More for less: assessing the corporate sector

The falling price of technology, and the rise of smaller meeting and working spaces, is resulting in increased project work in the corporate sector for integrators and consultants says Paul Milligan.

The growing imperative for work sharing and collaboration at corporate organisations means on the whole things are looking up in the sector. “There is an increase in technology-equipped areas and because the cost of meeting room technology is coming down, it means your per-room costs are falling, which means you can equip more breakout rooms and huddle spaces for the same budget,” says Sebastian Day, director of AV services for MiX Consultancy. Global system integration group AVI-SPL saw a rise of 22% in sales last year, with the majority of that coming in the corporate sector. Others, like ASC, based in Germany, also saw success in terms of the number of projects they were winning, if not in rising project values; “Budgets for meeting rooms have decreased, but this is due to the fact that we can offer more value with innovative technology for less money. In Germany I’d evaluate the corporate market as positive, as the budget for single rooms has decreased, the number of orders for corporate projects has increased,” says Alexander Chiappa, head of sales corporate projects.

Others, like Jerry Mason, senior AV consultant, Coleman Bennett International, had a more sober view; “Budgets are getting squeezed at tightly as they can be. We often go through value engineering exercise, several rounds of it sometimes. People expect AV tech to be getting cheaper, and in some respects it is, but the implementation costs aren’t getting cheaper, they are getting more expensive.” Other people we spoke to were also hearing that dreaded phrase ‘value engineering’ again and again in corporate projects.

corporate seating area with interactive digital displaysAnother potential factor on corporate AV budgets was that quite often the money for the AV now comes out of the IT pot, so it was often squeezed so that IT could get a bigger piece of the pie. That isn’t to say that corporates aren’t afraid to spend big, as Richard Brookes, MD from integrator proAV highlights; “The threshold of recent landmark deployments has now moved north of £10m (€12m).”

At trade shows and events the discussion inevitably seems to revolve around huddle rooms and breakout spaces, so are these the types of projects that are popular right now in the corporate world? proAV is working on a mix of projects, from huddle through to large meeting and boardrooms and auditoria, but sees the largest volume happening in the huddle/small meeting and vcon area, says Brookes. That seems to be the case for most; “The big change for us is that we are seeing technology everywhere. We are seeing it in spaces that traditionally don’t have collaboration solutions in them, like common areas, hallways, and cafeterias. The types of spaces that were free of technology,” says Dale Bottcher, senior VP sales for AVI-SPL. This move to huddle spaces comes with a warning says Mason. “We can’t impose a change to corporate culture on clients. We can enable them on that, and inform them of different approaches, but when you start moving away from traditional rooms, it does require a change to the corporate culture. For some it’s right to make that change now, for others it will take a long time.”

“When you start moving away from traditional rooms, it does require a change to the corporate culture. For some it’s right to make that change now, for others it will take a long time.”

The rise of the four to six person meeting rooms seems to be the most significant aspect of this new way of working. Big meeting rooms are being split into two or three rooms to maximise real estate, but it also means they can meet the realistic needs of the business. If you think of your own experience, how many meetings do you attend where there are four to six people? And how many are for 12+? Each meeting can now be fitted with an inexpensive vcon system and/or a wireless presentation device. Which means anyone, technically-minded or not, can use the room, and they can collaborate globally with anyone via standard vcon.

For most integrators or consultants each corporate install, although similar in nature, is evaluated on an individual basis. Day’s example of this is a good one; “We are working with one pharmaceutical client whose staff are all laptop-based, so we are providing the infrastructure for them to drop in and start a meeting in any room. Others, like law firms, are desk-based, and use a lot of paper, so breakout rooms don’t work for them.” He has seen a rise in demand for multi-function spaces, for example a meeting room which can be also used for staff training, evening use or as an auditorium.

If clients in the corporate world like huddle spaces and breakout areas, what technologies are proving popular to help them do this? Unsurprisingly its wireless presentation systems such as Barco Clickshare, Christie Brio and Kramer VIA (to name but three) that are becoming almost universal in corporate installs. This drive for wireless is all part of the desire to become ‘cable free’, and whilst we aren’t at that point yet, we’re getting close. AVI-SPL has seen collaboration technologies move from ‘nice to have’ to become the client’s expectation. But AVI-SPL is already looking at the next level of these technologies; “We are seeing the growth of large collaboration systems from Oblong, Prysm and Bluescape, which can handle Big Data on an infinite canvas,” says Bottcher. “People are sharing data, sometimes for more than one meeting. The next wave of this technology will be the software component, where you can collaborate anywhere, not just on a large screen. The collaboration system in the meeting room is really going to be the engine of it all.”

As we inextricably move to a world where AV and IT have merged completely, is there still a battle to be fought with IT teams to get AV products on the corporate network? Or are those days finally over? “The default position used to be ‘no, not on my network’. Now you get IT teams proactively asking what the network requirement will be from the AV,” says Mason. And this view was echoed throughout; “When we install an AV product we make the IT team aware of the IT dependencies it has. We would never design an AV system in isolation from the M&E requirements, you would always consider the power arrangements etc. And it’s the same from an IT point of view,” says Day. There are still two issues that can cause some concern for IT teams, the first is highlighted by Bottcher; “The bigger discussion now is whether it’s in the cloud or on the premises. Some corporates like financials, are less comfortable with cloud-based collaboration and services. We no longer differentiate between AV and IT, to us it’s a device.” Another issue is streaming video over the network, especially as we move to a 4K future says Mason. “As we push the boundaries with streaming video content there might be more challenges and more of a push-back coming, until it becomes the norm to have high bandwidth video content across the network.”

Overall it’s a good time to be working with corporate clients, technology is becoming the norm, and smaller meeting rooms means more project work, as each one can now be fitted with relatively inexpensive vcon and/or wireless presentation systems. Bottcher sums it up perfectly; “This is one of the best times to be in our industry. At no other point has technology been more important to the user experience and business outcomes. We are at the point where technology capability has caught up with user’s expectations and demands.”

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