Apps- the new 'box' you don't need.

This post was first published as a Linkedin Pulse article by Jon McFarlane. View other Pulse articles here.

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An app can do a set number of things. If you want it to do anything more-  the developers have to build and push a new version and users have to download an update. The company that develops the App is not set up to scope UX specifically for you.  This might be fine for the average consumer but is not suitable for a smart building or smart workplace project.

I feel like we have been here before in the integration industry. It reminds me of the rack full of boxes that have a set number of features and are sold to the client with little consideration for the total solution.  But instead of 5 boxes per room- the industry has switched to 5 Apps. And most of the time, these Apps are to help sell more boxes!

The integration, AV and IoT industry is so hardware focused that their answer to software is mobile Apps- in 2019! A clear example of how far behind the broader IT industry these fields are. And how disconnected from the customers they have become.   

There are countless articles on the App being dead but here are a few:

The software industry is focused on platform, APIs and build your own UX. The UX is not just button presses in an App, although this can be part of it and many of these platforms have their own App. But customers are thinking more broadly and aiming for passive interaction with technology.  The UX might be automatic triggers from user location, predictive actions based on historical data, chat-bot integration into Slack or a new type of interaction we are not thinking of yet. With a platform, you have this flexibility.

Apps and boxes are easier to sell- as it requires less of the sales person. This is how they end up in so many “smart office” projects. Another room booking app- another room booking panel. Not very smart.  This is why I wrote an article on not attending industry events. I learn more from my customers, partners and co-workers than room booking app vendors invited to talk about the future of workplace.

Think about some of the apps in this field; most require their hardware. “Our App tracks people for automatic room check-in. But you have to buy our bluetooth beacons”.  Or“you have to buy our desk sensor”. Or “you have to buy our in room control hardware”. Or “you have to buy our video conference system”. Or “you have to buy our swipe card readers”… etc, etc. And if they even have the ability to integrate outside of their App- you probably have to buy their middleware software or subscribe to their public cloud.

The customers are demanding more. They don’t want all their building technology to be disconnected systems that required multiple apps to operate. The end user certainly does not want an app for the car parking, an app for their visitor management check-in, an app for their elevator, an app for their virtual access card, an app for their locker, an app for the desk finding and an app for their room booking. From the articles links above- you will see that App downloads per month for an average user is almost 0. When was the last time you downloaded an App that you didn't delete a few hours later?

My final thoughts are for system integrators in this field. IT companies and creative agencies have been working with platforms and solution-based sales for a long time. If you don’t step up- they will take over your AV, IoT and integration niche. It’s only a niche because it required special hardware and weird vendor specific software. It doesn’t anymore. You might be a billion dollar system integrator- but your vendors are blinding you to the opportunities and changes in the market. Meanwhile,  companies you have never heard of are taking your market share. Stop selling boxes, stop selling apps and focus on solutions.

Jon McFarlane. Co-Founder, ACA.