Mastering the modern meeting room: Dan Jackson on Crestron’s future plans

Charlotte Ashley heads to New Jersey, US to meet Crestron’s head of enterprise technology, Dan Jackson, to discuss what the company is currently prioritising to continue to position itself as a leader in the marketplace.

Look no further for an employee with Crestron in his DNA then Dan Jackson. Originally a residentially-focused  programmer  with  the pluckiness  to  also  create  a  side-business making iPod integration docks fresh out of university, his talent was soon recognised by Crestron. It was a good move as he went on to be at the frontline of its product development for the next 12 years.

“I  came  in  as  one  of  the  first  recruits  to what  was  our  ‘marketing  and  development’ department to help drive product roadmaps and figure out where the market was going,” says the director of enterprise technology. Jackson, who lives on-site, dedicated three years to introducing DigitalMedia – one of his many ideas that has had a significant influence on the marketplace.

Dan Jackson, Director of Enterprise Technology at Crestron, headshotAnother creation Jackson played a pivotal role in inventing was Mercury, the manufacturer’s meeting room system incorporating a DSP. Jackson notes that, at first appearance, the product may not appear to be a new concept – yet he argues that the benefits of having Crestron’s resources behind it means large companies looking to scale should be considering it.

He says Mercury’s development was impacted by the nature of purchasing decisions evolving; “It used to be one person managing one building and  dictating  what  goes  in  there  and  another person  overseeing  another,  but  now  it’s  being consolidated  and  driven  up  the  chain  to  push towards setting enterprise standards.

“For us it’s important to build the hardware into a simple package, but we’ve also got to think about the software in the back-end so we developed our cloud provisioning service,” affirms Jackson. The service allows registered products to be configured from  anywhere  in  the  world  –  something  the company sees as invaluable for bringing savings on time and manpower by moving on from the ‘sending one installer to one room’-model. “You wouldn’t deploy phones in that way,  so  why deploy AV in that way?”

“If you’re a global company, chances are that you won’t have an AV expert in all of your ten offices. This way a local installer can deploy it and everything else can be done remotely,” says Jackson. “Everybody’s talking about IoT in this respect, but very few people are  doing  it. We know this because we built it on the Azure platform  and  Microsoft  was  having  to  make changes  for  us,  because  we  were  doing  things that nobody else was doing.”

“We built it [Mercury] on the Azure platform and Microsoft was having to make changes for us, because we were doing things that nobody else was doing.”

The  increasing  shift  of  AV  being  deployed more  like  IT  is  also  having  an  impact  on  how the  company  approaches  product  distribution. Historically  focused  on  the  direct  sale,  with products like Crestron’s SR offering, the company is  opening  up  to  other  channels.  “Our  Skype Room-based product is a surface tablet with a very specific OS load and all these other features that  the  typical  AV  integrator  channel  is  just not  used  to  handling.  Crestron  doesn’t  want to  handle  either  as  we’re  not  set  up  for  that, whereas IT distribution houses are,” says Jackson. “We will always focus on protecting our dealers’ investment in Crestron as they’ve made a big investment in us.”

The company is not one to dismiss the growing importance of software in the modern-day  AV industry, but affirms it will continue the approach that has brought it success so far – driven by an increasingly open and a perhaps  typically  ‘un-Crestron’ approach. “Hardware itself is definitely becoming  somewhat  commoditised  and  we’re definitely  seeing  new  entrants  come  into  the market, but we still see our value in being able to  produce  very  high  quality  hardware,  as  well as  software,”  states  Jackson. “But what you’re going to see is us running other services so we have hardware as a platform. I know Crestron’s probably perceived in the industry as being a company that goes it alone and doing its own thing, but we’re changing.

“I think the videoconferencing world is moving from being open (if not that, then interoperable) to everything being sort of closed,”  Jackson continues. “If you look at the Cisco Spark Board, Google Jamboard and the Microsoft Surface Hub – three of the big things that those companies are pushing – they’re all proprietary, but who wants to buy hardware that only talks to one service?”

The manufacturer is therefore is increasing  its focus on developing hardware offerings at a lower cost, that can work with any software back-end and workflow the user desires. Jackson says this crucially allows end users to be prepared for the future.

Crestron’s  roadmap  for  the  next  five  years  is focused  on  preparing  for  what  it  sees  as  three key  inevitabilities:  the  growing  challenge  of scalability,  reducing  costs  of  and  bringing  out more AV-over-IP technology and AV’s increasing role  in  the  security  space.  Video  distribution already  accounts  for  more  than  50%  of  the manufacturer’s  revenue  at  over  $800  million (approximately  €680  million),  and  Jackson  says the  benefits  offered  by  its  NVX  Series  running on a 1Gb network will increase its market share.

On scalability, he says:  “There have been waves of consolidation in the industry because integrators are facing the challenge of ‘getting big.’ These companies are having to figure that out by either acquiring  people  or  by  starting alliances so they can cover the globe.” Jackson says this is the direct  result  of  increasing competition with global service providers such as AT&T and BT’s services arms.

“The biggest challenge is  working  out  how to change internal processes to handle big jobs whilst also figuring out how to become more of a services company.”

When it comes to the issue of security, Jackson foresees more major hacks.  He  says:  “Because there  will  be  more  IoT-type  devices  there  will be more openings and the second people start exploiting some of those things, there’s going to be a real laser focus on our industry. I think we have gotten away for years without really doing a whole lot in the security space, because we were just segmented onto a different network and we thought we didn’t have to be involved.”

Though many companies currently cut costs by  taking  a  risk  on  what  standard  of  security they implement, Jackson says, in the near future, clients  will  have  no  choice  but  to  make  the investment.  “When  such  incidents  do  happen the  end  user  outlook  will  change,  which  will mean the integrator outlook will have to change too.”