Ready for kick-off

As the FIFA World Cup looms large, Chris Fitzsimmons spoke to Rupert Denoon, product manager at distributor Electrosonic South Africa. How’s the market performing in general and what impact has the World Cup had?

Whilst the World Cup is obviously a big issue at the moment for South Africans, I was keen to find out what other issues are impacting on the country’s AV market place.
“What is tricky and problematic in our industry at the moment is the lack of education, especially amongst installers. What we’re starting to see more often is that everyone is going for these big jobs but they don’t have the technical know-how to put a system together or even to install it,” begins Rupert Denoon.

“We were recently helping out with a system design for one of my dealers and they didn’t know the basics of what a switcher is or RGBHV and how to put the system together. They kept on asking ‘how do we terminate this?’. That’s a major problem for us. A poor installation means the system isn’t working properly, and what do the clients do? They look at the equipment and say, oh the Crestron isn’t working, or the Kramer is no good.”

Electrosonic in South Africa is now a pure distribution outfit, and has been for three or so years after realising distributing as well as directly competing with installers isn’t a winning recipe! The company also offers some consulting services and can do things like drawings for its dealers and also offers in house programming services.

One of the other things the company has recently invested in is a lot of fibre termination kit. Their integrators can install the fibre themselves before paying Electrosonic on a per termination basis. This is helping the company drive demand via a transition to digital technologies. The move is designed to remove the cost barrier for installers as they don’t need to make the capital investment.

“I’m trying to make it easy for the guys – everyone worries about fibre being scary or expensive. We charge per connector and per point, a lot of our smaller dealers can’t afford to invest in expensive kit like that.”

Last time we wrote about South Africa, which was way back in 2008, one of the concerns that consultant Gavin Olivier raised was that a skills shortage in the country could result in a loss of business for local firms to outsourcing. I asked Rupert if these fears had been realised.

“With the lower end to medium sized systems I don’t think we’ve seen any of that. If the system is designed properly then there shouldn’t be any problem with the physical installation. 

“However, when you get to the big systems like stadiums with large digital displays it’s a bit different. Samsung or LG and their like come in, they sponsor half the stadium and bring in their own teams to install it, at a fraction of the cost of getting it done locally. In those cases we can’t compete. When it comes to the very, very high end we’re losing out, but most of the business is staying local.”

So what is being done to address the skills issue?

“Well from a product point of view we are a recognised Crestron Training facility, so we do the essentials and intermediate training sessions. The other thing we do is the workshops. We do the basics of audio visual and the basics of switchers. We do those every second Friday. It’s open to the whole industry and anyone can just pitch up to the seminars.

“The other thing that’s going on is the beginning of the InfoComm CTS programme. There is going to be a recognised test centre implemented in South Africa for the online CTS tests.

“Finally, with regards to our own training courses, they are recognised as being valid to contribute points towards the InfoComm scheme. If you do our Kramer training or Crestron training, they count towards your CTS.”

And what has the uptake been like? Is the market enthusiastic?

“Yes absolutely, on the intermediate side we run about 15 courses, and the same on the essentials, so we do probably 30 courses a year. These are four day courses, we have a capacity of eight people per course, and they are always full. The demand is much greater than we can cope with. We can’t do training all the time, we need our guys out in the field doing business as well!”

Markets elsewhere in the world have been adversely affected by the recent economic difficulties, I was curious to see if any effects had been felt in South Africa.

“Well, I must admit that from the middle of last year, up until the start of December it got a little bit quiet. Not that it went dead or anything, we were doing what we were doing the year before. But then since the start of December things have really kicked on. We’re incredibly busy, but it’s not all just linked to the World Cup, which is great. It means the work is not going to disappear come July.

“The World Cup is meaning that command and control and security centres are definitely on the up, for the police. We’re involved in a lot of those at the moment. They’re all out to tender, and we’re trying to be involved in writing the spec for them with either VM Quantums [Electrosonic’s own product] or DVP HD from Crestron depending on the size of video wall involved.

“We’ve probably done in the region of 15 quotes already for these command-type centres for SA Police and other aspects of the World Cup administration. The nice thing is that they are not just for the world cup, they will be used well afterwards for other sporting events or just for crisis management. They are part of a general improvement of the country’s security infrastructure.

This impetus to invest in wider infrastructure projects is going to be one of the lasting positive effects of the FIFA World Cup.

“We are taking the opportunity to upgrade a lot. There hasn’t been anything done for many years on that front,” added Denoon.

“That’s what’s going on on the corporate side, but since I’ve been with the company (eight years now) things have really switched around. It used to be that our business was 80%-20% corporate to residential. But now we’re seeing more and more of our business is coming from the residential sector.

“That’s not to say that the corporate side is shrinking, it’s just staying the same year-on-year – the growth is in the home market. It has shot up to about 60% residential and 40% in the corporate space.

“In general terms we are happy with business at the moment. We certainly anticipate more work coming through over the next 12 months. There is a lot in the pipeline, which is really important. There’s a lot more going on in hotels – the boutique and tourist hotels. All of these want some kind of room automation facilities installed now – touch panels in the rooms. That’s definitely becoming bigger. We’ve already done an 88 room job, and we are working on another for over 200 rooms.

“I’m very optimistic about things going forward. In South Africa we always seem to be pushing the boundaries in terms of new gear. We’re often the first to install the newest kit from vendors, we’re the guinea pigs! That’s great for our business as it makes selling the latest kit easier, our customers are always excited by the latest and greatest.”

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