When Ignite was launched in 2016, we knew it would help the industry draw attention to the awesome career opportunities available.
What we didn’t realize, however, was that it would raise the debate about what integrators call themselves. Commercial integrators? AV integrators? Technology professionals? Low-voltage contractors? Systems contractors? Communications technology firms?
What’s Behind NSCA’s Name
In 1982, NSCA was formed as the National Sound and Communications Association to represent sound contractors. Because our members were soon doing security, video, and other things beyond sound and audio, we instead became the National Systems Contractors Association (pretty cool that we were able to keep “NSCA” with that change!) and began to favor the term “integrator.”
Today, we are simply known as “NSCA.” We’re every bit as dedicated to the channel as we were on Day One when we formed as the National Sound and Communications Association. To be honest, very few members today know or care what NSCA stands for. Instead, they know us as the organization that provides advice, services, events, and support to help them run better businesses.
What binds our members together is the scope of work they provide (18 system types), the expertise they have, definitions of licensure status, delivery methods, levels of professionalism, and the ability to provide excellent service and client experiences.
Beyond that, NSCA members come in all shapes and sizes. As a result, they’ve started to use new terms to explain what they do and create differentiation. This, however, is the opposite approach that other trades take – at least ones that are more easily identified by the craft or skill of their workforce (electrical contractor, mechanical contractor, plumbing contractor, etc.).
It doesn’t work like that in an industry with 18+ different system types. We’ve heard our members identify themselves as:
- AV integrators
- Design-build contractors
- Experience designers
- Life safety integrators
- Limited-energy contractors
- Low-voltage contractors
- Managed solutions providers
- Managed systems providers
- Specialty contractors
- Systems integrators
- Value-added resellers
Some even add market verticals, such as healthcare solutions provider, to their descriptions.
Internally, NSCA also has its own conversations – and differing opinions – about what terms the industry should use to describe itself.
NSCA Executive Director Chuck Wilson’s Perspective
“I like less-restrictive terms, such as systems integrator or technology solutions provider. I hear those used quite often. Many feel like those phrases don’t define the type of system or technology they offer or the markets they serve. On the other hand, it also doesn’t restrict you when new innovation emerges or when venturing into a new vertical market.
“Differentiation can be a double-edged sword. As we struggle to explain our industry and create industry classifications, the lack of an easily understood identifier can make us almost invisible. This plays out in areas such as insurance ratings, safety and experience ratings, exemptions and requirements for licensing, research and industry data, etc. Because we’ve fought the notion of being classified the same, we often find ourselves being left out of classifications and standards discussions altogether.
“We’ve tried to maintain autonomy, yet it often leaves the industry unrecognized at times when the combined strength of our specialties and unique niches could make a difference.”
NSCA Education Foundation Director Kelly Perkins’ Perspective
“I question why this is even a big deal. We’re in audiovisual (AV). Everything we do involves some type of audio and/or visual component. Security, life safety, nurse call, IT – it all involves audio and/or video (at least from the perspective of the end-user). Chuck brings up good points about codes, compliance, and general licensing issues. But, to protect ourselves, our industry should come up with a classification that’s better than ‘low-voltage contractor.’
“When describing what we do, this is what I tell the general population: We’re in the business of creating – or “integrating,” if you’d like – a system(s) of multiple technologies that helps people communicate. I tell people outside the industry that we are architects of sound, video, and lighting in commercial spaces. This includes automated rooms and multi-campus control of all IoT devices.”
What Do You Call Yourself?
So now we have a question for you: Does it matter?
If our own industry is confused, will this hurt us when describing the impacts we have or trying to recruit new employees to our talent pool? Does the lack of consistency help us? Hurt us? Or have no impact at all?
It’s something we discuss every day – and we want to know what you think, too. Send us a note! –Chuck Wilson, NSCA Executive Director; Kelly Perkins, NSCA Education Foundation Director