03.08.18

Interview: Ed McConaghy, RTI

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RTI is known for the residential market, but a new CEO and expansion into Asia has instigated a new focus on the proAV sector. Ed McConaghy speaks with Paul Milligan.

With qualifications from Westpoint U.S. Military Academy and Harvard Business School behind him, its fair to say Ed McConaghy has built up some knowledge over the years.   For the last 25 years he has become a specialist CEO for technology companies going through transition, in fact RTI is his eight company in this type of role.  McConaghy joined RTI as CEO in January 2017 (his second week in the role was spent at ISE) following the death of RTI founder John Dempskie in Sept 2016. So was he thrown in at the deep end? Not quite he adds, “I have always run engineering teams, so it was more a case of getting to know the players, rather than the industry.”

Once he was settled McConaghy looked at how the company was structured. “When I joined RTI it was a more of a traditional founder-run approach, they were engineers and they made stuff.  Immediately after ISE 2017 we created a product management department, and appointed Robert Lawton as the official direct of product management.  We have an evaluation team (which Lawson leads) including the CTO, myself and sales.  We look across the portfolio and see what gaps we have and the direction we want to go in, and what we want to create. It’s pretty easy to do product research because we call up our five best customers and they are full of opinions.”

The perception of RTI in the proAV world is that it is a primarily residential technology company, and McConaghy admits the split is still probably 70/30 in favour of residential.  But things are changing.  “We are still committed to the residential space, but over the years our dealers and integrators have been pulling us towards proAV.  It starts with a restaurant here or a sports bar there and then we are in offices, churches and hotels.  We are following our customers into that space.  The secret is that we have been in the proAV world for a long time, but nobody recognises us for that.”

Ed McConaghy RTI

One highly significant factor in concentrating more on the proAV market was a deal signed last year with InAVation Awards Distributor of the Year Mindstec.  “We have looked at the proAV space with more seriousness, Mindstec was very interested in using its contacts in large corporate markets, so with a lot of advice from them we expanded the AV product line to be able to satisfy the market requirements that would otherwise have gone to Crestron or AMX. Increasingly in Asia it has always said Crestron or AMX or Extron, now RTI is being added to the authorised list of suppliers.”

With what does McConaghy attribute its success with Midstec? “In Asia the proAV markets are the strong heavy lifters for our distributors, the residential markets are coming along strong with the burgeoning middle classes in China and India, but the professional markets are the strongest. In the U.S. I’d say the markets are split 70/30 between residential and professional, in Asia its 30/70.  So for us to be recognised as a viable corporate supplier, and to compete with the established players in that market we couldn’t just trickle out some products, we had to show up with a critical mass.  There’s more products coming, we will continue to fill in the gaps, and increase the strength of our lines.  The push seems rather dramatic but it was just about us getting over the last hurdle so that we could play in the game against Crestron and AMX.”

McConaghy says the success RTI has enjoyed so far in the AV world is down to the flexibility of its programming language, ‘it’s adaptable, customisable, easy to program yet able to handle complex projects.’ During my conversion with McConaghy, the names of Crestron and AMX occurred several times, so how does it plan to break years of integrator brand loyalty to huge AV companies such as those? “If you assume we can get past the personality barriers to get on the spec sheet, the first thing is technical, it’s a technical sale, you have to meet all of the technical specification requirements.  Once that is done, reliability and price are in there too as factors. Integrators tend to buy and install only what they know and have used before, clearly it’s an issue in our industry. That’s where shifts in the industry in terms of products and delivery mechanisms and corporate changes give people openings, like RTI.    We are seeing some success in convincing specifiers to give us a look and buy our product, but we have a lot of work to do.”

McConaghy described RTI as ‘pretty dramatically a software company’, and this was strengthened by its purchase of Miravue’s VoIP portfolio in February. “It was a strategic initiative for us, we thought that owning it (VoIP) was more important than trying to find an ODM or OEM source. We tend to follow open published protocols, rather than following the proprietary path.   It’s important for RTI to be a platform that third parties are happy to be attached to.”  So does McConaghy feel the AV world is becoming more open? “I think the established bit of our industry is actually becoming more propriatery/Cisco-like, we believe in letting the integrator or end user decide what sort of implementation they want. We think that more open is better than more closed. If you decide to buy a box from another company that’s fine, it’s your decision, but we will have drivers for that.”

So how does McConaghy sees things panning out in the next few years in the AV world? “Integrators and RTI are challenged by the IoT and BYOD/DIY technologies.  What do we do with a swarm of devices and cloud-based systems? The answer seems to be that we have to be able to absorb all of these devices and let them hang on a centralised control system.  We need a central control system because you are not going to have thousands of devices all talking to the cloud.  We need edge servers to manage local communities – baby clouds that talk to the big cloud – RTI is positioned to be that technology on the edge between home and corporate clouds and the big cloud.  AV will never be a simple business, we need to help integrators make the transition to the new modern world, and teach them that BYOD is a good thing, and will make their lives easier because it will bring them business.”