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.
Another 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.”