Going Dutch

Anna Mitchell hears mixed news from the Netherlands. The presentation market may be suffering but there are still plenty of reasons to be cheerful.

It was during the 1970s, a period of dramatic social change in the Netherlands, that the company now known as Inter Visual Systems (IVS) began life as the Dutch distributor for JVC Professional, For-A, Barco, IDX, Quanta and AMX Wolfvision. While the country in the northwest of Europe was rapidly developing liberal social values and a liberal economy, IVS was growing, just as rapidly, to become the systems integration company it is today.

The country is considered to have one of the most free market capitalist economies in the world and its open and liberal approach to finance has served the Netherlands well, providing favourable conditions in which the audiovisual market has prospered. One man who has watched the development of technologies and opportunities in AV is Joop Noordman, general manager of marketing and projects at IVS.

Noordman was an employee of IVS when it was still a distributor and watched as the company re-positioned itself as an installation specialist. He says the move was a carefully considered decision, commenting that a company has to have a focus to be successful. The company’s success in the integration market was recently underlined when it won an InAVation award for its installation in the House of Representatives of the States General. IVS provided video facilities in commission rooms, installing camera robotics and implementing custom-made software.

The Dutch audiovisual market place is varied and wideranging, according to Noordman, with “many niche markets which have their own typical characteristics”. IVS covers a range of these markets but specialises in control rooms, an area that Noordman says is thriving in the country. Demand for control rooms in the Netherlands is driven by huge organisations such as KLM, Schipol Airport and the Dutch government. IVS installs a lot of Barco control room equipment, such as video cubes and processors. Furthermore he says his company built up an in depth knowledge of AMX equipment during its time as an AMX distributor and uses the company’s equipment for interfacing and control. These products, alongside security cameras, are also used widely in the security market, which IVS also specialises in.

“The business unit of control rooms systems is doing very well at the moment due to a government policy to invest and many of the control room customers are in the public sector,” Noordman notes. In recent years the government has been involved in a push to bolster public safety and transport which has driven sustained investment in audiovisual systems. Government money is increasingly emerging as beacon in contracting markets, not just in the Netherlands but worldwide. And talking of contracting markets Noordman has spied another, slightly sinister trend. “In an economic crisis crime-rates will increase and this has a positive effect on the security market.” Well they say every cloud has a silver lining!

Furthermore, Noordman has spotted an opportunity resulting from the actions of cash-strapped companies. “In general, the lack of investments in some segments will have a positive effect on our service department due to more maintenance issues”.

The medical market, described by Noordman as a “life-critical” process is also proving robust and is increasingly turning to new technologies, which is good news for audiovisual integrators. Noordman says he has witnessed a huge amount of investment poured into this area in recent months. He describes every hospital in the Netherlands as a “building site”, alluding to the fact that there is a great deal of construction and money poured into this sector.

In fact Noordman describes hospitals and the medical industry in general as a “target market for the future”. He continues: “The medical market, in regards to visualisation systems, is right now very traditional. But we have developed a digital operating theatre and introduced it to one of the new hospitals in the Netherlands. They adopted the new technology and installed it in 10 operating rooms. Before we had even handed over the new theatres we already had an order for the next hospital. In the Netherlands we have 116 large hospitals and all of them are turning to new technologies. Again, the technologies they use in these hospitals are very basic and we are bringing in technologies that have been developed in the control room market and the process market. This is a really good area for expansion.” In addition new markets often prompt new technologies and Noordman sees 3D products for visualisation in use more and more as hospitals and control rooms alike demand further capabilities.

However, it’s not all good news in the country that is predictably feeling the effects of the worldwide economic downturn. Noordman has seen a decline in the video and presentation market and says he expects this to continue. He also says he has seen a few Dutch companies in the audiovisual industry go out of business. “But,” he added “most of them were not innovative or investing in new technologies or furthering their knowledge in the past few years. It’s not a result of the world market financial problems, it is a matter of not having any market knowledge or future vision. To be successful companies must have confidence in their investments and employ well-trained staff.”

“Areas that are struggling right now are those where major replacement investment was traditionally made. I’m not talking about replacement investments because of faulty equipment or flawed installations but replacements to provide upgraded or additional functionality. With this in mind, we have experience that the presentation market will suffer first, and by that I mean boardrooms, presentation rooms and training rooms.”

Nordman’s second observation - that companies who survive employ well trained staff – can prove tricky in a country where he says it is very hard to find well trained and experienced technical experts. He also describes the education level in the Netherlands as “okay”. IVS has circumnavigated the problem offering its own training that enables it to have faith in the skills of its professionals.

Whilst Noordman is sure the worldwide economic problems will affect the Dutch audiovisual market he’s not panicking yet. “As I mentioned before the presentation market has to face the first problems. In regards to large systems and government projects we do not have the feeling that we will be hurt yet and, right now, we are still investing in our staff.

“We believe whilst the audiovisual industry in the Netherlands continues to be innovative and creative it will continue to be a lucrative business area.”

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