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Automation Unplugged

Automation Unplugged is a Facebook Live show recorded weekly with our host Ron Callis, Owner and CEO of the digital marketing agency, One Firefly. In each Automation Unplugged episode, Ron speaks with leading industry personalities and technology professionals to discuss all things business development, technology trends, and more. These interviews are designed to help our clients and members of the custom integration industry keep up-to-date with the latest news as well as learn from experts in the field.

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Home Automation Podcast Episode #133: An Industry Q&A With Jeremy Elsesser

In this weeks home automation show of Automation Unplugged, Jeremy Elsesser of Level 3 Audiovisual shares about the acceleration of software and cloud based communication platform solutions for the new global focus on work from home environments.

Home Automation Podcast Episode #133: An Industry Q&A With Jeremy Elsesser

This week's home automation podcast features our host Ron Callis interviewing Jeremy Elsesser. Recorded live on Wednesday, August 19th at 12:30 p.m. EST.

About Jeremy Elsesser

Jeremy has been in the technology industry for nearly 20 years and has worked on a broad range of projects, including broadcast, production, and communications for higher education, corporate, healthcare, and hospitality clients.

In 2019, Jeremy was awarded the Educator of the Year at AVIXA's InfoComm. Most recently, Level3 Audiovisual received "Best Healthcare Project" in the 2020 Commercial Integrator Integration Awards for their project with the University of Texas (UT) Health's nursing center.

Interview Recap

  • Jeremy’s 16 year career track at Level 3 Audiovisual, leading to his achieving the position of President of the company in 2017
  • The importance of company culture and hiring for passion
  • The transition from Commercial Integrator over to Managed Services
  • The acceleration of software and cloud based communication platform  solutions for the new global focus on work from home environments

SEE ALSO: Home Automation Podcast Episode #132: A Custom Integration Industry Q&A With Paul Lopez

Transcript:


Ron:  Jeremy, how are you sir?

Jeremy: Hey Ron I'm good thanks. How about you?

Ron:  Oh man another day in paradise. If was complaining, who would listen? I'm happy.

Jeremy: Everybody on this broadcast apparently.

Ron:  Everyone on this podcast. We've already got some people saying hey we've got Ted. He says welcome Jeremy. We've Angel. He goes "Saludos from Mexico!" and we've got Rey, "Hey great to hear about the commercial side of integration." Thanks Rey. Jeremy, where exactly are you coming to us from? Are you doing the office thing or the home office thing?

Jeremy: I'm excited to say that I'm actually in my actual commercial office today. Level 3 Audio Visual headquarters here in hot and steamy Mesa Arizona.

Ron:  Steamy is all relative coming from the guy here in South Florida where it literally you step out the door and you're sweating because it's 100 percent humidity. Is there humidity in Mesa Arizona?

Jeremy: Only after a monsoon but we've had an incredibly dry summer. So it's just unfortunately been one of the hottest summers that we've ever had with more record days over 110 than any other summer previous to this. It's a run from your car to the house to the office situation.

Ron:  Global warming?

Jeremy: Global warming, asphalt warming we say here in Phoenix there's so much blacktop here that there are theories that has actually raised the temperature here.

Ron:  That makes sense. Why don't you give a quick summary of what is Level 3? Tell us about your business. What type of work do you guys do where do you do that work? What do you guys specialize in and then we'll go back into some of your history?

"Lots of conference room technology meeting room technology scheduling technology cloud-based platforms, bringing that into the meeting space and here in 2020, enabling everybody to connect from home into all of their meeting spaces and into those cloud platforms."

Jeremy: Sounds good. Yes. Level 3 Audio Visual, we're a commercial AV integrator. We started in 1996 going after corporate and higher education traditional AV. Everything from classroom technology to boardrooms to hanging flat panels for restaurants. Since then we've evolved into an enterprise global services organization. We have a number of professional and managed service offerings. We focus still on corporate still on higher education with the addition of health care specifically around the simulation community which is a fairly small niche community within the healthcare space. We've certainly played in some other vertical markets along the way that have either gone up or down or consolidated or changed but where we find ourselves focusing mostly now is on large enterprise clients specifically folks that have more than one location with more than one site and in a lot of cases global presence and how to facilitate a standardized offering in whatever audiovisual solution that they're looking at. Lots of conference room technology meeting room technology scheduling technology cloud-based platforms, bringing that into the meeting space and here in 2020, enabling everybody to connect from home into all of their meeting spaces and into those cloud platforms.

Ron:  Got it. I do notice you said you are at the office. Was there a time when you were doing the work from home thing? Are you guys all in the office?

Jeremy: It depends. Right now I'm still working from home probably about 75 percent of the time. I chose to come here today in an effort to reduce the background noise of three kids doing online schooling and potentially a robotic vacuum going around the house while we're trying to have this podcast.

Ron:  I haven't had the Roomba interruption before that would have been fun perhaps.

"If the work that the person is doing can be done from home, for the most part, it is being done from home for the better part of our organization."

Jeremy: It would have been fun. To answer your question though, like most integrators, we have a number of various disciplines and departments. If the work that the person is doing can be done from home, for the most part, it is being done from home for the better part of our organization. We have an integration shop that focuses on pre staging and fabricating our systems before they're deployed. And they've stayed working here at our headquarters utilizing social distancing and precautions throughout the entire pandemic. And then we also have field teams that are still being deployed wherever they're allowed to go. The nice thing on the commercial side is that we were identified as essential workers early on in the pandemic craze if you will and that was amazing. Quite honestly for our industry to be able to continue working where we could work. Those teams have been traveling and have been out in the field as much as they are comfortable and is possible. And the rest of us are working for all and doing a good job with it.

Ron:  That makes sense. I'm here in my home office and our team is all working from home offices and I would say generally loving it. But we've always worked from home offices at least for many years so there is no change for us. You guys have had it much tougher trying to make those transitions happen. We're going to talk about a lot of work from home stuff, home offices, technology, cloud managed solutions. But before we go into that. Tell us about yourself.

Jeremy: Well I'm a geek at heart, technology geek. I started going to college for I.T. specifically so I'm an I.T. geek to begin with and certified and degreed. And while I was going to school for my I.T. certifications along the way I met this AV company. The one I'm working for now, although they were called a different name back then, AVI. And I actually have to take a step back even further than that. While I was going to school for I.T. I was a commercial electrician. I spent a few years figuring out the power side of the equation because power is required for any technology as I would come to realize. As I went to school for I.T. network administration, specifically network engineering. I met Brad Petersen, the CEO of Level 3. Again the name of the company was AVI at that time.

We were building a restaurant from the ground floor up from a power standpoint. And they were doing the AV, I moonlighted a few times and went and helped them pull cable and do some installation work because I thought it was cool but then I met my next boss slash job while I was going to school and I went to work for a college Southwest College of Naturopathic Healing and Medicine as their Network Administrator and I stayed there for about three years focused on production I.T. networking, server administration, all things I.T. It was a huge learning opportunity. I had the power side of the equation. Then, I went and got the network side of the equation or the I.T. side of the equation, stayed in contact with Level 3 throughout all of that. Did some side work for them taking care of computers and servers and eventually Brad came knocking to see if I wanted to transition over into audiovisual and when I transitioned to Level 3.

We were about five people doing just over a million dollars in revenue. And since then we've grown to about eighty-five people doing about 30 million in revenue and it was exciting because when I came into AV, the ITAV convergence that everybody was talking about was happening. All of a sudden, all of these AV devices that always had specialized low voltage cabling started to have network ports on them and started to be connected to the networks. While all the AV pros were freaking out trying to figure out all this network stuff. That's the world that I came from so I really got to spend the first several years just focusing on being an AV person and learning the AV side of the house. And that has really propelled myself personally and Level 3 due to our I.T. and network background and pedigree. We didn't have to worry about how we were going to perform within enterprise networks. We already had that skillset within the house. Then it became riding the wave of convergence that's still happening today. And that was 16 years ago. I've been here for 16 years. I started as a technician and a programmer who used to write AMX and Crestron programming and then found project management to design engineering and we were a small enough organization that I really got an opportunity to play and every single one of our departments. I got to learn project management and then write process and teach others how to do it and then handed off to a much more capable group of individuals. Same thing with engineering went and learned all of the certifications that our industry has to offer. Learned how to engineer, did production engineering for a number of years, wrote a bunch of processes, developed a CAD library and passed it off to a much more capable set of individuals and then apparently I was crazy enough to let Brad convince me to be the President of the organization. Which I never thought was in my history or in my future I should say coming from the technical side of the house I always thought I would stay on the technical side of the house.

But, I will say, I've definitely found an incredible passion for supporting others. Some people look at charts and where they said on the org chart. I got really uncomfortable when my box was at the top of the org chart and I talked to the leadership guy one time and he shared something with me that changed everything. He said turn that org chart upside down. I said interesting. He said now you're exactly where you should be which is supporting all of the people and individuals in your organization that are impacting your customers every single day. Every person on the top of that org chart that is actually who is delivering on your mission, delivering the solutions, talking with the customers, interacting with the customers. Your job is to support them and that's when I got very OK with the idea of leading this organization because I have the privilege of supporting the amazing people that work here.

"To stay at a company for 16 years, it's really inspirational to move up through the ranks and now lead the company."

Ron:  To stay at a company for 16 years, it's really inspirational to move up through the ranks and now lead the company. You mentioned Brad is the owner or the CEO. Is he also actively managing within the company or are you actively managing the day to day? Do you guys split roles or duties?

Jeremy: He is still actively managing the company. For the most part, I handle most of the day to day operational side of the business. He's still very involved in the sales administration's business development and quite honestly involved with all aspects of the business. He's a serial entrepreneur who really loves to build cultures and I want to speak to something because you just mentioned. I've never worked for another audiovisual company and I've been here for 16 years so that's what keeps me here.

Ron:  I didn't write that in my notes but just hearing you say that I was like I know there's gonna be a lot of people listening that are curious. What is your company doing right that had you feeling like you wanted to grow your career at this company?

Jeremy: Well I'll simply say the culture. At the end of the day, Brad created a culture here that was work hard, play hard, and be resourceful. And when I first came here I as a technical person didn't so much like salespeople because generally in my previous life I would know more about the product than the salesperson would. I would generally need to get past the salesperson very quickly and talk to an application engineer or some technical person. Brad changed all of that for me when I first came here because he was not only a salesperson, a career lifelong salesperson. But he took the time to actually go look and learn the technology. And so he started to change my mindset on how sales could actually be performed that it could be more consultative that it could be more educational and that you could know what you were talking about as a salesperson and actually deliver on the products that you were out there selling. That's just one small glimpse.

But at the end of the day, what Brad's genius is, is finding amazing people surrounding himself with amazing people that are smarter than him and more capable than him. And getting out of their way and empowering them to do their work. And if it wasn't for Brad I would not have had the opportunity to come to Level 3 and ultimately grow up to be the President of the organization. And that culture has permeated throughout everyone here at Level 3. Since I've been here for 16 years, I've been able to participate very heavily in developing that culture around quality and around education. Some of my personal passions are around education. Again, I was asked to go figure out and learn how to develop specific departments within the organization and the only way I knew how to do that was to go learn from the best individuals in our industry from Avixa from AQAV from folks that had been working towards and figuring out these challenges and issues for many years before I came along. Gain knowledge from them bring that back. Teach everybody what I had learned and essentially build processes around that. And so that fulfilled for me a lifelong learning passion and desire that has really kept me here. That along with fun we have a tremendous amount of fun we hire people for passion. We learned the hard way many years ago that if you don't hire people for passion it can become a very long day and very challenging.

Ron:  As opposed to hiring them for skill just to put the other side of that equation. And I'm not going to put words in your mouth but would that be the opposite of hiring for skill?

Jeremy: It would be, skills are important but we have found that passion trumps skillset. You need to be passionate about the industry, passionate about the work that you're potentially going to do. And most importantly passionate about our organization. Because when you're passionate and you're doing something that you're passionate about. You don't ever work, right? You never work another day in your life. And as any integrator on the web can attest to, it's a lot of long days out there. And if you're traveling it could be some really long weeks. If you're not loving what you do, it can just turn into a serious grind that doesn't have that long-lasting life or shelf life to it. Really it's all about the culture. We have people come to work for us that might have worked for another organization that maybe didn't have a positive culture and they tend to have a bit of shell shock and carry some of that baggage with them. And it's really interesting to see when we hire somebody new, how that starts to expand for them and they're kind of waiting in some cases for the other foot to fall. These guys can't just be this cool this nice like at some point the real asshole, the truth will come out. They're going to come out right and had new employees reach out to some of our manufacturing partners and say I don't know what's going on around here just everybody's really nice. And the partner on the phone goes I've been working with these guys for eight years they're really just that cool and that nice.

Ron:  That's awesome. How do you think your attention to culture, the company's focus on culture, has aided you guys in getting through this last really challenging six months?

Jeremy: Wow Ron that's a really powerful question and I'll just be super transparent here because that's all I know how to do. Last year and this year certainly with COVID, things did not go as planned. And COVID threw a huge monkey wrench in that. And with that came anxiety and fear and a lot of negative emotion a lot of negative challenges. It was easy to get away from the positive side of our culture very quickly especially with distributing everybody to their houses. Something very cool has happened recently. We were approached by one of our newer employees and this person wanted to start a culture club within our organization because when she came to our organization the thing that was most compelling for her was the culture and the passion and how people felt about working here and working towards our collective mission. And she felt that really since the beginning of 2020 and the pandemic, we've taken some hits we've taken some dents in the armor and it didn't quite feel the same way.

Never has there ever been more of an important time to focus on our culture and so we've actually ramped it up. A lot of our culture prior to this just kind of naturally came down from Brad and from myself and from the great people we felt like we hired great people and that contributed to the like-mindedness and the culture. Since then we've got really serious about it. We actually have weekly culture Club meetings that are open to the entire organization that are built around vulnerability and sharing. How are you feeling? How can we work together to continue to build on the amazing foundation that we have here at Level 3? And I have been personally very inspired by some of the contributions that we've gotten from folks that have never spoken up at all amongst our culture. Honestly, I've got to give a big shout out to Jennifer Wright. Right now Project Manager here at Level 3 Audiovisual for taking the plunge and approaching the leadership group and asking for the authority and the empowerment and support to build something around our culture at a time when it was needed the most.

Ron:  I love that and a person here on Team One Firefly is listening, Ted, and he says it sounds like Jeremy's been listening to Brené Brown. Do you know that name Brené Brown?

Jeremy: I don't know.

Ron:  Now you're going to have to Google it after the show. We've been doing some of these types of discussions and training and I agree with emphatically with everything you're saying about culture. And Brené actually has a bunch of videos on YouTube with a lot of different pieces of training for company culture and how to deal with all sorts of things regarding human interaction and we're big advocates of hers at One Firefly and that's what Ted is pointing out. You're getting lots of love here in the streams so I'm just going to put some of this up on the screen. First of all, Sean says I love the org chart story flipping it upside down. Thank you, Sean. Thanks for watching and listening and Hagi. He's the CEO of a networking company called the Access Networks. And Hagi's listening to what you're saying about culture and I know Hagi's a big fan in the culture over at Access Networks and I think is pretty amazing. You're definitely resonating with him. And then Carlos looks like he wrote something long he says thank you for sharing your perspective about culture and education when it comes to an organization. Just awesome. And welcome Jeremy. I'm going to ask you Jeremy, what do you think big picture. Your company obviously has had to transition some of your people sounds like to home offices. This is a big broad question so you can take it any direction you'd like. What do you think carries with Level 3 into 2021 in terms of changes that have perhaps permeated your company as a result of what we've had to go through the last six months? What do you think changes for your company in 2021 and beyond.

Jeremy: That's a great question and I'll first answer it by saying it depends. And what I mean by that is we're still figuring it out. The new norm that everybody's referring to I think it's continuing to develop where we see our organization going is developing even more of a managed services offering and a managed services mindset. This is a big question so I'm going to wander a bit here with my response in that back to that conversation about AV I.T. converging. It's been happening for years. I will say that the pandemic.

Ron:  We haven't touched on that here we were talking pre-show on that. So why don't you expound on what does that mean AV and I.T. are converging and what does it mean and how long has that been happening?

Jeremy: It's been happening really for about 20 years. I think it went into full throttle about 10 years ago but to define what that means AV as an industry, as a trade used to be a very separate trade from I.T. Meaning you would have your I.T. team, your data pullers, your integrators, your route switch network guys installing cabling and product that helped facilitate the network and then you had your AV people installing AV cabling and AV devices and those things never talked. They were separate systems. Going way back to video projectors and slide projectors and at a certain point we all realized that I.T. networking technology was taking over the world and we needed to start building AV products that could leverage the network technology out there. The convergence is really starting to deliver AV solutions leveraging and utilizing the network to deliver them as well as monitor them manage them really start to turn them into an endpoint on the network as opposed to a separate disparate non-connected system. That's been going on for 20 years. It's gotten really accelerated over the last 10 years, five years, three years, one year and then 2020 came along and I feel like we've even hit another year of acceleration as it relates to the I.T. world converging with the AV world and we're seeing that in the cloud platforms.

We're seeing that in how folks can consume AV today. You don't have to just go out and buy a black box, in fact your computer is an incredibly capable device that can provide a number of AV services just like the one that we're doing right now without ever involving an integrator, without ever involving a separate black box. It's gotten so ubiquitous in terms of how I.T. and AV has converged and merged that where we see ourselves going back to the original question, how are we going to manage this? Well, one answer to that early on was starting to enable folks to work from home. How can we take an incredibly high-quality audio and video experience that maybe folks are used to in their meeting rooms at their office and bring that to their home offices? I've made a comment in the past where today our home office is now our meeting room and our children are now our co-workers. How are we managing that? How are we creating an experience that still allows us to do business still allows us to sell our solutions and our products still allow us to communicate effectively with anyone that we need to communicate effectively? Now at home instead of at our offices and you actually coined this recently Ron I loved it. It's really building personal studios for people that allow them to present themselves as professionally as possible in this new work from home environment.

That's one answer to the question. Another answer to the question is focusing on delivering services as opposed to focusing on delivering equipment like most traditional AV integrators, we sell equipment, we install equipment, we design it, we project manage it. That's continuing to change as it has over the years. Things are getting consolidated. Things are getting commoditized, products are becoming more integrated all by themselves meaning that less labor less programming less integration services required when you can accomplish it all within one box. As well as the labor side of that is continuing to go down as well, meaning organizations in a lot of cases will install things themselves or have their facilities team or just a construction team member hang a display on a wall or hang a box on the wall. We're focused on how we can wrap services around developing deploying and managing an AV program within an organization. A big buzzword right now is AV as a service. And I like to think of that in a number of different ways. Certainly, you can get a conference room in a box as a service and pay a monthly fee instead of capital investment but where we're trying to position ourselves in a couple of different areas, is around professional services as a service. Large organizations today have realized that they need to standardize on their meeting room solutions, how they communicate. Taking what has happened at the desktop taking what has happened in matured unified collaboration technologies and bringing that into the meeting space and to the home office. Not everybody set up with the appropriate team to accomplish that. We have all the skillsets in-house to augment existing teams that might be already overburdened I.T. teams that are still managing all of the I.T. infrastructures but are now responsible for the meeting room technology, collaboration technology, streaming and broadcasting, all of these AV technologies. They might not have the resources to be able to manage that from a program standpoint. We are working hard at being able to develop that program, help build roadmap strategies for the organization, and then deliver and execute on that plan to get them where they want to go from a goal standpoint.

Ron:  It sounds to me and I'm fairly green as it relates to I.T. so if this is a dumb question tell me that it won't hurt my feelings. It sounds like the labor requirements within your business or within a commercial integrator. I would also challenge this probably relates directly to a residential integrator as well. It really is going towards this labor specialization this I.T. managed service cloud solution level of expertise and consulting requirement as opposed to and I'll say as it relates to commercial projects. If projects with capital expenditures and large sums of gear going into them if maybe that's challenged and I want you to tell me, is it different now than it was pre-COVID? But if that's changing, does it really mean that firms like yours and your peers need to be really growing this I.T. muscle within their firm?

Jeremy: You asked a couple of questions there. I'll answer the last question first with a simple yes. If you're not already growing your I.T. muscle as an AV integrator and I think this goes for both the commercial and residential sides of the industry, you're pretty far behind at this point because it's been happening for a long time. The second question or the first question I should say was how is it changing pre and post-COVID. I'll just share some of our personal experience.

When the pandemic started, a number of our clients paused work or canceled work because of just the unknown factor. And I mentioned this earlier in our conversation. The new norm or what's continuing to develop as the new norm which in my personal opinion has not stabilized yet, we still don't have in my opinion a good sense of what that ultimate norm is going to look like. And I'll build upon that comment a little bit more here.

In some cases, the projects were canceled, in some cases the projects were paused. In some cases they continued to move forward because the money was already earmarked and spent. But what came back very strongly from all of our clients, was a desire to hold back and a desire to wait and see what was going to happen. And so as you unpack that a little bit more. One of our large clients, a global manufacturer of microprocessor technology. They have fabs all over the world and they have very specialized equipment. They have testers all kinds of things. What that ultimately means is that there is a portion of their business that will also always have to be performed at the office meaning they can't do their job from home.

Ron:  You're not taking the 5 million dollar testing machine home with you.

Jeremy: You can't have the wafer machine in your garage. It doesn't work out right. At the beginning of this, that was a positive thought process and inspiring that ok, our entire business is going to go to nothing because people are still going to need to meet and still be in the meeting rooms. Well what was really interesting to me or compelling or concerning I should say is as I was walking down the hallway of one of these sites there was a whole row of meeting rooms that were 10 person meeting rooms and on the door had a sign that said no more than three people allowed in any meeting room. And that triggered something in my head that said did commercial real estate just get two to three times more expensive as it relates to meeting room technology? Well if I'm a business owner and I can accomplish all this communication from home and from your individual desks. Why do I need to spend the money on these meeting rooms?

If I now need the same space that used to accommodate 10 people accommodating 3 people, I don't think we're to the point where we can safely answer that question. There's a lot of people pushing and organizations and thought leaders putting ideas out into the world right now as to what it could look like and what the potential could be there. But that has really been the biggest impact of our business as it relates to large capital projects is a desire by our clients to wait and see how this is all going to turn out. I think one thing that has really happened is that anybody who thought or was concerned about having workers work from home and still being able to do their job and be productive has been flipped upside down. It's not a thing anymore.

Ron:  It's been proven, you can work from home and be productive.

Jeremy: You can work from home. You can be productive and guess what. Most of the ones working from home are like I like this. I want to keep working from home. This provides work-life balance if I'm in the New York area. I don't have to drive or take a train for an hour and a half in two directions to get to the office. I'm more productive and I'm less stressed by the other aspects of what it takes to be in the office. As we've proven that so many of these jobs can be done from home. I think again everybody's just trying to process through what does this mean for the long term? Where am I going to take my dollars and spend them? They're still going to be technology spend. My question is whether or not it's going to be as much in the meeting room space vs. that work from home or even potentially setting up that personal studio at folks workstations within an organization if they are still working from the office.

Ron:  I want to pull the thread on the concept of the work from home studio or office but before I go there, there is a question here and I'd love for you to address it. Hagi, first of all, he's saying he loves everything you're saying. And he says it's so true that AV and I.T. are combining or becoming one but he has a question he says, "How willing is corporate I.T. to let you into the operation?" He says from what he knows corporate I.T. is usually very guarded. I'm assuming this is like corporate espionage type stuff. They don't want their secrets to go out or their communications or I.T. to be hacked or made vulnerable. How did they let you in?

Jeremy: That's a great question and it's something that we're fortunate at Level 3 to have myself leading the charge from an I.T. perspective. I understand the needs and the concerns of the network side the security side, the CTO the CIO, the daily challenges that they have to solve as it relates to protecting I.T. infrastructure. If you're not educated and skilled on that side of the equation then you're going to struggle always trying to get corporate I.T. to let you in. When you present yourself as not only capable but concerned with and top of mind with how your products how your solutions are going to interact with the corporate network.

You start to build trust and comfort very quickly. Again it comes back to that comment earlier, if you're not developing the team muscle you're behind at this point. You really need to be developing that I.T. muscle and hiring the skill sets that you might not already have. I'm seeing a lot of AV integrators going after CCNA certifications, Microsoft certifications because guess what? Our technologies are sitting on servers. I recently deployed a huge Linux distribution globally and that's being used as the control system processor for thousands of conference rooms. Knowing how to harden that platform, knowing how to communicate with all the right teams, is the only way that corporate I.T. is going to let you into their organization. AV is looking a lot more like I.T. these days.

Ron:  I'm looking at the clock and time is flying by and I have I think I've gotten through 10 percent of the topics I wanted to talk to you about. It sounds like we're going to have to have you back. But I do want to pull a couple of more threads here. Are commercial integrators gonna start moving into the home to provide these home offices or these home studios?

Jeremy: I absolutely think that is the case because what you're starting to see is well and I shouldn't even say you're starting to see, it's been going on for a long time. There's a number of people that have always worked from home. We have a number of engineers that are spread throughout the country that have been working from home from the last several years using Zoom, using Teams, using WebEx. I bring these products up because these are commercial products that are paid for by the organizations that are deploying them. You're using a commercial AV platform at home. To me, it seems like a very natural step for commercial integrators to want to provide solutions around those platforms to enhance the experience at home.

We've definitely seen the request coming where especially sales folks, C-level executives, they want to bring that experience that they're used to having and they're really expensive two hundred thousand dollar boardroom into their home office and it can be done now very cost-effectively with some very focused products and solutions. And this actually gets back to that equipment sale conversation where we do have the ability to sell some equipment into this very particular side of the space. But as you know, a headset can transform the audio experience. We've all been on conference calls with somebody who doesn't have a headset. They're just using the microphone and the camera on their laptop. And when you grade that experience compared to what you're used to it's just not acceptable anymore especially when you can't go to work.

If my job is communicating with people I need to make sure that I have the devices necessary to make that the best possible experience as I can. I'm sorry. Just know that as commercial integrators we have access to a level of product that not only fits in the conference rooms but also fits into home offices as well. Really professional commercial products that are now being deployed and delivered if not at home in temporary solutions for schools or building lots of cards. And again it's how do I create that experience that's going to effectively communicate because now we're all sitting I know for me personally I'm more exhausted at the end of a workday at home than I've ever been before because when you've had 15 back to back Zoom slash Teams meetings. If you don't have good lighting if you don't have good audio, quote of the year, mute your microphone. Right.

Ron:  That meme is running around all the social platforms right now for sure.

Jeremy: I laughed so hard when I saw it because I said that at least five hundred times this year at least right. Because why? Why do we want people to mute their microphones? Because we want to create a really awesome audio experience that everybody can leverage and utilize and not have fatigue. So that we can accomplish the mission of communicating effectively. And I think there's a huge opportunity for commercial integrators to bring what we do every single day in large meeting spaces to that home office experience.

"Rarely from my perspective do I hear of the commercial integrator wanting anything to do with the home."

Ron:  I'm going to try to restate the concept and then have you tell me more about these software solutions these communication platforms per say but I'm going to try to interpret this really not even for the audience just for me to make sure I'm getting it right. The idea is that a commercial integrator particularly a commercial integrator that has the strong I.T. managed solutions side of the business is delivering comprehensive cloud-based solutions that work in the office in the boardroom in the conference room in the huddle room and it's now simply saying and at the home office. And it's all part of one ecosystem and that really is interesting because I'll just say from my perspective and I've worked historically with a lot of residential integration firms that the residential integrator has quote dabbled in commercial and they'll do the restaurant or they'll do the dentist's office or they'll do the boardroom but rarely from my perspective which is limited do I hear of the commercial integrator wanting anything to do with the home. Usually, historically they're ready to distance themselves from some of that. Some of those challenges and what I think I'm hearing is that that has been changing and it's accelerating because of COVID.

Jeremy: Absolutely. What you have said resonates with me significantly. I will tell you that as a commercial integrator I have zero interest in doing a residential AV project. It's a very and for all the residential the companies out there you know exactly what I'm talking about. It's a different client. It's different client experience. Generally speaking, it's a different product mix different outcomes that are being desired from an AV perspective on the commercial side. Well, now the outcomes that your clients are looking for in a commercial AV space are being desired at home is when that line starts to get crossed and when that it becomes a little bit grayer when all of the sudden you have leaders and workers that are used to working from a commercial environment with commercial technologies are finding themselves at home. They need to augment that experience with commercial technologies to bring that experience up. And so to talk a little bit about the cloud platform side of things, Teams, Zoom, WebEx go to meeting all of these cloud platforms that we've all been using for years have significantly accelerated since the beginning of COVID. We've got the numbers, the companies are pushing them out publicly to show the amount of usage. This isn't Skype this isn't a home communication tool, it's commercial cloud-based platforms that are used to drive business now being used out of the home exponentially more than they were prior to the pandemic. And so how do we take these platforms it's a little easier I think at home than it is in the meeting rooms.

What I'll say there is at home you're still working off a desktop or a laptop computer and that experience regardless of what platform you're on is very standardized across those desktop piece those laptops those iPads those tablets. When you start taking that experience into a meeting room situation where you now need to support a large group of people connecting to the same platform in that same meeting. That's really what we as commercial integrators at least in the corporate space have been really focused on for the last several years and pushing our product manufacturer partners to develop products that help us bring that native platform experience into those meeting rooms. With the pandemic, there was a little bit of a pause on the meeting room side so let's swing that boat so to speak and focus on enabling those home workers to have that exact same experience. .

Ron:  I'm going to ask a bit of a self-serving question here. Right now, my video is the video on my iMac and I also own a Logitech Breo which is a 4Kcamera although I just continue to have crazy driver issues and it causes my machine to crash although I love the image on my Logitech Breo. I just can't seem to get it to work nicely with my machine. It seems that the Home Office set up and I'm just going to say with the tools that I know how to work with video still seems to be a weak spot in terms of how to get nice robust video from a home office. What are you advising people? What type of caliber is there like a whole different tier or caliber of gear that you're designing into projects that are kind of above the one and two hundred dollar Logitech gear we'd find on Amazon?

Jeremy: Well I have to be careful here because there is a number of commercial organizations that are taking that very commoditization consumer-level equipment and bringing it into the commercial space.

Ron:  You don't want to offend anyone. OK, so that's the writer that you don't want to offend people that they may be using lower-tier gear. Is that what I'm hearing?

Jeremy: That's not what I said. That's not what I said at all. I think that it depends on the experience that you're trying to create for yourself. There's a mindset I think at this point that good enough is really a spectrum. Right. What's good enough for somebody who is not an audiovisual professional versus somebody who is an audiovisual professional is going to be a very wide range. You yourself have been doing a podcast for a long time and have invested a lot of time and energy in trying to increase the product that you're putting forth. Right. Lighting good quality microphone as we're seeing on the screen here. You're having a higher quality camera image. I will say that on the commercial side there is a very large range and spectrum of products that can enhance that experience. But you have to figure out what your good enough is really. And that's where I don't want to offend anyone. Just because you have a nicer camera than somebody else. Does that mean that you can still communicate? Yes. For me, quality isn't always how pretty an image looks. It's does the outcome get accomplished?

Ron:  Do you find that companies today I mean this is a new era with these home offices or home studios. Do you find that companies already have a spec or are you in fact helping them create that spec for what is the company standard?

Jeremy: That's a great question. Just a little plug on who we are. One of our primary services on the professional services side is helping organizations develop enterprise standards. That means if you have a whole bunch of meeting room spaces that range from a huddle room to a conference room that supports 12 people to a training room that supports 60 people to an auditorium that supports 2500 people. There is a sense now more than ever to create some consistency in standardized equipment, standardized UI, standardized interfaces, standardized user experience which falls right into that standardized product selection and then it feeds back into the conversation of how do I manage these products? When you start to unravel all of the things that go into a standards-based approach for an organization. This year more than any other year there is now the work from home kit. It used to be well here's my type one room and my type two-room and my type three-room all the way up to however many types of rooms you had that you were standardizing on and rapidly deploying to. Here's my type 1 type 2 and Type 3 work from home kits.

My standard data worker, my salesperson kit, and my executive kit all have different ranges of products and we are absolutely helping our organizations build out those kids go to the manufacturers and negotiate discounts for buying these kits together. There's a lot of strategies there as anybody knows about standardizing on a particular manufacturer and investing in a partnership with that manufacturer. That was a long way of answering the question but yes absolutely we are helping our clients develop those standardized kits from home and helping them deploy them rapidly. We've never sold more headsets than we have in 2020 as a commercial integrator. We are running out of time here. I always love to get a piece of advice or two although the last hour has been loaded with advice. What words of advice would you give to any integration firms that are out there that feel that their I.T. muscle is not where it probably needs to be? What should they do? What sort of training or certifications or coaching or mentoring is available to them to kind of help nudge them or point them in the right direction? That's a great question. Avixa or InfoCom but Avixa as the primary organization name. They have some great classes. They've done a great job of putting those classes online. And for I want to say the first several months of the pandemic they actually allowed anyone who wanted to to go take those classes for free didn't have to pay a membership but they've got some really great classes that help get the AV professional deeply introduced to I.T. and networking especially around how AV products and solutions need to interact with that network.

Taking it deeper than that which you all should be doing and need to be doing. I really am partial to the network side because that's where my cash and my start came from as I loved the pure networking side of it. But if you're not offering a solution today that is a monthly annually recurring revenue stream, whether it's a monitoring service or reselling. At this point, a lot of the manufacturers have actually released services that can be resold by AV integrators and start creating that recurring revenue. That starts to change the consumption model for the organizations and that's the hardest thing to take the jump on when you have that traditional equipment sale capital project-based business and you want to move to that recurring revenue type model. Take a small step. Get with one of your manufacturer partners that's offering a service that's available for resale and just start selling it. Start getting out there and figuring it out. The first jump is the hardest one but once that starts happening it gets easier and easier to change your mindset.

Ron:  Love it.

Jeremy: One other deeper learning CCNA. I'm a Cisco guy at heart. As far as route switch firewall goes. That's where I pursued my initial training and that gets you very deep into how devices are going to interact on a corporate LAN. And like Hagi mentioned and I'll just bring that back up again, you need to be able to talk the talk that the I.T. team is concerned about. You need to be concerned about security. You need to be concerned about how your devices are doing on the network. Take the time to develop a network security policy for your AV integration firm and talk about it with your customers. That will immediately start to build trust because again you're putting effort and concern towards how your solutions are going to interact with the customers network and that's a great concern to them.

Ron:  That makes a tremendous amount of sense. I'm going to close on this topic. You were Educator of the Year last year awarded at InfoComm. Tell us about that. Tell us how that came to be.

Jeremy: That was probably the top two possibly top one career highlight of my entire career. It was incredibly humbling. Avixa teaches a lot of industry education. They hold three ANSI certification CTS, CTSI, CTSD. I got introduced to this about four years ago by a friend by the name of Jim Maltese who also won Educator of the Year back in 2016 and he dragged me into this world. I shouldn't even say that. I begged him to drag me into this world because I was passionate about teaching and training and the first year that I taught at InfoComm and for the most part it's volunteer training industry pros educators that give up their time freely to go to the show and provide these certification classes. It's an amazing way to give back in that first year they do what's called an instructor dinner and so second day of training we all go out to dinner and I'm having one of those moments where I'm looking down the table and I'm seeing mentors that have trained me over 15 years.

People that I learn from and then I'm now sitting shoulder to shoulder as a peer that was a pretty humbling experience. The Educator of the Year is a voted position meaning that every year Infocomm has a slew of eight or ten awards and it goes out to the industry and people put up names and it gets voted on. It's very much an industry peer-voted on the situation and really how it came to be as I've taught at InfoComm for the past four years with the exception of this year because it was canceled and beyond that, I'm very involved with the industry's committees. There's a number of committees, one of them is the professional education and training committee that works on curriculum development and how we can further define education that's relevant to the industry as well as my involvement with other organizations like AQAV.

We're actually an education partner for AQAV teaching the classes here at our facility on the west coast. Those are certification classes around quality management systems. A lot of passion and dedication to the education side of the house. I'll finish with saying most of my team showed up without me knowing with t-shirts with my face printed on them. When they presented the award at InfoComm which was a really nice glass award. All of the sudden on the right side of the stage like 30 or 40 of my teammates were there with pictures of me on their shirts celebrating and cheering me on and so it was just really one of those moments that I'll cherish forever.

Ron:  That's amazing.

Jeremy: It's amazing to be recognized for something that I would do with no recognition at all. I've been fortunate and blessed by getting to learn from some of the best people in this industry and if I can see far it's because I stand on the shoulders of giants. To be counted amongst them is still today humbling and honestly feels a little bit undeserving on my part but just makes you want to continue to do more and everything that I can to provide to others what was provided to me.

Ron:  Is there ever a prank day in the office where everybody just shows up with your face on their shirt? If not this sounds like a really good idea. Team, I think this needs to happen when everyone is allowed back in the office. Do it for a week straight.

Jeremy: There's been some quality prank days but I'm pretty sure that you seeded an idea that might come back to haunt me now.

Ron:  That's awesome and just speaking of team and pranks. This is not a prank but Jennifer you mentioned her earlier and she did put a nice comment here she says Jeremy bringing you a Brené Brown book and thank you for leading by example.

Jeremy: Oh thanks Jennifer. That's our culture captain right there.

Ron:  That's your culture captain. Well Jeremy it has been a blast having you on the show. How can those listening or watching get in touch with you if they want to learn more or continue the conversation?

Jeremy: Sure. Website www.level3av.com. Facebook Jeremy Elsesser, LinkedIn Jeremy Elsesser, happy to start any conversations that anybody is looking for.

Ron:  Well Jeremy it has been a blast having you on the show. I've only gotten to know you this year as we've been working together and you're always as you know we are newer to the commercial integration space. I'd say there's exponentially more that we don't know than we do now. And you've been very kind in your willingness to share and teach both myself and members of our team about your industry and what you do. And so from the entire One Firefly team. Thank you.

Jeremy: Thank you Ron. Really appreciate the opportunity to be on the show and looking forward to that invite to come back.

Ron:  I know we have a lot of material we didn't even get to say I don't think we made it through that 80 percent of the topics that we talked about preshow. But I also feel like this was so much fun and we covered so much great content thank you again. My pleasure Jeremy thank you.

SHOW NOTES:

Jeremy's sixteen-year career at Level 3 Audiovisual has led him to his current position there as President of the company. Jeremy has been in the technology industry for nearly 20 years and has worked on a broad range of projects, including broadcast, production, and communications for higher education, corporate, healthcare, and hospitality clients. 

Ron Callis is the CEO of One Firefly, LLC, a digital marketing agency based out of South Florida and creator of Automation Unplugged. Founded in 2007, One Firefly has quickly became the leading marketing firm specializing within the integrated technology and security space. The One Firefly team work hard to create innovative solutions to help Integrators boost their online presence, such as the elite website solution, Mercury Pro.

Resources and links from the interview:

To keep up with Jeremy and his team at Level 3 Audiovisual, visit their website at level3av. Be sure to follow them on Facebook and LinkedIn.

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