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Digging Through the Data with James Chu Published:2017-10-18

SCN: What is your position, and what does it entail? What are your responsibilities?

James Chu: I am InfoComm International’s director of market research. In my role, I have a couple major responsibilities. The first is to oversee efforts to analyze the market in which our members do business—how big is the market, what opportunities for growth are there, what market trends require special attention? The second part of my role is to conduct research for InfoComm itself in order to support our programs. This could include surveys to determine what types of training to offer, as well as surveys of the industry’s Certified Technology Specialists (CTS, CTD-D, and CTS-I).

SCN: How long have you been at this position?

JC: I started in August of 2015, so I recently had my six-month anniversary.

SCN: How has your background prepared you for this role?

JC: This might sound clichéd, but I’ve always appreciated numbers, starting from my degree in applied mathematics. While working full-time, I pursued my MBA and I found that I really enjoyed the business side of statistics. For me, numbers became data, which eventually morphed into “big data” and analysis. And that big data is growing exponentially every day, which is exciting for someone like me.

I’ve been doing market research and data analysis for 15 years. Before joining InfoComm, I worked for the American Institute of Architects (AIA). The world architects work in is actually very similar to that of AV professionals. If you think about how people work and live today, I guarantee you there will be AV equipment and infrastructure in almost every built environment that architects design, whether it’s a school, hospital, concert hall, or sports stadium, to mention a few. Architects and AV professionals are key allies in delivering the experiences that people want where they work and live. As a result, their interests in market trends are similar.

SCN: What are your short- and long-term goals?

JC: When I arrived at InfoComm, right off the bat, we finished a couple of major research initiatives. First was our series of vertical market studies. These studies were based on interviews around the world with users and specifiers of AV products and services to understand better their needs, wants, and decision-making processes. We published studies that cover the corporate, education, government, retail, healthcare, hospitality, and venue (including house of worship) markets. Soon after, we came out with our Live Events Industry Insights Study, which actually offered some great insight into companies that offered integration and event services, rather than just one or the other. You’ll recall that AVI-SPL tackled the challenge and in 2014 decided to sell its events business to Freeman.

With those studies in the market, I started to dig into InfoComm data and meet people throughout the industry. In the short term, we are primarily focusing on internal market research needs. Our long-term goal is to develop new products and analyses that will help our members succeed. As the leading association for the commercial AV industry, one of our jobs is to develop market intelligence where it’s needed most. We did this back when we first launched the Market Definition and Strategy Study (MDSS), which famously came into being when InfoComm executives kept getting questions about the size and scope of the pro AV industry. These are important questions, especially as pro AV grows and intersects with so many other related industries. Detailed market research—into our own industry as well as others we work with—helps us tell our story and identify opportunities for industry development.

SCN: What is the greatest challenge that you face?

JC: Our greatest challenge in market research here at InfoComm is the diverse membership we serve. InfoComm is unique in its mission to serve the entire commercial AV supply chain, from manufacturers, to distributors, to integrators, to consultants, to technology managers, right down to the people who use modern AV and communications systems. We also have to think about how we might serve related industries. What do IT professionals need to know about our market? What do architects need to know? Identifying what is unique and the same about all these constituents’ market intelligence needs is a challenge and helps inform our approach to creating the most valuable research products and service.

SCN: From the perspective of someone who reads the data tealeaves, per se, where do you see the AV/IT market heading?

JC: Well, we have industry data from our last MDSS, which indicates another growth year. In my experience, for any business to survive in today’s economy, you can’t just rely only on industry-specific data. I’m cautiously optimistic for the AV market, which appears largely healthy in and of itself. But of course there are many external factors coming into play in 2016 that could have implications for the AV industry.

One of my goals for the coming year is to help analyze such factors for the benefit of InfoComm members. Not to sound like an economist, but the Federal Reserve recently raised a key interest rate, U.S. GDP last quarter grew less than 1 percent, oil prices continue to drop, and we’ve got a presidential election this year. Somewhere in there are factors out of our control that could affect our industry. One data source I still keep a close eye on is the AIA’s biannual Construction Consensus Forecast. The latest data indicates moderate growth for the construction industry in 2016 and 2017, which may bode well for pro AV.

Lindsey M. Adler is editor of SCN.