perennial saying, “A rising tide lifts all boats”, is acutely applicable here…if you or your company are not a member, indirectly you occasionally benefit from CEDIA’s endeavors, especially those legislative.
The 2022 CEDIA Expo starts (with education classes) Sept. 28th and continues through October 1, 2022.
Following is a bit of background into the organization’s beginnings, CEDIA’s global standards and certifications, the Tech Council’s peek into and assessment of the channel’s possible end of the decade strategies, plus a gentle nudge to attend the EXPO and renew or become a CEDIA member.
In 1989, a small group of professionals, individually successful with geographically independent but high profile companies, realized a need for unified representation inside an electronics industry exploding exponentially with growth, despite its inability to recognize the self-peril that was evolving.
A weekend was planned to jointly assemble - part chance taking, part hunch making – to assess the then current state of industry affairs, suggest possible improvements, express what they felt their own businesses lacked or required, how they might aid others from their own experiences and lastly but most importantly, how to christen the businesses many created as hobbyists into becoming a legitimately recognized industry.
MULTI-ROOM GROWS UP
During that era, house-wide distributed audio began to come of age, eclipsing simple, passive, manual speaker selector boxes in favor of more sophisticated solutions, such as Bang & Olufsen’s Masterlink.
That following year, 1990, marked the first CEDIA expo held, with Sony attending to exhibit their new Digital Signal Transfer (DST) system, which remarkably one-upped the single-audio-source-to-every-location solution. DST distributed up to 6 audio sources, plus two video sources, into as many as 16 separately controlled zones. The custom integration industry witnessed a monumental paradigm shift, in real-time. Instantly, the CI roadmap was manifestly changed, as was CEDIA’s emerging stature as industry liaison with Sony, perhaps the most relevant manufacturer for the channel at the time, joining CEDIA and introducing a key relationship aspect by establishing a technical support division for CEDIA members called the Consumer Integrated Systems (CIS) Group.
Through the 90’s and early 2000’s, the broader consumer electronics business morphed into big-box chains engaged in turf wars (which regionally and ultimately, led one or more players to head for the exits) positioning the consumer as a front row spectator with every Sunday newspaper flyer.
While this conflagration persisted, the CEDIA channel grew infinitely stronger, with brands such as Sony ES and Pioneer Elite courting CEDIA members who possessed the proper skills and expertise to demonstrate high performance models, while sibling products remained poorly represented and savagely discounted by big-box names you regionally may all recall.
For various reasons, a few ambitious, yet ingenious manufacturers that made a valiant splash to enter the CEDIA channel made equally dubious retreats. Does anyone else remember Frox and the FroxSystem? Their hefty, aluminum, wireless joystick air-mouse deftly oozed ‘state-of-the-art’ in a universe of black plastic remotes with endless buttons. To my recollection, Frox elbowed out Phillips to be first with Improved Definition TV (IDTV), at least in the United States.
During this period the custom industry profoundly flourished, as major independent specialty stores (and chains) added installation services, with many opening separate, and in some instances stand-alone, custom divisions. System design consolidated one-room control into singular remotes such as the Phillips Pronto, thus luring AMX and Crestron into the CEDIA space for multi-room on steroids. Channel-specific manufacturers frequently timed new product introductions for the EXPO, reflecting CEDIA’s attained prominence.
EDUCATION & CERTIFICATION
Initially, CEDIA instruction consisted of inherent technology and product-specific training by manufacturers, taking full advantage of EXPO gatherings. But a large percentage of the courses were also presented by CEDIA member dealers as principals, or talented ahead-of-the-curve key company members, shared experiences and their expertise with custom installation community attendees.
Much of the focus was sales-based, with the six-figure big-hitters pontificating on how elite sales were executed, to aspirants hanging onto every syllable. Eventually, the emphasis began to slowly turn to properly and safely installing these complex systems.
Today a copious amount of CEDIA instruction is provided internally by the organization, with a laser-like focus on certification, perhaps now the core mission of the association. More to that point, on July 12, 2022, CEDIA announced that the Integrated Systems Technician (IST) certification earned third-party accreditation certification in accordance with the global ISO/IEC 17024:2012, General Requirements for Bodies Operating Certification of Persons.
The IST certification joins the Cabling and Infrastructure Technician (CIT) Technician certification as CEDIA’s second ISO/IEC 17024-accredited standard. Together, these two certifications represent a globally recognized career path for residential technology technicians and integrators. The conformance process was overseen by the ANSI National Accreditation Board (ANAB), a wholly owned subsidiary of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI).
Globally recognized, these certifications, when earned by residential technology integrators, represent hallmark career achievements. All CEDIA members working in these disciplines should embrace certification professionally and personally. ISO accreditation has the potential to create massive change in not just the how the CI industry is recognized but also valued. No other means exists to distinguish a highly skilled integration company from those who are not.
CEDIA CIT and CEDIA IST certifications also are eligible for BadgeCert, a digital badging program CEDIA utilizes, alongside CEDIA Certified Networking Specialist (ESC-N), which is also undergoing preparation for ISO/IEC 17024-accreditation, and CEDIA Certified Designer (ESC-D). Digital Badging is a trusted and verifiable mechanism for sharing credentials while highlighting a technician’s respective skill set, achievements, and professionalism, not only to prospective employers but also as a specifically targeted marketing tool, explaining to everyone from builders to clients what the credentials represent and the value they bring. With an industry-wide labor shortage, BadgeCert may circumvent the practice of “try and see”, providing employers up-front assurance of a candidate’s acumen.
CEDIA FLAGS FLUTTER WITH THE WINDS OF CHANGE
Might a time soon arrive when states or municipalities license installation personnel in the same manner as other trades, such as electricians? The 2023 NEC, released in July 2022, creates a new wiring class, Class 4, under Article 726, for fault managed power systems, also known as Packeted Energy Transfer (PET). The 2023 updates to the NEC include changes that impact everyday installs, making it vital to stay updated. The EXPO features a specific course, The 2023 NEC: How Changes to the Code Will Impact Your Business, making it the perfect venue to investigate these moving pieces. Non-members: The bar is rising…
INCENTIVES FOR EDUCATION TO HESITANT INTEGRATION COMPANY OWNERS
Owners look at today’s bottom line with little consideration for years ahead, resistant to paying for employee training. Statistics show certified technicians seldom make call-back mistakes, increasing profitability while enhancing the balance sheet. Certainly, incentive enough to certify a company’s workforce. But perhaps driving the point closer to home is when an owner arrives at a crossroads, beginning to contemplate an exit strategy. A well-run, CEDIA member business with accredited employees proves a far more appealing acquisition or merger opportunity, in comparison to a company with a reputation for merely weathering the storms.
A VIRUS AND CEDIA’S CRYSTAL BALL
For most industries, Covid-19 altered the space-time continuum. Well, sort of… at least in the ways commerce fought to continue. Fortune 500 employees converted occasional-use home offices into the office, nary skipping a beat. The medical community, first responders and grocery-related workers, continue to deserve our profound thanks for their Herculean efforts during that time. Integrators featuring security as part of their sales and service portfolio were deemed essential businesses and permitted to stay open, their team members venturing forth with untold uncertainty.
The pandemic prompted CEDIA’s Technology Advisory Council (hereafter, TAC) to alter the traditional focus of their five-year, future forward in-depth predictions spotlighting technology as its own raison d'etre, instead placing the nucleus of their newest white paper, The Integrator of 2027, centric to the human condition. Representing a radical departure in bypassing technically appealing subjects such as machine learning, AI and the Internet of Things in their entirety, the TAC considered ways in which tomorrow’s integrators might transition from the traditional product-centric approach into one that is human-centric. So, what does that mean? As the TAC details it, technology will provide tools for completing the job, while redefining what the job is becomes a dilemma for ill-prepared Next Gen integrators.
To adequately cover what the TAC addressed in the 2027 white paper is well beyond the scope of this article, but its essence depicts the interiors of clients’ homes evolving into multifunctional spaces, combining traditional home entertainment spaces into alternate use environments, where once one is enmeshed, hyper-personalized experiences improving the human condition effortlessly play out. One example is the home theater, where integrators were first to automate the lights and as of late, outdo competitors for the number of Dolby Atmos channels installed. The TAC envisions reimagining this space to include circadian lighting scenes, while audio from the Dolby Atmos system becomes a key element for wellness solutions, creating calming, immersive aural escapes, when not pulverizing the senses with yet another Marvel movie.
An adjunct dimension is to extend noise abatement and acoustic control outside of the theater realm into additional rooms in the home. Creating environments which introduce the calming effects of nature, with technologies integrators already are proficient with, expand the CI channel’s well-positioned effectiveness to enhance end-users lives while carving out niche opportunities.
WELL NOW, WHAT ABOUT WELLNESS?
I would invite you to access The Integrator of 2027 white paper, as well as view the one dozen videos under WELLCON 2021 inside CEDIA Academy on the organization’s website. Client approaches are widely discussed, with an emphasis on empathetic, human-centric discovery.
With a market becoming more direct-to-consumer than ever before (Ring, Simply Safe, Sonos, are but a few examples) clients who understand the value of their time respond favorably to wellness technology professionals. The shift has already started for traditional CI market segments, such as shades and lighting automation, to transition into a holistic wellness category supplemented by noise control, soundscaping, and for a pandemic-struck world, possibly including air and water quality.
While 2027 seems, well, a half-decade away, custom integrators who already have evolved to embrace this shift are keenly capitalizing, as this is a channel Big-Tech and Big-Box cannot correctly or appropriately address. DIY baby-boomers have become DIFM… do-it-for-me.
Technology will continue to rule supreme, as the Digital Ceiling populates with sensors for active assisted living (AAL), health-related environmental monitoring, mood analysis, and security. Clients will not realize a sense of comfort when at home if health or safety appears compromised.
AVPRO EDGE, MURIDEO, AND CEDIA
Many of us have long been involved with CEDIA, well before the appearance of AVPro and Murideo. Actually, both companies were created to answer needs within the CEDIA channel. Jeff Murray, President of AVPro and Murideo, and actively involved with CEDIA for decades, tells us:
CEDIA has been critical to our company’s growth because we get to see “everybody” at least once a year, share new products and get new ideas. And especially since it’s been a few years because of COVID, getting together to socialize doesn’t hurt either! We are also at a point where we can now throw a great party for our customers and reps – with no better place than CEDIA for this kind of event, which brings together dealers from all over the world.
CEDIA – now that they are only and most importantly focused on training, and not having to worry about the CEDIA Expo anymore – will provide better than ever training events, a significant benefit to integrators from entry level to advanced:
I know you all are busy! It’s a worldwide phenomenon for AV folks – more jobs than time in the day! But you must continuously sharpen the sword to remain relevant and on the cutting edge to new technologies. Those new technologies will be on display, demonstrated and talked about at the expo.
CEDIA is also a great pace for roundtables and idea creating sessions. Attendees come from all 50 states plus around the world, providing an opportunity to discuss concepts and ideas in a non-competitive environment. We hope you will attend, or at least send some team members!
The CEDIA EXPO is your once per year occasion to concertedly add needed CEUs to your résumé, meet key vendors and explore the wares of new hopefuls, plus interact with integration industry standouts from across the globe to gain insights and perspective you would otherwise simply be unable to, all at a single event. Select a unique course that’s piqued your interest, investigate products your competition is using up close and hand’s-on. Absorb the EXPO ambiance first hand and when over, recalibrate your assessment of where the industry is and where it is headed; be prepared to effectively intersect with the occasional client who, armed with a little bit of knowledge, definitively aims at proving it.
If you are not yet a CEDIA member or have not yet renewed your membership, we won’t arm-twist however, please consider membership benefits. Having your voice recognized is a more preferable posture than someone attempting to speak on your behalf.