The price is right

A benchmark for new technology it may be, but price sways buyers in the UK where Brexit preys on minds and opportunities abound outside the capital, says Adrian Pennington.

One of the most mature markets in Europe, the UK is home to a disproportionately large number of regional HQs for Asian and North American multinationals, a position which has supplied a lot of business and cemented many relationships within the AV sphere going back decades. That network is unlikely to be unpicked in a hurry no matter the outcome of Brexit.

“The UK is seen as the benchmark for new technology across Europe as companies look to be recognised as best of breed,” says Paul Corsbie-Smith, sales and account manager, Datapath. “With many companies having offices or personnel across multiple countries it is important that everyone is able to connect seamlessly using the same technologies.”

Pierre Gillet, vice-president, international sales at BrightSign describes the UK as “innovative and dynamic” but no more (and no less) advanced than Germany or France; while Andy Nolan, regional vice-president at Lifesize believes the UK and London in particular to be a pro AV leader but not as advanced as places, such as Sweden.

Within the field of high-end VR installations that Antycip Simulation works in, the UK is “a step behind the leading-edge public-private initiatives” encountered in France: “It will be a while before the UK has embraced VR as much as the French,” says Frank Reynolds, the company’s European marketing manager.

John Ellis, Shure’s Installed Sound regional sales manager reports business as “very healthy and buoyant” and by example quotes a Microflex wireless install at the headquarters of pharmaceutical company, Bayer in Reading. “There doesn’t seem to be any let-up at all, and that could be to do with companies looking to update their AV equipment ahead of Brexit.”

Brexit ‘impact’ so far

The UK may be approaching leaving the single market like a rabbit stuck in wet tarmac but even with the economic uncertainty, confidence in deploying proven technologies remains high.

“The domestic market remains buoyant and moving forward in terms of new projects and upgrades to existing installations driven by an experienced integrator community,” says Colin Farquhar, ceo, Exterity.

InfoComm/IHS analysis estimates the UK market’s worth at almost U$5.2 billion (£3.75bn) in 2016, “significantly down” from U$5.8 billion (£4.2bn) in 2015 as corporate spend, particularly on collaboration equipment, was suspended and pushed back during the run-up to the Brexit vote and the subsequent fallout from it.

AVIXA suggests the market looks unlikely to recover in full until 2020 by which time “the spend profile will have moved toward digital signage in retail” with additional state and commercial spend on surveillance, already one of the highest in Europe.

“Barring catastrophic Brexit negotiations, or the complete collapse of business confidence, we nonetheless expect the UK AV segment to continue to grow at four per cent a year to 2022,” concludes AVIXA’s analysis.

“The only real impact we’ve seen directly is in the exchange rate – and the pound seems to have recovered somewhat now,” reports Gillet. “We’ve seen no impact on business levels which have continued to grow during and following the referendum period.”

Lower exchange rates have increased global pricing – an investment deterrent. “This affects the whole market so many vendors have marginally increased pricing so that everyone is aligned,” remarks Paul Corsbie-Smith. “That said, Brexit has not had an impact on our vision for the future.”

Mark Walker, business development for B-Tech AV Mounts also reports limited impact to date. “Major projects for us planned before Brexit have gone ahead without issue and we’ve felt no real slow-down on new projects,” he says. “Inside the UK it will be business as usual. For the rest of EMEA, our ability to supply locally from stock held in Belgium, Spain, Germany and Dubai helps keep our risk limited as we’re exporting less from the UK.”

The overall picture is positive at ed-tech specialist Promethean too. “However, the level of uncertainty which exists over the Brexit process is affecting schools’ confidence in making new investments. Ultimately this is reflected in their buying behaviour,” says Ali Hayward, head of UKI and ANZ markets. “We’re seeing a lot of hesitancy but not to the extent that it’s preventing market growth.”

GLP UK’s Simon Barrett, however, says uncertainty is having a negative impact: “Many projects, installations and events are planned so far in the future that we need to understand the real implications of Brexit.”

Be prepared seems the best advice. “Brexit requires an attitude of caution and preparedness to adjust, if necessary, within a relatively buoyant market,” says Reynolds.

Ed-tech in demand

It is education along with enterprise and finance which are widely viewed as the strongest growth verticals. Says BrightSign’s Gillet: “More and more corporates are recognising the value of signage to communicate with staff. There’s also considerable demand from education, especially HFE at the moment.”

This is evidenced by the latest Futuresource figures (Q3, 2017) which show that the UK has a 97 per cent adoption rate of IFPDs while France is only at 50 per cent. In terms of market maturity this puts the UK at least two years ahead.

“With the recent advances in IFPD technology, we’re also seeing a trend emerging whereby schools approach AV as an integration with IT,” says Hayward. “IFPDs are no longer simply a front-of-class display device, the powerful Android capabilities have opened up the functionality for IFPDs to become the connected hub of a classroom.”

Farquar identifies corporate and finance as key for Exterity’s IP video solutions. “Even with Brexit generating uncertainty around access to the EU, the reality is that companies will need an operating base within the UK, which has positive implications for AV,” he says.

“HFE recent funding changes has led to universities becoming more business focused. This has led to increased investment in AV technologies to support activities such as distance learning and corporate partnerships.”

The School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Surrey worked with Exterity to deploy a large-scale IP video system to give students access to live streams and recorded videos of dissection lectures. Nine encoders and 15 screens were installed last year to transmit IP video across the school’s facilities, enabling the University’s AV team to transmit live footage of dissection sessions for viewing by up to 250 students at a time.

“There’s a lot of investment in IP video taking place,” says Farquhar. “However, it’s important to note that there’s still a lag as larger organisations attempt to sweat existing assets for as long as possible and plan for phased transitions.”

Not all about London

London and the South East in general tend to dominate business (and government) and is the major hub of technological innovation that provides the biggest contribution to the UK economy.  Yet Edinburgh is considered a significant AV hub, with Scottish parliament and banks operating out of the city.

“Manchester has seen a recent upswing – especially with the BBC moving a lot more production to the area, which has had an impact on AV projects,” notes Farquar.

Nolan points to the Titanic Museum in Belfast as “a great example of a company pushing the boundaries and using AV solutions to their full potential.”

Gillet thinks it wrong to characterise London as the centre of AV in the UK. “We work with customers throughout the country on installations and have supported numerous national signage roll-outs,” he says.

Likewise, Datapath is keen to focus on its work outside the capital. One that captures attention is the Bruntwood project at The Platform in Leeds installed by UX Global.  This office space features a 24-screen video wall spanning two floors starting in the reception area.

“It’s a work of art,” asserts Corsbie-Smith. The project features video artwork designed by the local graphic design students. [showreel here: https://www.uxglobal.co.uk/] “Almost all new corporate builds in London have a videowall in reception plus many more in meeting rooms and operation centres. Most banks have videowall technology and continue to upgrade these with the latest tech.”

He also charts an increase in activity in Birmingham and Manchester ranging from Gentings Casino to new build schools: “Technology is now more affordable and considered a ‘must have’ rather than a ‘nice to have’.”

Promethean puts its successful 2017 down to Scottish and Irish markets. “While England remains relatively flat, these countries have an equally strong outlook for 2018,” reports Hayward. “Scotland has really led the way with investment in edtech as its budgets are not affected by funding cuts in the UK overall. We’ve seen a major overhaul of technology in schools as they upgrade from IWBs to IFPDs as part of a wider ICT strategy.”

He expects a boost to edtech investment in England with the next general election. “We know that there aren’t enough classrooms for the number of children coming through the education system and this is especially acute in the South. As such, we’re likely to see new schools being built which would require edtech provision.”

Green credentials lurk in the background, but surprisingly seem rarely discussed. Conversations around install mostly come down to cost and convenience along with ease of use for the customer. “I’m aware of companies that measure the time it takes for meetings to take place, and if it doesn’t take place within a minute of everybody being seated the AV guy is in trouble,” says Ellis. “Efficiency and usage of time are the priority.”

Andy Nolan says growth is driven by new builds and refurbishments. “With many offices transitioning to an open floor plan, it’s becoming more important to have designated collaboration spaces free from noise and distractions. As such, the concept of ‘huddle’ rooms have arrived.” Lifesize markets a cloud-based collaboration platform as used by the Institute of Chartered Accountants to connect 700 employees in nine different office locations, from London and Milton Keynes to Dubai.

“As AV continues to merge within IT and facilities, we’re seeing purchase decisions being made by the cto or cio,” he adds. “If the client is not an expert in the pro AV market, they tend to outsource the project to specialists. These partners will provide a full valuation of the market, guidance and knowledge to the client to help make a purchase decision.”

Walker registers price as a major factor on larger roll outs. “For example, in QSRs – where a fixed long-term price is driven through the channel – it’s often an open book end-to-end,” he says. “The ability to quote and immediately supply from stock, even on projects perceived as ‘custom’ has seen a considerable shift and seen B-Tech often selected by default for LED and videowalls.

“The UK market is saturated so the importance of clean channel management, high levels of customer service and an extensive flexible product range from stock are key,” Walker stresses. “When you are one of maybe four key suppliers of commodity solution

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