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Cindy Davis

2023 to 2024: In-Depth with Brian Divine, President of HARMAN Professional Solutions Division

An in-depth Interview with Brian Divine, president of HARMAN Professional Solutions Division.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: In an interview with AV Technology's content director, Cindy Davis, Brian Divine, president of the HARMAN Professional Solutions division, discusses the growth and future plans of the company. He mentions that the business has returned to pre-COVID levels and has seen growth across all sectors, including retail, touring, lighting, and installation. Looking ahead, Divine highlights a focus on the install market, with investments in hardware and software user interfaces. He also discusses the integration of the MUSE programming language into other products and brands within the HARMAN family. Divine discusses the acquisition of FLUX:: and its potential for immersive applications. He also addresses HARMAN's commitment to sustainability, aiming to be carbon neutral by 2040. Divine concludes by discussing the improvements in the supply chain, noting that the company is in a more stable position compared to the height of the pandemic. He also hints at upcoming product releases and the transformation of HARMAN's systems, including advancements in software and user interfaces.

On Growth

Cindy Davis: Please share a high-level view of the HARMAN business in 2023.

Brian Divine: Our business and the industry as a whole are finally from a supply chain perspective, which has been the dominant factor or at least a dominant topic of conversation over the past 18 months and is returning to something closer to normal. We've seen our business normalize back to pre-COVID levels this year, which has been a big help. 

We've seen growth across the board. Our retail business is strong, and our touring business is doing really well. Martin, our lighting business, has had pretty incredible growth over the past couple of years, as has our installation business. So, across the board, we feel very positive about where we are. 

Davis: Where are you expecting the growth to come from next year?

Divine: We are investing in doing R&D work across all the categories. Irrespective of brands, when we look at our markets, we break them down into retail, the installation market, which is by far the broadest category, and then our rental tour business. We'll have NPIs [new product introductions] across all of those. Starting at ISE, you're going to see a pretty concerted effort on our install portfolio, both in terms of hardware, and we'll have some things from the BSS brand as well as the software user interface. 

Davis: What are you expecting for growth next year, specific to the installation market? 

Divine: It's core to what we do, so there'll be a lot of investment, and you'll start seeing more of that starting in January at ISE. Across the board, when you look at the higher-end professional products, investment cycles and R&D cycles tend to be pretty long, especially when you do a fundamental paradigm shift like we did with MUSE. The notion of how we take AMX as a brand and make it more flexible and easier to use, and also more modern in terms of programming languages and provide our customers with a higher degree of flexibility than what we've had in the past. And then there's another layer of what we're working on in terms of system integration. 


Davis: In September 2023 HARMAN announced the new AMX MUSE Automation Platform, four new MUSE Automation Controllers, and several supporting developer resources. What impact has that had on the AMX brand already and going forward?  

Divine: This is a good philosophical talking point. In general, what you'll see from us as the new products come out is trying to meet the market where it is trying to address how we make things easier and more flexible, and how we make it so that it's faster and easier for people to get into an AMX programming environment and make systems do what they need to do—which is really what MUSE is all about. But even beyond that, when you look at HARMAN systems as a whole, how do we integrate better with third parties taking a step back from everything being proprietary to something that's a more open environment where we have third-party APIs, they can write their own plugins to come into our environment as we're having this discussion. At ISE, you'll see a much deeper look at how we're shifting our business, trying to meet the market where it is, and providing them with tools and flexibility. 

Some of the key things that AMX is known for when you look at networking and security and some of the highly sensitive applications it goes into, there's a lot that the broader professional group can learn from and use, especially as we get into environments where network security pretty much across the board is becoming a bigger and bigger topic. Having a brand like AMX with experts in that is a big advantage for us and will permeate more of the portfolio.


Davis: In November 2023, HARMAN announced it entered into an agreement to acquire FLUX SOFTWARE ENGINEERING (FLUX::). Please share insight into that decision. 

Divine: We were asked to quote a couple of arenas with bigger installs in an immersive format. We didn't, as HARMAN natively, have an answer for that, so we went out and looked for a partner. The relationship [with FLUX::] formed out of that. As we got to work with them closer and get a sense of who they were and what they had developed, we were incredibly impressed with what the team had done. So, it came together very organically. It is a tool and a creative element we needed to have a solution. There are many potential future applications for things even outside of what they've done for immersive. You'll see more of it as we get a chance to integrate.

On Sustainability 

Davis: Sustainability is top-of-mind for everyone these days. What is HARMAN's approach?

Divine: HARMAN, as a company, is taking it very seriously and set a goal to be carbon neutral by 2040. Obviously, the sooner we can get there, the better. Some examples of things that are already happening today: We've done LCAs [life cycle assessments] on a couple of products to understand them cradle to grave, what's driving the carbon footprint to where we can minimize things, whether it be through packaging, manufacturing process, and even logistics plays a big role. 

Our new plant for Martin in Hungary is the first green plant within HARMAN. The heating and cooling are all geothermal, and energy is provided via solar. It is our first carbon-neutral plant, and we're also looking at how to expand to some of our other facilities. 

Our partner for warehousing and logistics in EMEA is also moving into a completely carbon-neutral facility. From a product side, turning the whole portfolio over or all the packaging is a longer-term play that we're working on. Anything new adheres to these standards now. It's across the board, from the manufacturing process to the packaging to the product. There's a serious concern or effort behind that.

On Supply Chain

Davis: Coming full circle, you mentioned supply chain at the beginning of our conversation. How is HARMAN doing with the supply chain today?

Divine: We're as close to pre-pandemic as ever since 2020. You look at 12 months ago at this point, we were still at record high back order, struggling to get components, finding any open market channel we could to get things we were in short supply of, and most of the time at enormous expense. Now, it is much more stable and predictable. Backorders are not down to what I consider historical norms, but they're not terribly far away, either. From a predictability of supply perspective, we're easily in the best spot that we've been.

First and foremost, especially looking at the integration channel, being predictable is key so that they can plan their installs and their jobs and not put our customers in a bind, waiting on something that we just missed a date for whatever reason, whether it was chip supplier or what have you. Most of that has cleaned up quite a bit. We're getting to a position where we're able to have stock in the warehouse on particular electronics. And I think that's true for the industry as a whole, from what I'm hearing. Most of our competitors are also in a much more stable position. Obviously, as a manufacturer, we would like to get as much as we can, but I think when you take a look at the industry as a whole, it's better for all of our customers as they're trying to do their jobs and plan installs and how they make their living.

One of the big benefits of being a part of the larger HARMAN Corporation and Samsung as a whole is that we didn't slow down R&D at all through the pandemic. Even when, in 2020, a lot of our markets just closed, and our revenue pretty sharply dropped off, as did everybody else's, we had the latitude to keep R&D and engineering going full speed. Modernizing and keeping the MPIs [manufacturing performance indexes] coming out and knowing that those are based on newer, more modern chipsets helped us. A good example is Martin. We've not had a backorder situation in Martin despite record sales for over a year because we've been able to get those components in those new designs. 

On New Announcements

Davis: Would you share what we can expect at ISE in Barcelona at the end of January? 

Divine: ISE will mark the first really public unveiling of what our next-gen systems will look like. You're getting glimpses with things like MUSE, but it's a piece; it's not the cohesive whole of where the HARMAN Pro and all the brands are moving. It's a much larger story, even than the few pieces of hardware that will come out. You'll see the software that will eventually sunset all the individual unique pieces of software that we historically have used. To pick an extreme example, if today you could, in theory, have 25 individual pieces of software to make a full system end-to-end, to program it and operate it, where that all collapses down to three. It is a major transformation in how our users will be able to interact with our products, including a security aspect, and there's also the ability to work and integrate third-party as well.

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