Establishing a global standard at Ninety One

A move to a big new central London HQ would be a challenging enough project without throwing a global pandemic and a company demerger into the mix. Paul Milligan speaks to the consultant involved in pulling it all together.

The disruption that Covid-19 has caused this year has been unprecedented. So, in hindsight it probably wouldn’t be the best time to complete a large office move to a new building in one of the world’s busiest cities. But the speed at which the pandemic struck meant that the move to a new office in central London for Investec Asset Management was already well underway and had to be completed while the UK was in lockdown followed by other working restrictions laid down by the government. The project, which was already complex, was further complicated by the client undergoing a demerger halfway through the installation. One week before the national lockdown was imposed, Investec Asset Management, part of the Investec Group, became a separate company called Ninety One.

The company tasked with the job of designing and planning the AV and IT systems for the new building in Gresham  Street was AV consultant MiX Consultancy. MiX had been recommended to project manager JAC Group by several contractors based at the client end already, and after a tender process were successfully appointed for the AV, IT structured cabling, access control, and IT project management. MiX then sent out tenders for the AV installation and structured cabling, with ProAV and The Cabling Group (TCG) the successful parties, all appointed under Overbury, the main contractor.

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The scope of MiX’s involvement includes the design of 32 meeting rooms, events space, three telepresence suites, a media room, a terrace and a gym. In a project where the goalposts moved several times during its lifespan, what was the original brief given to the consultant in those first meetings and how much did it change over time? “The client was originally a Microsoft Skype house and were using a particular hardware standard at that point. But during the early design process it became clear that Microsoft Teams was going to supersede it, so we were effectively designing for hardware that would support Skype in their meeting room spaces, in their workplaces, from day one, but with the ability to run both platforms concurrently and then migrate over to Teams when they moved in. The original building programme for this migration to Teams wasn’t going to happen until after they moved into the new building, so that was quite key in terms of how we had to design the space,” says Sebastian Day, director, AV services, MiX Consultancy.

Day adds that the design not only had to consider the new London site, but also its other global hubs too. “This new building is really the start of its journey on brand new global standards. Ninety One has a global presence, and part of the demerger was it having its own network, own unified comms platform and own standards, because it was effectively breaking away from the group. All the technology we were selecting was not just to be used by the UK but would also be the standard rolled out for all other offices as well going forward, from small pilot offices in Guernsey to its main headquarters in South Africa.” The key element for MiX was to choose a UC hardware platform that would bring the same experience from the desktop to all of Ninety One’s meeting spaces, “whether that meeting space was a single or two person phone booth right up to a large divisible multi-event space or auditorium as well. A key driver is to get the same experience, no matter what sort of room type, based on that common Teams platform.”

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So just how difficult was the Skype to Teams evolution, especially undertaken at the same time as a complete office move? “It's a big journey, because it's not just in terms of the meeting rooms, it's also at the desktop as well for all their users,” says Day. “Because of what’s happened with lockdown and Covid-19 they decided to bring the Teams roll out forward. The original plan was to move into the building with Skype and migrate over to Teams after that they’d moved in. Ninety One is now running both systems concurrently with all meeting rooms needing to support both platforms.”

The demerger also added some challenges for MiX says Day, especially because of its timing, “The demerger came during the project, then everything from the digital signage to the touchpanel graphics suddenly had to be changed from what it was before. The timing of the demerger meant that the branding pack was not available until after the integrator and main contractor had been appointed.”

Ninety One is the landlord of the new building and occupies floors 4-9 (floors 1-3 are sub-let), with floors 4-7 home to offices and internal meeting rooms, floor 8 is for client (external) meetings, and the ninth floor houses the terrace. AV designed by MiX can be found around the building even in the basement gym. The ground floor houses two receptions, one for Ninety One and one for the tenants, and a large events space. The 32 meeting rooms are identical in terms of functionality within each room space but are different in terms of AV tech - screen size, quantities of screens, and how the audio is captured in the space. The displays in the meeting rooms are dual NEC V Series LCD panels on Peerless mounts, wireless presentation is handled by Mersive Solstice Pod. Control is via the Crestron Flex UC engine and is driven by 10-in Crestron touchpanels.

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For consistency all of the meeting rooms have a 10-in Crestron Flex control panel. In the smaller two-person ‘phone booths’ a Crestron Mercury all-in-one meeting unit, using the exact same Teams interface is there to share data, make calls, host the address book, and control the AV. That interface is replicated in every single meeting room, plus another layer of control and switching in some of the bigger rooms as well. Extron cable cubbies are used for internal rooms, with custom cubbies on the client floor using Extron retractors. Audio is managed in the meeting rooms via a QSC Core 110f DSP, with Shure MXA910 ceiling mics (client rooms) and MXA310 table mics (internal rooms). Loudspeakers in meeting rooms are a mix of integrated ceiling units, Crestron Flex soundbars and programme loudspeakers by the displays. The Crestron Flex was brand new at the time of installation, so MiX set up two rooms - one internal staff room, one client facing meeting room – for a proof of concept test before the installation proper.

The presentation suite on the ground floor is a two-into-one divisible space which can run different types of events, from seminars to open days to workshops and training sessions. Three of the walls in one room and two in the other one can
be removed to open it up into one big space. All the AV in the presentation suite is fixed but has been designed to be flexible and to work in all the different configurations.

Because of the different types of events this space can be operated either by an end user using a touch panel, or it can be opened up into a more feature rich events space where a technician can bring a desk in and plug it in at the back. The presentation suite features two Unilumin 1.5mm pixel pitch videowalls, measuring 3.1 x 1.8m. It is possible to video conference from the presentation suite and also to record and stream, managed by Blackmagic HyperDesk. Cameras in the suite are Panasonic AW-HE130, and the videowall content is managed by an Analog Way multi-window processor, with audio provided by a QSC Core 510i DPS, Behringer X32 audio desk, Shure MX wireless mics, and K-Array loudspeakers (Kobra, Vyper, Kaymen models and KU-212 subs).

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IPTV, from a mix of Onelan and Exterity, is available throughout all of the client rooms and all of the digital signage screens have the ability to push out and cast live TV channels, but also to have local signage controlled individually on each display as well.
Alongside Teams videoconferencing in every meeting room, there are three Poly telepresence suites, one 21-seat Immersive Studio and two six-seat RealPresence Immersive Studio Flex systems.

The terrace on the ninth floor is a staff restaurant area during the day, featuring a number of displays for digital signage and background music. Staff have the ability to wirelessly present from this space or used a wired connection to a laptop and radio microphones. It’s all linked through Crestron NVX, which means the terrace can be used as an overflow space, “This is something we were pleased we bought in, because with the size of some of the events it means we can’t house everyone in the ground floor event space, so the terrace can act as an overflow,” Day explains.

Finally, in the basement you’ll find a gym, for which MiX provided all of the media feeds for the machines, TV streams and background music system. The basement is also home to an acoustically-treated media room, which was designed after the client requested a space to produce pre-recorded announcements or podcasts. Again, this set-up was installed only after MiX had created a test lab first. The media room features an Infinity wall which works as a green screen on which staff can record content or broadcast live. Another clever design touch is found next door, a green viewing room has a display and a feed linking the media room, so when a recording is taking place they can be monitored and watched in real time to give feedback, or request another take etc.

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Lockdown restrictions in the UK means Ninety One’s staff haven’t fully occupied the new building yet, but that doesn’t mean MiX’s hard work has gone unnoticed says Tahera Hammond, global head of workplace, Ninety One. “MiX has been knowledgeable, reliable and approachable. We haven’t fully returned to the office yet, so there is lots of technology we’ve yet to fully use to its limits, but what I can say is that everything MiX installed has integrated into our UC environment well, allowing us to cope with a workforce which is now more likely to be working from home. The selection of the technology allowed us to futureproof our rooms and ensure that the rooms can handle our transition from Skype to Teams without needing any changes.”



Ampetronic assistive listening system
Behringer X32 audio desk
K-Array Kobra, Vyper, Kaymen loudspeakers, KU-212 subs
QSC Core 510i DSP, QSC Core 110f DSP
Shure MXA910 ceiling mics, MXA310 table mics, Microflex Wireless mics

Analog Way NXT 1604-4K-AE videowall processor
Blackmagic HyperDeck SSD recorder
NEC V Series and E Series LCD displays, X UN series videowall tiles
Panasonic AW-HE130 cameras, AW-RP50 camera controller
Peerless mounts
Poly RealPresence Immersive Studio, RealPresence Immersive Studio Flex
Unilumin UpanelS 1.5mm videowall tiles

Control & Distribution

Crestron Flex UC, Digital Media NVX
Exterity IPTV and digital signage
Extron cable cubbies
Mersive Solstice Pod
Onelan digital signage

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