AV in Austria

Ambitious building projects in Vienna and cultural projects throughout Austria join forces to bring healthy AV opportunities back to the country. Anna Mitchell explores the market with Stefan Reiter of checkpointmedia.

Austria’s central position in Europe has historically placed it in a key strategic position and even today its capital Vienna is home to important international organisations including the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Opec, the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries.

Culture also plays a significant part in Austrian history and identity. Composers Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who spent much of his career in Vienna, and Franz Schubert take their place alongside artist Gustav Klimt as part of Austrian heritage.

Checkpointmedia, a multimedia specialist, was established in Vienna in 2001 and in many ways represents this meeting of corporate centre and cultural hub. The company has a strong focus on museums and exhibitions and recently has been gathering pace in conference room and office installations. It has in-house staff of nearly 30 people and draws on a wide network of external contractors.

Stefan Reiter, one of three founders of checkpointmedia and one of the company’s managing directors, explains: “Ten years ago our main focus was on museums, exhibitions, corporate showrooms and flagship stores. Recently the corporate market for conference rooms and AV equipment in office buildings grew stronger for us.

“This has had an effect on the type of equipment we’re installing. Before it was more about museums and exhibitions so we were heavily involved in interactive installations and displays.

When it comes to corporate conference room equipment it’s more about the tools for controlling all the technology installed within a room. We have used Crestron in the past and lately we’ve used AMX.”

Unsurprisingly Reiter reports that the whole Austrian economy struggled last year, putting pressure on the region’s AV industry. On a positive note he says in the last 12 months things have been getting back to normal.

“Having said that,” he continues, “right in the middle of the economic troubles we had our biggest corporate deal ever. OPEC moved its headquarters in Vienna and we handled the entire AV installation. It was just coincidence that it happened in the middle of the economic crisis but it was a big job for us and made a massive difference. Luckily OPEC were committed to this project and without it we would have found things pretty hard. We had other projects cancelled, postponed or shut down.”

Checkpointmedia were drafted into the OPEC project as a subcontractor to Siemens, which handled all building systems including climate control and management systems.

Corporate business seemed to fare better in this environment than residential with Reiter mentioning an Austrian company, specialising in smart homes, that went out of business. “I think commercial did better than residential during this time because commercial business, corporations, companies are forced to do certain things. If you plan to build a new office you have to go through with it. The private market will say, ‘if I don’t do it now, I can do it in three years or maybe never.”

So things are looking up in Austria but from Reiter’s point of view things aren’t quite back to normal. “Business is not completely back but I think it’s hard to tell because some of the investments that were postponed are taking place now. There’s a lot of work but that’s not to say that we’re back to where we were before the economic crisis.”

Money from the European Union has also had a positive effect on checkpointmedia’s work in Austria. “We won a small EU tender here recently. It’s not a big project but they have a new public space in Vienna where the public can go and obtain information about the European Union and there is also a conferencing room for events. We handled the whole technical side of this project.”

Reiter believes there are some very positive opportunities in Vienna right now within the corporate installation environment. “There are some office buildings being planned in the city,” he explains. “They tore down one of the railway stations because Vienna now has a completely new central railway station. On the ground there are plans for some huge office buildings and another spot in Vienna too where some big banks are planning to settle down. Right now there are two or three spots in Vienna where there are plans for building big office buildings.

“So there’s lots of AV work in the office spaces and, although the projects are still in early planning stages, public spaces are being considered as well. These will be information centres for the public, show rooms, maybe some small museums. This would be a lot of AV work too.”

Austria also continues its cultural traditions with numerous events, all providing lucrative business in the AV industry. “We benefited from Linz being European Cultural Capital in 2009 and the Joseph Haydn [an Austrian composer] year in 2010. We are strong in this field, this is where we came from. Some members of our crew are really well connected in the cultural sector.”

Reiter says he has noticed a trend in AV interfaces that spans the cultural and commercial sectors. “Changes in user interfaces in other sectors, such as mobile communications on smart phones, is starting to have effects on interaction in AV too.

“For example, in our project at the Austrian parliament we installed interactive terminals that we are now having to reprogram. Originally when the user was reading text on the terminal and they wanted to scroll up or down they would use a scroll bar in the same way as you would on a PC. Now people are used to moving text with their fingers on smart phones - that is how they want to scroll up and down. We have to make changes to keep up with the way people interact with media. Commands, such as the way you scale pictures, have changed as the use of smart phones grows.”

Internships are a strong part of the recruitment process in Austria and checkpointmedia is no exception. Reiter says the internship model suits the recruitment process for type of work he is involved in. “We have four places for internships in the office encompassing each field we work in. So we have about 10-12 interns every year. This is a good way of recruiting because after working together for a few months you get to know the interns and they get to know the company. We have several people in our staff right now who started as interns.
“Internships are common in Austria because the requirement to work in industry for one semester is part of most University courses. All our training is on the job. We don’t use CTS or formal qualifications. We’re more interested in how people perform when we work with them.”

So Austria is still holding its place on the European stage and, while other European Union members are still struggling to fight their way out of recession and economic trouble, Austria is looking healthy. This strength is clearly reflected in the country’s AV industry, which is continuing to thrive.

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