Azione Unlimited Wraps up Fall Conference, Focused on Future-proofing
After three days in Austin, members of Azione Unlimited dissected every aspect of the most looming narrative in the industry - the impact of artificial intelligence.
A.I. is becoming a blanket term to cover a lot of different aspects under smaller, broad topics such as hardware (Sonos one, Amazon Echo, Google Home, Apple HomePod), software (Siri, Alexa, machine learning, Google Assistant), and services that combine both (Retail, Josh.ai, Control4, Savant, VR/AR). The Azione conference not only touched on all these points, driving home the point that the future is quickly becoming the present.
"I tried to get a speaker on VR, a speaker on augmented reality, a speaker on digital assistants because it's all moving so fast," said Richard Glikes, President & CCO of Azione Unlimited. "Product life cycles used to be two years, and that was fast. Now it's six months. I think its part of the job of the group to keep them ahead I'm always trying to keep them ahead, I'm always looking forward."
"That's why we put the program together like this. Those are our pain points," he added.
Here is a recap of all the speakers that that joined the Amalgamating Assembly, covering a wide variety of these topics and a few other goodies to help the family of dealers and vendors at the conference succeed as the year comes to a close.
Google Wants to Court Dealers, Reinvent Experiences
Google has been making a lot of noise for retail, but what they bring to the CI world is something a little bit different. The number one complaint about voice assistants across the board is the otherwise pathetic hardware. This, of course, actually seems like a pretty fair trade-off considering how infant the technology is. So, Amazon, Apple, and Sonos stepped up their game, offering their own take on a HiFi speaker that can take commands.
But Google took a different route.
Their play, according to Mark Spates, is to increase the amount of machine learning to create a new way to experience music. In fact, their attitude towards creating new experiences dominates every aspect of Google's newest line-up according to the Product developer at Google.
"Hardware is no longer the most important aspect of taking a picture, that's why we don't talk about megapixels any more," Spates said. "It's all about the software to make it better. We want to do the same thing with music, using software to produce sound in a different way."
"It's a fundamentally different experience," he noted.
The experience building has become a vital part of Google's product line, but also a theme that dealers have been backing up into for the past decade or so. Everything about the home theater experience has changed, but it's all been hardware developments, pushing the industry towards diminishing returns. Google's play in the space would increase the software side to create a new experience, but not forget about the hardware along the way. That includes their voice assistant that, while currently leading the industry, is still not where it should be according to Spates.
"We have a long way to go before linear commands become conversational," Spates said. "It will never be at 100%, maybe closer to 95%, but we are at 20% right now. We need to get to 50% fast, and we have a plan to get there."
You Are a Short 9,000 Hours Away From Success
Tim Costello has had a lot of memorable talks at Azione. The CEO of Builders Homesite Inc. has also been spearheading a VR experience for Azione dealers that gives integrators a playground to show off products, experiences, and scenarios using Oculus Rift and an Xbox controller. Two years after a simple question of "should we do it?" has turned into a full-blown resource for dealers to not only fundamentally change the way they advertise their services, but cut down on a major pain point of updating showrooms with physical products. Costello and his team had the demo at the show, giving dealers more than they could handle with the experience.
Of course, Costello also had a moment to talk to dealers about the 9,000 hours they spent this year. His talk about every hour in a year - which he admits is actually closer to 8,765 - and how every company is watching the clock. He touched on Lexus shipping VR display to dealerships, the sudden success of Playstation VR, Elon Musk's A.I. beating top talent eSports professionals, and Facebook's robots creating their own
Costello's point was simple, there is so much going on in the world right now. Every hour of the day, a new shift happens. And with such a simple concept, he had an equally simple question.
"The question I'm asking is, are you paying attention to the 9000 hours that happened this year?" Costello asked the dealers. "We have to be intentional technologists today because there is so much going on. If you didn't bother to think about [these concepts] and how you can leverage them for your business then you are destined to fail"
And Costello is right. The "intentional technologists" are vetting technologies and figuring out what they can do to lead their business to success. His suggestion was to spend five hours, every week, dedicated to intentional learning. Every week is an opportunity to gather, reflect, and experiment.
"Today is the dawn of 9,000 hours," Costello said. "When you come back in 9000 hours, ask yourself 'What will you change in your organization?'"
The Time is the Time
As usual, Glikes addressed the room of 176 members - give or take absentees - and made note of that membership total. The goal, he says, is still for 250, but 2017 was a break-even year with a few members down, a few members up. He then addressed the big question, 'How do I compete against GAFA?'
His answer - "Do what they can't do."
- 1) One-Offs
- Glikes says that taking care of clients - a cuddling service - is necessary to beat the likes of Amazon. Dealers who are efficient in the one-off, by nailing the design, engineering, and hand-holding aspects, can make more money and move faster than the looming competitors.
- 2) Sell Performance
- His second point was to look to 'high-end anything'.HiFi is the simplest solution, and brands like McIntosh or Meridian are good starts, but the product needs to look and sound high-end. It's a market Amazon can't quite capture and nobody knows it better than a dealer.
- 3) Physical Projects
- While Amazon has begun mobilizing their own dealer services - even including CEDIA certified integrators to their services - the need for your A/V business to evolve will be based on the clients' needs for hanging projectors, mounting TVs, installing shades, tuning speakers, and adding light fixtures.
- Glikes especially noted the need for lighting fixtures as any home can have a few dozen opportunities for installers.
Glikes is also starting a leave-behind brouchure program that gives dealers an opportunity to put custom words and images to promote their business. There is also aggressive campaigns to get dealers noticed in social channels, one of the big weaknesses of the industry as a whole.
"Sometimes it feels like this channel is sitting in foxholes and waiting for something to happen," Glikes said. "You got to be out there; you have to have a profile, a silhouette in the marketplace."
"This is the kind of information that gets our group energized," he added. "My gut feeling is that we are making a big difference for our dealers, and this kind of content is crucial to their success."