12.09.16

Letter from America: Having a Plan B

Heiss_September_Plan B

I’m sure you’ve all seen this happen in an action movie, spy-thriller or space rescue film. In spite of the characters’ best plans something just doesn’t go the way it should and the mission is in jeopardy.

Then, one character asks another, “OK, what’s our Plan B?” Sometimes there is a Plan B, and maybe even a Plan C; the earth is saved. Sometimes there is no Plan B, and still Earth is saved.

This brings to mind the recent trials and tribulations of Kaleidescape. During the last six weeks they closed their doors only to recently re-open. Although it now seems that they are back in business, immediately after the initial closure many in our community asked, “What is our Plan B?” With support for current products and the ongoing availability of content updates appearing to vaporize, if you’ve sold the subject products, now what would you do? All of the units functioned, but what would you have done when they didn’t? What would have replaced them with either in existing or planed jobs?

Fortunately for those involved with Kaleidescape, it seems you won’t need a Plan B. However, the lesson is still valid. What is your Plan B, not only in this specific situation, but also in many similar situations where companies whose products we’ve used are acquired and then closed down, or when they simply go out of business?

Legal Protections
As an American I’m living in what is often a litigious society where people can and do sue anyone else at the drop of a hat. True, more than I’d like to admit, but it isn’t a piece of cake elsewhere. Indeed, to some respects the various EU, UK and EMEA consumer protection regulations are often tougher than those in the US! If you install a product and it doesn’t work, you may be left holding a huge bag, even if it is a product supplier who is at fault. It is worth remembering what many integrators did back in the age of plasma displays. There were more than one installation firm I know who had their lawyers put a precisely worded statement in their contracts where the client acknowledged that plasma displays are subject to burn in, and if it occurs whether, from improper or normal use, the dealer/installer is not responsible. Check with your lawyer or solicitor to see if there is something along those lines that is possible in your country. It’s not a cure-all, but it could help minimize any potential legal action.

Regardless of whether or not you are legally insulated you are still more than somewhat morally obligated to provide a reasonable solution to a situation such as what almost happened with Kaleidescape. Think both inside AND outside the box. Let’s try some examples on for size using the current situation as an example.

Product Alternatives
The most obvious solution would be to find an equivalent product. Perhaps you might already have one from your initial research on the job’s components. Is there something that was considered that may have come close but which for, whatever reason, lost out?

For example, in the case of movie/content server products, what would have been a potential replacement for a Kaleidescape? Here, an example would be a product from Fusion Research. It serves the role as being similar and perhaps closest in functionality, though perhaps not identical.

Look into the possible alternatives. Be prepared to not only explain why what they have has to be replaced and why, but be ready to not only explain what the replacement will, or won’t do in comparison to what is in service now. Again, in this example, that might be the ability of a replacement to offer full DRM-compatible “rip-in” of discs or the look and feel of the interface.

Then, there is the question of cost. Be ready to explain not only what the new hardware costs, but the related re-entry or porting of stored content. That may, or may not, be possible. It may, but likely will not, be inexpensive. If the unit going away is under the control of an integrated system there will almost certainly be programming costs to cover.

To make things more palatable to what may be a very upset client, think about how you can smooth things out. If new hardware is needed, maybe you might offer to do the required re-programming for free, or at least at cost. What kind of accommodation can you make to soften the blow and make your company look good when something happens to a device that you sold and install but is no longer in existence?

The best example of this is to look at what Lexus did when there was a fault with and recall of the seats in their new high-end model just when the brand was trying to show how it would match up against the established German luxury brands such as Mercedes, BMW and Audi. Dealers personally called each owner and provided them with a rental car while the defects were repaired in the shop. When the car was returned to the owner it was washed and had the gas tank filled up. The gambit worked as the defect was quickly forgotten and the dealer care long remembered. What can you do to make customers favorably view your company in a similar situation?

In a changing world, another way to replace an out of sale unit is not to replace it with something similar, but with something that does a similar thing in a different way. Think outside the proverbial box!

For example, Kaleidescape has been considered a leader in the storage and playback of content that originated on physical media. However, it is clear that despite the increasing availability of 4K/UHD native, UltraHD Blu ray players, content at all resolutions is rapidly moving to streaming, or at the least, “download and store.” The problem, unfortunately, is that while the number of 4K releases is growing, it is spread across different services. That is a problem. There are not only different services but they may be available across different devices and each has a different user interface. That makes things difficult for you, but is there a silver lining? It may be difficult for your programmers to figure out a way to, for example, integrate control of the 4K content offered likes of Netflix, Amazon, UltraFlix, Sony and soon others from one device. However, given that the cost of 4K streamers is relatively low, is it possible to use one streamer for each service and then integrate them yourself into one control system?

For some, if the above is not feasible, is the issue really not one of hardware but really where the content is coming from? Doesn’t this become a question of client education rather anxiety over hardware? Sure, the client may like be used to what they have, paid for and are used to. However, a significant part of your outreach must be to keep your clients up-to-date on trends and the impact on how they access and consume content.

Perhaps the answer may simply no longer be an all-in-one solution. Maybe the answer would be the combination of an UltraHD Blu-ray player, a Roku, the content from their Smart TV, a DVR or DVR-like device such as a TiVo Bolt, the combination of Plex, and HTPC and Silicon Dust (particularly in DVB-centric areas), a video game such as the 4K Xbox One S or new PlayStation 4K models. Maybe not one of each, but clearly more than one. The key is how you glue the various devices together and make them easy to use for the client in a way that DIY products or your competitors cannot do.

When your plan for a project or existing installation looks like it is going south, it is just good business sense to have at least a Plan B, and perhaps a few more plans. And, just like in the movies or TV shows, you have to carefully weigh the pros and cons of something that might not be your first choice. Sometimes the answer is obvious, sometimes not. Sometimes it will be based on easily accessible solutions, sometimes it has to be out-of-the-box thinking and devices.

Most important, just as the mission leader has to explain Plan B to their commander, you have to be prepared to clearly explain the why, what, how, how long, and how much. That way, rather than shooting from the hip, you have full approval and buy-in. You may not save the world, but in situations such as those encountered with Kaleidescape, you may not only save the client but end up having them serve as “rainmakers” that will help you expand your business.

Michael Heiss is a technology consultant and journalist, CEDIA Fellow, CEDIA ESC 2 Certified, and US correspondent for HiddenWires magazine. You can contact Michael via the HiddenWires LinkedIn Group. Follow him on Twitter: @captnvid.