Servicing finance

AUTHOR: Inavate

Financial services group Eureko has opened a dedicated conference centre in Zeist, The Netherlands. Dan Goldstein reports for InAVate on the AV installation carried out by AV integrators MK2 Audiovisueel.

Like many large, modern businesses, the international financial services group Eureko has (or perhaps had) a communications problem. The company owns multiple insurance groups including Achmea, the Netherlands’ largest insurer, which on its own employs over 20,000 people and operates under several well-known brands.

Eureko controls its core businesses from its headquarters in Zeist, near Utrecht, but its workforce is spread right across the country, and the need regularly to bring people from diverse locations together was proving both time-consuming and costly since, up until now, the firm had tended to hire external conference facilities for most of its meetings.

All this has now changed with the opening of a dedicated conference centre in Zeist, alongside the company’s existing boardroom and shareholder meeting room. A total of 29 new rooms have been constructed inside the shell of a refurbished former warehouse, with AV systems design and implementation carried out by Dutch integration firm MK2 Audiovisueel. MK2 had fitted out Eureko’s existing congress facilities and had enjoyed a working relationship with the company for almost eight years. Yet even so, the sheer scale of the new facility posed a challenge, as did some of the customer’s technical preferences. Roman Bias, MK2’s AMX software engineer for the project, explains:

“Eureko was already using workplace management software from Planon to schedule their meetings, so although we would normally recommend using AMX’s own scheduling system, in this case we had to integrate the two systems together, so that scheduling data from the Planon management suite is displayed on AMX panels throughout the facility. To my knowledge this is the first time these two worlds have been brought together. It was certainly a first for us, and for AMX in Benelux as well.”

Marco Thiele, Regional Sales Benelux for AMX, agrees that interoperability with the client’s legacy scheduling system was one of the installation’s great achievements – not least because AMX itself was little called upon during the integration process. “From time to time we advised MK2 on which controller should be used or on what they could do with a particular touchpanel interface, but in general we sat on the sidelines,” Thiele says.

“A lot of the credit goes to Roman and his team for developing such a successful working relationship with Eureko’s IT department, and for integrating the Planon scheduler with our Resource Management Suite.”

This, both Bias and Thiele are keen to point out, gives the customer complete control over both room and technology asset usage – a key consideration in today’s corporate climate, where every purchase must be rigorously assessed for the level of its return on investment, and the speed with which that return is realised.

In the case of Eureko, the scale of that investment is unquestionably substantial. Some 24 of the 29 new meeting spaces have not one but two AMX Modero touchpanels: one (most commonly an NXT-CV7) located inside for conventional media control, the other (an NXD-CV700vi) wall-mounted next to the outside door to display – in conjunction with the Planon system – current and upcoming room status. A ‘doorbell’ connection between the two panels means the room’s occupants can oblige visitors to identify themselves before being gained admission to the meeting, or post an electronic ‘do not disturb’ notice remotely from the conference-room table.

As well as the Planon software issue, a further programming complication arose from the fact that some of the facility’s meeting rooms can be combined to house a larger capacity. In this case, all the external AMX panels for a combined room will display the same meeting data, while inside, a single touchpanel can be used to control all the media within the space.

There are two different ‘combination’ facilities: the three ground-floor Lindbergh rooms, which can be divided into one large room and one small room or opened up entirely to form an even larger space; and four further rooms on the first floor, which can be divided into two pairs of larger rooms. To allow for larger screens and throw distances when the rooms are opened out, three of the rooms have been given an additional projector (Panasonic PT-DW7000) to supplement the Mitsubishi XL550U which is standard for each individual room up to a certain size.

Projector selection, AV source selection, screen motor control, and lighting and blind control can all be carried out from the table-mounted Modero panel in these rooms, with AMX’s NI-4100 or NI-3100 NetLinx integrated controller acting as the ‘brain’ of the system in each case. Each group of rooms has a separate NetLinx unit residing in its own AV rack alongside its connected components – Extron matrix switchers, Biamp Nexia audio DSPs and so on. Separating rack functionality in this way made programming more involved, but the benefit, Thiele says, is that “if something goes wrong with a system rack, it doesn’t mean that the whole facility goes down”.

Beyond the combinable rooms, there are some 13 smaller meeting spaces in which a Sharp 52X20E 52-inch HD LCD panel, rather than a projection system, has been deemed sufficient for presentation purposes. However, full centralised control over external/internal AV and laptop inputs, as well as lights and, of course, scheduling, has been retained with the same twin AMX Modero panel setup as the larger rooms.

For less formal (or perhaps more creative) gatherings, the facility also boasts a so-called ‘Brain Room’, featuring two SMART interactive whiteboards each with Unifi 35 short-throw projectors and a wireless AMX MVP-8400 touchpanel rather than a desk-mounted controller.

Last but certainly not least, a 285-seat auditorium allows much larger groups of employees or customers to be addressed in a single meeting. Here the AMX system, driven by twin NI-3100 units, provides unified control over not just projection and environmental lighting, but also the hall’s high-SPL 5.1-channel audio system (DiGiCo SD8 console, Tannoy V-series loudspeakers), a Bosch DCN Next Generation conference setup with camera-follow functionality, and the DMX-driven show lighting setup.

“The auditorium has three separate AMX panels: a 15-inch NXT 1500VG on the stage, a 12-inch NXT1200VG in the soundproof control room and a wireless MVP8400,” says Bias. “There is a priority system so that the technical guys can override the presenter if they see something going wrong, but the interface has been designed to be very easy to use and so far there have not been any major problems.”

This appears to be true at both a micro level and a macro level. MK2 has used Comm-Tec’s CTG-LON gateway to give the AMX system peer-to-peer control over the facility’s entire lighting environment, providing a template that links management of the building with that of its assets. And while that may sound like a step too far along the road to integration, the reality is that the system is already proving popular and worthwhile – maximising room efficiency, reducing the time it takes to rectify faults, and giving Eureko vital clues as to future technology acquisition.

“People can make a request for technical help very easily using the touchpanel interface, but often this is not necessary because our Resource Management Suite has already sent a message to the technical crew via email or SMS,” Thiele concludes. “They see the issue before the user sees it, and they are able to solve the problem before the meeting takes place. And because the meeting participants have a lower level of password access, they don’t need to worry about it.

“At the end of each week or each month, the customer gets a report from the RMS about the quality of service, how many times each room was used, the equipment used, any problems and so on. They can even see who was in the room because people log in with their password, which is unique to them. So if a lot of problems happen with a particular user needing support, they can identify which people need assistance for the future – who needs more training. The system also helps with future purchasing – Eureko can see what’s been used a lot, and what hasn’t.”

AV technology, meeting schedules, personal training needs, building management…is there no limit to what such a centralised control system can do? With the right suppliers and integrator, it seems, not really.