Guten Tag Europe

Austrians have traditionally been uncertain about their involvement in the European Union. But, argues Karl Füsselberger, managing director of a Vienna based systems integrator, EU membership offers the country more than meets the eye.

In 996 the name “Ostarrichi” was recorded in an official document to describe the increasingly populated territory of Upper and Lower Austria. One thousand years later, and one year after joining the European Union, Austrians celebrated a rich and varied history in 1996.

Despite the celebrations, the country was restless. There was increasing dissatisfaction with European Union membership, a slow economy and politically the country was unsettled. But, by 1997 the economy had picked up and in 2004 Austria was the fourth richest country within the EU.

However, Karl Füsselberger, managing director of FuessAudiovison, a Vienna based systems integrator, said the country still harbours a widespread distrust of Austria’s involvement in the European community, a feeling he thinks is completely unfounded.

“We have a lot of projects that are related to the European community. I just made a small investigation and all our museum projects are financed by Europe,” he says.

“Many people are not aware of the scale of European investment and there is widespread mistrust of Austria’s involvement in the EU. They don’t consider that we get a lot of money from the European Community.”

Füsselberger says that the increase in investment is partly down to a greater willingness on behalf of the Austrian government to ask Brussels for money but says there are still funds up for grabs.

“I think in Austria people could still be better at getting money from Brussels.”

Another common complaint regarding Austria’s involvement in Europe is the introduction of a cheap labour force, primarily from the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary.

“People need to look at the other side of this issue,” stresses Füsselberger. “Austrian companies go to those countries and make good business. It’s an exchange. Their economies are growing, they are growing more than the Austrian market.”

Involvement in Europe seems particularly pertinent in a time when Füsselberger says government spending is drying up. He expects to see a huge reduction in contracts related to schools, universities, the police force and other government funded areas.

And it’s not just the government, he says spending throughout Austria is slowing down.

“Decision making takes more time. Some projects are postponed and projects are coming in a smaller size. This is because people are being more careful with their money, more careful about spending.”

However, business is good for FuessAudiovison at the moment and Füsselberger says the company is very busy.

Recent notable projects include a complete AV solution for a prestigious museum in Vienna, the Haus der Musik, and the installation of four projectors to create a 16x10m, 8,000 ansi lumen image for the popular musical, Rebecca.

So, amid a reduction in spending, what’s the secret of FuessAudiovison’s success?

“We try to have some knowledge other companies do not have. Our philosophy is we will take care of the software and the hardware, a service customers appreciate,” answers Füsselberger.

“Often a customer will say their project is not running well. The hardware people say it’s not the hardware, the software people say it’s not the software. We always try to offer our customers a complete package.”

So it’s more for the customer’s money not a price reduction that can combat economic uncertainty?

“Exactly,” cries Füsselberger. “It is important to offer this package solution. The customer does not have so many people to speak with and so the arguing is reduced. Because we increase our service offering our pricing remains decent. We don’t destroy our market, we just offer good service.”

Füsselberger thinks the caution exercised in the market at the moment will be short lived. He pinpoints digital signage as an exiting and upcoming market.

He has also experienced a rise in projects related to corporate education, perhaps as a result of organisations’ trying to offer their customers more value for money.

“We were recently involved in an audio installation for a software company in Vienna. The company made its own hotel, designed as an academy for training to use its products. Anybody can rent rooms, it’s a nice hotel; 22 rooms, 4 large conference rooms and is equipped very well. In that field there is still a lot of work.

“Companies can’t lower price but need to be competitive. They create a better customer relationship by offering extra training and education.”

But what about the 2008 UEFA European Football Championship, which Austria held jointly with Switzerland? Surely this tournament provided some fantastic installation opportunities for AV integrators.

“I was very surprised,” said Füsselberger. “It had no affect on our company. It was one of our very quiet months. For a few huge companies it was very good but apart from that it had little effect.

“There wasn’t even the chance to tender and I was puzzled from a rental point of view. We have a small rental park and no one asked to rent equipment.”

On the subject of education Füsselberger mentions the Austrian education system, which he says is very good.

“The HTL, institution of higher technical education, offers a very good course in media technology. The students are great, they need a little practical instruction but they have a very good knowledge of programming.

“We also have the University of Applied Science, called the Fachhoschulen, which is fairly new.”

Füsselberger currently has a student working at FuessAudiovison who feels the practical work he gets from working with the company compliments his studies well.

“He will be very sought after when he has finished his training, companies always want people who are young and have experience. Lots of people want to work in media technology and we get many enquiries for practice. We just can’t use them all.”

So despite a slight uncertainty pervading the market, Füsselberger seems very positive regarding the industry in Austria.

Asked about an area to watch over the next year or two he answers emphatically, “Digital Signage – that will be the market of the future.”

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