Robin Van Meeuwen, President and CEO at Crestron EMEA has steered the company through a spectacular period of growth and several paradigm shifts in technology. Here is his story from the early days with a dozen staff serving the UK market from the ‘boat shed’ in Kingston-upon-Thames.
AVN: We met very soon after AV News first launched in 2001. Crestron’s product catalogue was very different then?
RvM: In those days. the product line was mostly touchpanels and control systems. It wasn’t until 2008. when we launched Digital Media that our sales really started to really take off. We had a range of analogue switching devices. which were sending analogue signals over CAT 5, and we were selling a lot of that in the residential market we weren’t really well known in the commercial market, until we came out with Digital Media
BD: that product introduced you to the networks and building infrastructure that you would have to have as standard nowadays, but 20 years ago that would not necessarily be an obvious thing to do?
RvM: When I look back on how the Digital Media product range evolved, it really was the first bridge between analogue and digital. You could put all your analogue signals in the box and transmit digital signals. You could put your images into it as well, so it created that bridge between analogue and digital. We all know analogue signal has gone now, everything is digital, but at time it made a bridge between AV and IT. When Digital Media came out it was on a network, but it was a dedicated AV network, it was not the IT network.
The IT guys said: “No, we’re not having that on our network – that’s an AV device.” Now the IT world has accepted former AV devices onto the IT environment, whether it be projectors, source equipment, switching and distribution equipment. They see and accept the ‘ITness’ of these products is robust enough and meet all the industry standards within the IT domain. Putting these products on the IT network so it is a lot more familiar today. They are not another third-party AV product. Crestron now delivers something they see matches the protocols of the IT domain
AVN: So, once you’d established that you can send video over IP that is now the standard? If you were doing a new building today, that’s what you would go for?
RvM: Correct, it gives you that flexibility. It makes you able to manage it better. It makes total sense in today’s world.
AVN: This change in technology coincided with the transformation in terms of the applications people are using it for? I can’t remember anybody talking about collaboration much five years ago, but now it seems all consuming?
RvM: Absolutely, collaboration is the hot word, and sometimes over used, but what does the term collaboration mean? Is it like this meeting, where we are talking together here? Is this a collaboration meeting? Yes, I’d see this as collaboration, but is the quality that defines collaboration in terms of the technology about sharing data, graphs, ideas and creativity in a defined space in order to obtain better results?
AVN: Collaboration has become integral to the design of a modern office building. Crestron has now become a Microsoft partner. Microsoft has announced plans to do with Azure program, and the Internet of Things, what they have done with Windows and applications. They hope to bring the Windows element and the Azure element together at some point which, is that something Crestron is part of?
RvM: There is a very close working relationship between Microsoft and Crestron. We have developed the hardware platform so that Microsoft can deploy their software platform – that’s what I see is the goal, a win-win for everyone. We do have all the required tools, like Crestron Cloud Services so there’s going to be a lot more interesting ideas we can offer our customers, whether they be the integrator, or the end-user, for not only managing the system but also from the point of view of the integrator. Because there are so many regulations. the end-user will benefit in a very big way.
AVN: Can you give a specific example of how this might work?
RvM: It is already there with tools like Crestron Fusion. You can monitor the room with motion sensors or automatically shut down or start up with presets in the room. Energy management it a core part of building management rules. We can communicate and get data from the network. And each generation of the technology is getting easier to use. That’s the key message. When you are putting 50, or 100 meeting rooms into a building, you want meetings to start straightaway – not waste time setting up devices. If 4 people are attending the meeting, and it takes 10 minutes to set up the room. you have wasted 40 minutes of staff time. The more senior the staff, are the more costly it becomes. The Return on Investment is matter of months on meeting efficiency and cost saving technology.
AVN: It’s fair to say that, over the last 25 years. Crestron has overcome, and even pioneered, some of the fundamental changes in AV / IT technology and is well placed for succeeding generations. But recent trends have seen software play an increasingly important role in AV / IT solutions, a trend which has made a material change to the systems integrator’s business model?
RvM: We have seen a transition in the relative values of Crestron hardware and Crestron software. There have been some issues in building integrator’s understanding of this transition. The value of the software to an end-user is tremendous. The integrator thinks it should be free because they are buying 50 rooms off you. Integrators need to understand the value of the license free. There has to be definable value in the service license fees to enable integrators to sell it on to their end-users to generate recurring revenues. The potential for the integrator here is tremendous.
AVN: And is software licensing the core of the future for Crestron?
RvM: 25 years ago, starting a relationship with a new customer was a very exciting time. Sleeping on the doorstop to win the business was very exciting. Establishing a relationship was very natural, but today it’s different. I know all our AV customers personally, and most of the relationships go back more than 20 years. Now there is a new set influx of new partner large IT players, and I take pleasure in educating them, holding their hands as they became intrenched in the business with us. With this broader market available, measuring market share against what might be thought of as our direct competitors is no longer worthwhile: what concerns me is the Crestron percentage marketshare against the total worldwide spend on AV.