LMG to bring building and AV worlds together

The worlds of building technologies and AV are getting ever closer, which is driving companies such as LMG to significantly grow their AV divisions. Paul Milligan reports.

If you needed evidence that AV and the construction industry were becoming ever more intertwined, the news that UK-based building transformation company LMG was growing its AV division by adding three experienced AV engineers to its ranks was probably it. The hiring of Andy Walsh (ex-proAV), Szymon Dworski (ex-Arup and AVMI) and Stephen Nichols (ex-Reflex and Harman) was a direct result of growing demand from property developers and main contractors to incorporate AV technology within LMG’s design and build smart building systems. Another factor is LMG has also seen a rise in requests from its corporate and hospitality clients for maintenance contracts that offer multi-technology support.

LMG has had an AV capability since 2015 but the time was right to grow it says Mike Hook, LMG executive director. “We’ve been bringing AV into our smart building portfolio now for a number of years, but Covid-19 really made us think this is the opportunity to invest because the pandemic has really focused and speeded up the convergence with AV and IT and smart buildings for us. It has made a unified way of communicating, AV is right there now with the rest of the smart building portfolio.” Just as the pandemic has speeded up adoption of the likes of Teams and Zoom, it is also driving change at companies such as LMG. “The pandemic gave us the opportunity to speed up what we’re already doing, hence the reorganisation and re- investment in the new additions to our AV team,” says Hook.

Does the addition of an AV division feel like a natural extension for LMG? “It does but there’s a bigger driver now for it, AV is a better fit, there’s a driver there, which is a convergence as a whole but it seems to have gained additional momentum since lockdown. Covid has seen the democratisation of AV, everyone’s an AV user now, it was for the few now it’s for everyone. It’s just as ubiquitous as Wi-Fi connectivity or swiping your card at the front door. It’s much more of a ubiquitous service now and it fits much more within the building context and the rest of the technology portfolio we offer,” adds Hook (pictured below).

LMG’s approach has been to offer a joined up portfolio, with Hook adding it rarely bids for big standalone AV opportunities. “What we go for is when it’s contained within an overall smart building configuration. Our initial AV work was in hotels, where
the AV, security, building management systems, lighting control is all from one consultant, or the builder who is not a specialist is looking for someone to act as a master systems integrator that stands above all the work streams. They see us as a safe pair of hands that will ensure there’s no duplication, works are coordinated, we don’t leave the AV bit to the last two weeks, which always tends to happen. We’re fundamentally embedded in the construction process, and the programme and bringing everything together as one coordinated technology play. It started with hotels, we’re seeing it increasing now in standard office environments as well where AV and IT are being bundled by consultants like MiX or PTS.

All those specialist consultants we’ve dealt with for the last 20-30 years, now they’re all specifying converged solutions. We saw projects with security, cameras and doors and then we’ve seen AV increasingly come into their portfolios as well.”

One advantage LMG feels it has over ‘traditional’ AV companies is an in-built knowledge and experience of installing IoT systems. Where does Hook think the construction industry (and the AV world for that matter too) is at currently with IoT, are we behind where we should be in terms of adoption? “We thought it would happen overnight a few years ago, it’s been definitely going slower than we’d like. That’s largely due to the way the contracting industry is, they tend to buy everything in silos and they don’t put any effort in upfront.

"So you end up with three or four networks, one for the security, one for the AV, one for the Wi-Fi, it’s madness because nothing communicates together, nothing is coordinated, the support costs are astronomical, and no one’s got any responsibility for making sure all these systems work together.”

From now on all new offices, hotels, shops etc must have intelligent technology within their walls says Hook if they want to survive in a post-Covid world. “Everyone’s realised dumb buildings are dead, the only way to go is a smart, innovative space. I don’t think there’s much chance of landlords or property owners (who are not following that message) attracting any tenants
or staff at all.”

In any conversation with system integrators the topic will eventually turn to access, the earlier the access the happier integrators are, but more often than not AV is the last trade to site. If building companies like LMG get access to the site earlier in the process when major construction decisions are being made does that give them an advantage if they are in charge of installing the AV as well? “We’re involved on the site from kick-off because we’re planning the risers, we’re planning the infrastructure, we also plan an early occupancy LAN as well. The LAN doesn’t go into these environments until the building is free of dust.

You won’t get a standard networking provider go and install on a building site, they just won’t do it, we can provide an early occupancy LAN and work in that environment, and make sure we coordinate things at the right time and provide connectivity without causing a detrimental situation to occur with warranties,” says Hook. “We’re very mindful of having sensitive technology equipment in a construction environment so we can schedule the programmes to secure the environments. We understand the environment, we have to get the main contractor to understand you can’t put an €80,000 projector into an environment where they’re sanding down and dust is everywhere, which we have seen.”

Hook adds LMG is typically involved 18 months before it gets on site, speaking with consultants during budgeting in stage two and stage three of the RIBA process. “We are in that stage with the consultants to make sure they’re looking at consolidated networks, making sure the construction companies understand consolidated building LANs and the packages that are going to sit on those. We are involved with the cost consultants and technical consultants to make sure that the programmes and the costs they provide cover the ability to deliver a truly smart building.”

Are there markets LMG is particularly targeting with its expanded AV division? “The flex office market is a new emerging market. WeWork is the 800lb gorilla, but there’s a whole host of people opened up in that space and they’re the ones transforming the office experience, so they’re the people we’re really going after,” says Hook.

Service contracts will form a big part of LMG’s AV offering going forward adds Hook. “That’s the biggest opportunity we’ve got because we’ve already got a service desk that is offering IT support, so why not have one engineer that can fix a camera or fix a door or can put a Wi-Fi point all over the place, or provide a screen with our remote diagnostic capability? We’ve got IP tech savvy engineers out in the field, why not have one contract that addresses multiple devices, rather than a separate engineer for each? IoT is about getting as much intelligence as you can back in the data centre and add the devices on the edge as dumb as possible. We can replace maybe five different technology support contracts with one. And that will make fault finding much easier because there’s no AV guy saying ‘it’s the LAN’, the LAN guy saying ‘it’s not the LAN’, it could be someone’s pulled the cable out, but by that point it could be five weeks of different people going back to site to work it out. Now, we can work it out with one guy.”

The next stage says Hook to offer AV services on a monthly or quarterly pay-as-you-go basis. “So we can wrap a support contract and a refresh of the AV, because we may be supporting three or four generations of security equipment, and five or six generations of AV kit. It would be lovely to be able to wrap that into a refresh, so we can plan the refresh as part of our maintenance and improve the meantime between failures.”

To help LMG do this, alongside the three new hires mentioned above, it’s also in the process of bringing in three young trainees, who will be run through a detailed training module for 12-month period.

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