AV in the corporate market: Let's get to work

After some turbulent years, the corporate AV market finds itself in an uncertain position, with lots of questions to answer. Paul Milligan looks at the way forward.

The pandemic caused a huge reset in office life and for those tasked with supplying AV into the corporate market. Issues arose due to the mass migration from daily office life to working from home, and many of those still haven’t been resolved. And it’s left lots of clients looking for answers and integrators trying to find solutions when obvious ones aren’t clear cut. We asked four integrators working across EMEA to explain where we are right now, and to see how the corporate sector can move forward to find solutions in ever-changing times.

What it is that corporate clients are asking their integrators for right now? We’re on a continuum says John Bailey, senior vice president of technology and innovation, AVI-SPL: “We haven’t got to the end or the beginning of anything so far over the past four years. The agility of the investments our customers make in technology is a top concern, it can be difficult to figure out exactly when do we jump in and bite off on a certain technology?” Corporate offices are demanding meeting spaces, says Girish Narayanan, managing director of Granteq, and they can be classified clearly into four different categories. “The first is the more complicated one, a boardroom capacity of 20 plus, and then its meeting rooms for 10, and then comes down to the four and two people set ups.”

Diversified is seeing a huge demand for Microsoft Teams Rooms (MTRs) says Darren Pitt, vice president for sales and marketing, EMEA. “We are in expand mode right now. We’re seeing clients and organisations deploying MTRs at a large scale on a global basis. We are starting to see more diversification in their focus, to more enhanced collaboration and experiential environments, as the office is becoming more of a meeting hub.”

Mark Kempson, head of consultancy at Kinly UK thinkswe are potentially on the cusp, because of the pricing for Microsoft’s new Teams licencing, on whether clients commit fully to BYOD, “but we’re not really seeing that right now. Most of our clients are pushing dedicated room appliances. Clients are requesting simplified solutions, no one’s asking for anything highly complex. The core is asking “can we do what we want to with just one thing at the front of a room rather than things in the ceiling and in the floor and on the walls?”

Hybrid working

We now turn to hybrid working, which has been much discussed, but every organisation has its own definition. Has the ‘return to the office’ campaign been a success? Are offices still half empty on certain days of the week? And if so, what are organisations doing with that empty space? Offices are feeling the pressure of occupancy says Narayanan: “This is making some of the top organisations rethink how they’re utilising their spaces. If some of the areas are underused, they’re repurposing them to collaboration workspaces or using advanced AV systems to ensure employee well-being.”

The picture differs around the globe says Bailey: “In terms of office occupancy, in major US cities measured occupancy is somewhere around 50-55% of total right now, the return to offices is stronger in EMEA, and probably strongest in APAC right now. Regardless of where you happen to sit in the world there’s still a concern about unused portions of the office, how are we going to fill them? How are we going to get employees motivated and excited to come back to the office?” Having empty spaces you are paying handsomely for every month is forcing some businesses to think differently says Kempson: “People are looking at more creative ways of using space rather than just doing what we were doing before, or mothballing it.”

And this is where AV technology can help says Pitt. “We’re starting to see people be clever around meeting booking technology. When I book a desk, the system asks what’s my profile? Who do I typically work with? It will know where in the office is the busiest, so that when I’m there I’m in an area with people in it to create atmosphere and a vibe, because if you’re the only one sat in an office when all your colleagues are working from home, or the next person in the office is 20 rows away with their back to you, you won’t get anything from being there.” Companies brought in booking systems during the pandemic to help with social distancing guidelines, “but they have been left sitting idle, instead of being leveraged in order to gain the benefits where we are today,” adds Pitt.

A report published by Kinly (Trusted Connections 2024) in March found that 41% of respondents needed to completely replace AV systems installed during lockdown. Are we still paying the price for rushed procurements made during the pandemic? Elements are being updated for sure but it’s not a wholesale ‘rip and replace’ of complete rooms says Kempson. “We’re seeing people say there was one piece of hardware, which was a sticking plaster fix that’s making our room completely unreliable now, can we either replace it or get rid of it?”
There was a rush to sell lots of technology that everyone thought was going to be useful admits Pitt: “It did these core things but did them in isolation. It’s now about bringing this technology together to work with the building and to work with the objectives.”

What the last few years has done has put doubt in a lot of client’s minds says Bailey. “A lot of our customers find themselves waiting to see what’s going to happen next year, or even next quarter. From an investment standpoint, there’s been some sitting on hands. When is the tipping point on the return to office? I think there’s a fallacy in thinking that technology is going to solve all our problems. People need to move forward with a new mindset, accept this new way of work and then be proactive in helping look for the right solutions that are going to make that experience as positive as it can be.”


An issue never far from the mind of many integrators is that of standardisation, but is the desire to standardise AV across different offices still as strong as it was a few years ago? And can a client ever achieve full standardisation across global offices? Corporates are still driving standardisation because it enables a lesser learning curve for staff explains Narayanan: “It reduces training requirements, and simplifies the entire service agreement.” He has recently had a client in in Saudi Arabia that wanted to go down the value engineering path but was stopped by the global HQ saying “That’s the standard, that’s what we need, that’s what these meeting rooms should have.” Standardisation is the goal of all of our customers says Bailey, but this goes beyond just standardising each local office, and “moves to the concept of converged communications where we’re also trying to standardise and converge platforms. Users want a standardised experience; they don’t want to go to eight different apps to get their work done. And employers don’t want to manage eight different applications
to support those needs.”

The problem is you can never fully standardise says Kempson: “There’s always an element of flexibility, and it can just be that manufacturer is not available in that region, or those businesses have got a completely different use case in that region in how they work.” Kempson sits on Kinly’s global product board, where the group discusses the integrator’s preferred brands, and what brands then scale across the globe. He says they came to accepting agreements on 90% of products, so it’s possible to get close to complete standardisation, even if you don’t hit the 100% mark.

Next year will mark 40 years of Microsoft Windows, which means we’ve all worked on that software platform for our entire working lives. Is the same ubiquity coming to video in the form of the Teams platform or do Zoom, Google or Cisco still have a place in the corporate world? In the Middle East, it’s Teams that’s dominating says Narayanan: “They’ve made a lot of investment here, they have their own Azure servers based here. I’ve personally seen the performance of Teams really lift in the past year because of all the increased connectivity, which
has improved dramatically.” The majority (platform) is Teams Rooms says Bailey, which is purely on the basis that the desktop always starts there, “so people are scaled out from that.” There is a mix of platforms out there however, even if Microsoft is the dominant player.

In Bailey’s experience American companies typically standardised on Zoom, especially those more video-centric. Although this doesn’t mean the end for Cisco he says: “We still have a large portion of our client base on WebEx and we are starting to see it grow again, based off of the Microsoft partnership to some extent.” The news in 2022 that long-term rivals Microsoft and Cisco, were to work together on MTR systems raised many eyebrows, but it seems to be paying off for Cisco, who are still ‘in the game’. “Cisco as a hardware provider has come to market with a really strong offering, their end-to-end solutions are very well thought out. It has a lot of the additional requirements you’re often asked for,” explains Pitt.


Audio has traditionally made up a very small part of the corporate AV budget. A budget ceiling speaker would be ‘good enough’, and procurement teams would rather splash the budget on tech where the justification to spend big was obvious ie large format displays or videowalls in meetings room, lobbies and boardrooms. Now that a plethora of videobars has hit the market in the last two years, is audio now delivered just through them, or is there the opportunity to sell more sophisticated kit (e.g. beam-array microphones or DSPs) into corporates? “In the two-seater and four-seater meeting room, or huddle spaces, they are driving audio through videobars because it just makes sense,” says Narayanan. “Anything beyond that we are definitely talking about adding external audio sources such as ceiling microphones, DSPs and programming built around it.”

This view is echoed by Pitt’s experience too “We are definitely having stronger conversations on wanting to improve audio. There is a lot of talk around meeting equity, the person sitting at home is only getting the audio from the output sent from the meeting room, and people don’t choose where to sit because they are near a microphone, they choose where to sit because they want a particular seat.” Pilot programmes or POCs can really help the client understand the importance of investing in pro-audio systems says Bailey. “We encourage them to consider installing one or two rooms, and then walk around them to see what they sound like or compare them to a current room, because you’ll realise the benefits more easily that way than if I tried to explain to you why spending a couple of extra dollars is going to result in something better, because on paper, it’s difficult to see that.”

Things are getting better says Kempson, “I don’t think the conversation is as hard as it was a few years ago, there isn’t much pushback, people do understand the requirement for good quality audio.” With the move to AVoIP growing exponentially year-on-year, the issue of security becomes ever more important when dealing with corporate clients. What is the best way to put clients at ease, is it to farm everything off to its own dedicated server? Everyone we spoke had either a dedicated security team or IT staff to deal with this very issue. “The first question people ask when talking about security is where is it sitting in the cloud? Whose cloud is it? It’s a much deeper conversation, and you can’t just go, here’s a white paper give
this to your security team, that should answer all of their questions. What we strive to do is to make sure that if we’re doing a project there is someone at the table talking with our team,” says Pitt.

Early engagement with the right people is the key adds Bailey: “What’s most important for us is to get in early, to really understand the security profile and their security requirements. Because sometimes when the IT teams engaged, the security team still isn’t fully engaged. And the last thing you want to do is start a rollout of technology and find out two to three months down the road, there’s a compliance problem.”

The corporate world is undeniably in a state of flux right now, grasping to find the solution between full-scale WFH and ‘return to the office’. The positives for the pro-AV industry is that both approaches (or a mix of the two) involve technology we can design, install and support. We just need to be able to guide them down the right path for them, for each individual office. 

Article Categories

Most Viewed