Focus 21 – 20 years of systems integration

Systems integrator Focus 21 celebrates the 20th anniversary of its foundation this month. AV News caught up with the Focus 21 team to find out what changes they have seen in the industry over the life of the business to date.

AVN: When Focus 21 was formed the AV market was at a relative high. Was the range of change to pricing, margins and the convergence with IT come as a surprise or was it factored into the plan?

 F21: “From my perspective, the real convergence to IT has become more apparent over the past two years. Although we have upskilled engineers and increased the number of commissioning engineers handling the IT element of the systems, we could be doing a lot more to prepare our clients, and their IT teams, for the sheer number of AV endpoints potentially sitting on their network.

 AVN: Did you have a plan to cope with trends imported from IT – virtualisation, the rise of consumer technology in professional applications?

 F21: “In all honesty, we didn’t plan but product developments from our core manufacturer partners, like Crestron, have allowed us to embrace these trends and understand new design considerations.”

 AVN: How has the composition of your personnel changed over the 20 years, with rising importance of networking?

 F21: “Our core installation team’s workload is still very much centred on cable pulling, screen hanging and general works associated with delivering large scale projects on construction sites. Our internal IT team has grown and are asked to pitch in with factory builds and testing. Our commissioning and service engineers are required to work closer with client IT teams than ever before, and their IT skills are crucial in order to communicate effectively with those teams.”

 AVN: How difficult is it to recruit staff now compared to 20 years ago?

 F21: “Just as difficult. The market has grown, but I don’t think it’s seen a significant increase in qualified engineers to match this growth. That said, the increase in IT skills means that traditional IT engineers can be trained in AV with plenty of crossover skills.

 AVN: How has the sales process evolved over that last 20 years?

 F21: “End-users have never been so well informed as they are now, due to the IT convergence and crossover of domestic platforms like Skype into the workplace. Manufacturers are constantly aiming for off-the-shelf solutions which reduces the requirement for the integration expertise possessed by traditional AV integrators.”

 AVN: Do you find that the lead time from an initial enquiry to commissioning has increased?

 F21: “I don’t think it’s increased. End-users being so informed often means they know what they want or need as soon as they talk to an integrator.”

 AVN: Do you find that customer expectations have increased, i.e. what they get for their money?

 F21: “I think there’s always been an expectation that things should just work.  Perhaps some customers struggle to appreciate what it takes to integrate ten or twenty different manufacturers into a single system.

 AVN: What do you find are the most dynamic markets / most important technologies now in comparison with 20 years ago?

 F21: “Cloud based VC bridges are an important technology. LED is an exciting and dynamic technology.”

 Focus 21 in action

Recently, Focus 21 has completed some high profile projects that illustrate the high quality and breadth of the company’s work,

Condé Nast International

When Condé Nast International made the decision to move to new offices in London due to the expansion of their digital team, they wanted to create a cultural change and improve the way teams worked together.

The client brief was to create an office environment that showcased their digital imagery, supported collaborative working and removed the silos often created within a working environment. The architects MCM worked with a ‘move team’ and came up with the idea to create an auditorium in the new stairwell, linking the two floors of the Adelphi building in London’s Strand, that would become Condé Nast International’s new home.

MiX Consultancy were engaged by Condé Nast International to deliver a detailed design for the space, including the IT Infrastructure, wireless network and audio-visual design. These designs were developed using a British standard of design known as the RIBA stages. Phil Hallchurch AV consultant MiX Consultancy also used the AVIXA ANSI/INFOCOMM V202.01:2016 standard to ensure the screen gave the optimum image quality for the users.

The heart of the new CNI office is the LED media wall located on both level 8/9. As this solution is such a focal point of the office, it was imperative that the users experience the best possible solution with no downtime. Christie was chosen as the LED manufacturer due to their flexibility to provide design, support and installation services to CNI. Christie helped develop this solution from concept all the way through to deployment and the result speaks for itself.

Crestron was used throughout the office to provide best-in-breed video distribution and control which helped keep the user experience the same no matter which meeting room was being used.  The easy to use icon control panel meant that anyone, be it staff, guest or the cleaners (who have been known to use it to watch TV in the cafe) could operate the screens throughout the building.

The combination of a relevant creative approach to the content and an understanding of how CNI wanted to deliver that content, now and in the future, was fundamental to the success of this project. It’s at this intersection, where great creative, innovative software design and unique hardware technology meets incredible content that delivers the results that can be seen on the CNI media wall.

And the results? “The change has been amazing. It used to take me at least 20 minutes to set up the company meetings, now it happens instantly. We’ve also been using the area for company events, it’s so easy now to put music on through AirMedia from someone’s phone or drop some images into the Dropbox. It just makes company events more fun. The other thing I’ve noticed is how much closer its brought everyone. Often as you walk past a meeting on the stairs someone will ask your opinion on something they are showing on the screen, I love that its giving me more involvement and I’ve definitely got to know more people,” said Scarlett Fillingham Burrows Team Assistant, CNI Digital

Throughout the office, the same “it should just work” concept has been implemented in each meeting room, reception area and breakout space all being managed with the uniform, easy to use icon interface.

Condé Nast International: the client brief was to create an office environment that showcased their digital imagery, supported collaborative working and removed the silos often created within a working environment.

 

The brief for the Bayer project was to create a space promoting communication and collaboration, connecting global offices for leading biotechnology and pharmaceuticals company Bayer’s new UK offices. The technology had to reflect the move towards a more agile way of working, whilst adhering to corporate standards and putting content sharing at the forefront of the specification process.

Key features of the brief were:

•    Connecting over 400 devices on the client network

•    ‘Townhall’ space equipped as separate meeting areas and one large presentation space

•    Dedicated huddle spaces and meeting rooms on every floor

•    Re-use of technologies from previous system where suitable

•    Working to a tight timeframe in combination with other facilities

Focus 21 collaborated with MiX consultancy to install a cutting-edge AV system that links the business seamlessly with Bayer’s headquarters in Germany. The building boasts more than 60 communal, presentation and meeting spaces with each space equipped through to a Central Crestron control system. These needed to be versatile while retain ease of use and bolstered the image of Bayer as an innovation-driven, Life Science organization.

Skype-enabled presentation rooms each feature the same technology setups so users can easily move between spaces. This includes a Crestron Digital Media Multiform Transmitter, Biamp conference room docking solutions, a Logitech PTZ webcam and Innovox Soundbar. The visuals are presented on NEC LED displays, with 15 rooms featuring a 46”, three a 55”, three a 70” and one an 84” display.

The building also includes a restaurant area to cater for working lunches or more formal occasions. Dining booths are enabled with 32” displays from NEC, while the restaurant itself features Cisco video conferencing and data presenting facilities along with an array of 46” NEC displays and a Christie Projector to bring the space to life.

The Baylab Inspirational Space has been equipped with an NEC projector, Draper 109” screen for innovation presentations and SMART Kapp IQ Pro screens for interactive presentation facilities, with multiple inputs controlled by a Creston panel enabling both wired and wireless presenting.

The project features over 400 endpoints integrated onto the client’s network ranging from video endpoints, VOIP interfaces, IPTV receivers, touch panels, central controllers and wireless presenting receivers.

The challenges has been to enable flexible working within the Bayer office environment and allow for a fluid and versatile environment. And did the installation meet the brief? Glynn Seymour, Team Lead: Digital & Infrastructure at Bayer commented: “Through the tender process we selected Focus 21 as the implementation partner, primarily due to the exceptional attention to details of our specific requirements in their presentation. They went above and beyond in the delivery of the project even when faced with tight timelines and enforced changes. We are now engaged in a long-term support relationship and look forward to the new business demands with confidence.”

Focus 21 were presented with Commercial Project of the Year Award for the Mayer implementation at the AV News Awards presentation ceremony at ISE 2018 in the RAI Amsterdam in February.

 

The Focus 21 team collect their AV News Award for the Bayer project at ISE 2018.

 

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