Stronger together

Global projects call for global solutions, which can sometimes cause a headache for a local integrator. Over the last couple of years international alliances have sprung up to meet the challenges and, after more than two years in business, Anna Mitchell catches up with two of the main players.

In late 2007 Audio Visual Machines (AVM) in the UK started to think about a way to serve its increasing base of global clients. The company was pondering how to provide a consistent and quality service around the world without acquiring additional companies or setting up regional offices. The idea of joining with select, verified partners in strategic locations began to formulate and by the end of the year the company had formed its first partnerships under the umbrella of the AV Global Alliance.

“We always had an ambition to get up to around 20 partners or so, which we reached over the first few months,” said Sandy MacPherson, chairman of AVM.

The Global Presence Alliance (GPA) was established in 2008 by US integrator, The Whitlock Group and Impact Marcom in the UK, to meet similar challenges faced by AVM. Kirk Muffley, director of Conferencing and Global Business Development at the Whitlock Group said: “[The GPA] was founded really as a result of a friendship and partnership between the Whitlock Group and Impact. We met with their executive team in 2007 and found we had common and similar business practices and business challenges. So, we began to work with them just in terms of creating business efficiencies, discovering opportunities and supporting some of our global clients at the same time.”

He continued: “We decided in 2008 to formalise that relationship, creating the GPA. We recruited members throughout 2008 and more aggressively in 2009. In fact we just had our GPA summit in Amsterdam.”

Muffley says the original focus of the alliance was to provide “consistency, global standards and a high level of service” to international clients. Furthermore, a major driving force behind the emergence of both alliances was the growing importance of videoconferencing.

MacPherson says: “We’ve got a lot of multinational clients and we send our people around the world to do installations and design AV solutions and videoconferencing and so on. But, when it comes to support then clearly it is not very cost-effective for our clients to have us jump on a plane and fly out to them. Clearly what was driving this last year was a growth in video conferencing. For videoconferencing to work there has to be by definition two ends to it and so we needed to find somebody who looked like us and was typically the biggest or the most pre-eminent AV system integrator in that country so we could partner with them. So it was really customer driven to make sure we had similar skills around the world.”

“Conferencing is a big part of the Alliance,” agrees Muffley. “That’s one of the reasons I’ve been leading it and serving as a champion for the GPA is because I’ve led the conferencing division for many years, which by its nature is global. So, yes, conferencing is a huge part of the GPA but not the only part. A lot of the conferencing projects have significant AV or managed services so all of these are considerations with how we go to market with the deployment.

Now, two years since its inception Muffley says the GPA had become part of The Whitlock Group’s core business fabric and has actually exceeded expectations. “It was initially intended to be a fulfilment mechanism for our customers who had international business requirements,” he explains. “But it’s actually become more of an organisation where we can share best practices or where we share information on strategic goals for our company, we address the problems as a team. We find that our partners bring us considerable business opportunities, which is another advantage of the GPA. I don’t know many AV companies, given the fragmented nature of the industry, that really have a good story to tell in terms of their global vision.”

MacPherson tells a similar tale. “[The AV Global Alliance] has achieved what we wanted to and more. In a way we weren’t sure what to expect from the Alliance but I think for every one of us we are much more capable of bidding for multinational work. I would say that for many of us the Alliance is now adding between five and ten per cent to our revenues.

“It’s still evolving and [the partners] tend to gather twice a year, once at ISE and once at InfoComm. We talk about different issues, about what we might want to do and where we might want a collaborative approach, on say purchasing or marketing.”

Over at the GPA, Muffley says its very difficult to quantify the extra business that the GPA has provided but adds: “There is absolutely additional revenue. I don’t know if I can classify a percentage but there’s also cost savings and efficiencies, brought about by sharing information on best practices, to take into consideration.”

In addition, the group is currently working on developing a global help desk. “We’re working to establish best practices and better communication tools,” he continues. “I wish I had more resources to devote to the GPA and accelerate its growth.”

Likewise, MacPherson can foresee an expansion of the capabilities of the AV Global Alliance. “I believe there are further steps we could take to form a much closer bonding of the Alliance but that would require us to enter into much tighter legal agreements. And, right now the Alliance is working very well because there is little burden to each of the members.”

Despite saying there are currently no plans to formalise the arrangement further, MacPherson does make an interesting point. If the AV Global Alliance formed a global holding group it would become a $3 billion company overnight. It’s certainly a thought for the future. MacPherson adds: “It’s something that I’ve mentioned to some of them and they are not adverse to this but we haven’t really gone any further than vaguely floating the issue and I wouldn’t want to do that unless I got full commitment from everybody. It’s far too early to think of global domination!”

Both MacPherson and Muffley can’t seem to fault their respective alliances and both say the organisations have far exceeded what they were set up to do. In fact, MacPherson says the group regularly has to turn down applications from companies that want to join. Considerations for the future only seem to include strengthening the bond between the companies, whether by formal agreement or by bolstering resources.

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