Time to Upgrade

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The recent decision by DirecTV to use XM Radio channels as their music station selections brings to mind an interesting observation about our industry. It seems we can no longer remain fixed in our ways of custom design installations implemented by unique designers or integrators. We have evolved instead into a mainstream commercial industry with mainstream products having mainstream features and mainstream customer expectations. And along with these come customer demand for rapid deployment of the latest, greatest feature set and the need for adaptability. This is an evolution from take your time and get it right custom to todays commercial environment of here today and more tomorrow.

The DirecTV decision to switch music stations means that all of the systems that we have already pre-programmed (i.e. hard coded) with station numbers, icons, and stations names will be wrong. We can wait for the client to figure this out and come back to us to fix them, or we can get proactive and contact them first to let them know their systems will need updating. Of course, no matter which event happens, well have to repeatedly explain that its not our fault, and that it is not a bug or something that the integrator is responsible for causing. In short, its going to cost the client to get the stations put back in order; no different than if they went from say DirecTV to Dish Networks, which have different channels and channel assignments. This is definitely a sales opportunity for the integrator, but its certainly not one that will leave the client feeling upbeat or glad to have that particular integrator handling their system needs and maintenance.

The DirecTV change is just one example of the many changes that will continue to occur in the residential entertainment market. And, it is but one small instance of the many upgrades and feature set enhancements that our industry must be ready, willing, and able to absorb and deploy quickly; it is what customers are now fully trained to expect.

So is there a better way to approach implementing these rapid changes besides this one-at-a-time solution? Certainly. That would be to show the customer a path to let them make such future changes and get the integrator out of these mundane routine changes. If they are going to have to spend money to update, why not spend a bit more now to upgrade instead and be done with it? This would show the client that you understand the problem, that you feel their pain, and that you too have adapted to this changing environment and want to equip them with the tools to also readily adapt and deploy changes.

Prove to them that they have chosen the right integrator, and that youre on top of the situation. That sales approach and the resultant delivered product leaves the client with a far better emotion than merely send more money ever will. And that is the real sales opportunity, not the one of constant badgering for more time to do menial updates.

In this case, the solution should be fairly straightforward. Hopefully by now all of your software is written in modular form, with each module totally separate from one another. Its now time for you to upgrade the cable station presets module to allow for client selection of preset icons, independent channel number assignments, and unique preset button naming right from the touchpanel screen. The integrator is now out of having to code in the channel numbers with icons, and the client can call them or change them at will. If you write the code correctly, this same module can even be duplicated for audio presets as well as video presets, reusable in several locations. Once written into the general modular code, these same user-definable modules can be presented to other clients for repeated sales without repeated development dollars. And if that specific clients firmware is of an old enough vintage that their code doesnt have any such programming modularity, then this is the opportunity to address that with them and get the entire program upgraded to the new modular code, with all of its standard features and adaptability. Both parties win; and both parties are happy.

Carl Easton (ceaston@axiomdesign.com) is the director of systems engineering at Axiom Design Inc.