Independents get their day

Independent programmers can be a valuable resource for integrators facing time pressures or projects that require skills they don’t possess in their in-house team. Furthermore, Anna Mitchell learns that the programmers are set to grow in importance as buildings of the future take shape.

The economic downturn and recession has been good for business, according to Adrian Lloyd-Owen, owner of Lucid programming, a UK company that specialises in software and interfaces. “We’ve [independent programmers] all been really, really busy up until the last six months,” he says.

“When you hire an independent programmer you’re hiring a skilled person so you tend to use them for larger projects, for example large corporate roll-outs. Those [projects] by definition have a long birth period. They can take two years in design, then another year to get implemented and then another year of final commissioning and hand-over so four years from initial contact to completion. Although we may do most of our work in the last four weeks, we tend to know about these things far in advance.

“So, if you take the credit crunch and big downturn we’ve only just come to the point where projects that were not started two years ago are showing gaps in the market. It’s really the lag time because once people are committed they carry on with their projects.”

And, another reason why independent programmers may not have experienced problems during the recession is they are usually drafted in when an integrator doesn’t have the skills in-house to satisfy the programming requirements of a project. When times are tough and companies aren’t sure where their next paycheck is coming from they’ll look to outsource certain aspects of a project rather than having to pay for unused services.

“The programmer will take over the responsibility for all the programming so the integrator doesn’t need to worry about it,” explains Patrick Murray of Controlhaus Systems Design, a German company that specialises in independent programming. “The liability is taken into somebody else’s hands. It’s more efficient, it frees up their manpower. All we do is programming so we do it a lot quicker and sometimes, depending on who they have on their staff, do it at a higher quality. We don’t drain their resources.”

These skills are going to become ever more important for integrators that want to work on buildings of the future. “Integrated building projects are going to be massive for independent programmers,” asserts Joe Bocchiaro, vice president for standards and best practices at InfoComm.

Bocchiaro argues that the AV system will need to talk to the whole building including IT systems, HVAC controls and lighting. “AV, building control and IT standards will continue to strengthen their links,” he says. “Programmers must think how these programmes will work.

“The real dream,” muses Bocchiaro, “is to have the whole building controlled by one system. What if an AV programmer can do this and has that responsibility? You could do some amazing things. You could monitor daylight and weather conditions then open window blinds and turn off lights accordingly. You could automatically get the right contrast ratio on projection. The list is endless and some people are doing this already. They’re using sensors to automate controls. Imagine an auditorium that if the system knew, using sensors, that no one was in the balcony it would switch off the audio up there.”

For large events sustainability is going to become increasingly important in venue choice and AV has the opportunity to become increasingly important in sustainability, argues Bocchiaro. “Large events, such as the Olympics, will have certain requirements to be sustainable and will choose buildings that can help it meet those goals. AV technology and independent programmers have the power to have one venue chosen over another. It all ties in with the programmers. There is a big future for integrated building project managers and in the future there will be lots of jobs created in this field.”

Most integrators are aware, and certainly many are already acting on the fact, that the lines between AV, IT and building management are blurring. However, what many integrators may not fully appreciate is to what extent independent programmers can help them pick up lucrative contracts for buildings of the future.

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