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Interview: AV User Group – an introduction to the industry’s biggest ally

Michael Garwood 20 September 2017

With is chairman going full time, continued international expansion and membership numbers rocketing – the future is bright

Now in its 20th year, the AV User Group (AVUG) has become a globally recognised not for profit organisation, devoted exclusively to supporting AV end user professionals.

More than 650 members and close ties with the industry’s elite, the AVUG continues to grow, both in numbers and its importance.

This month (September 14) marked a major milestone with the announcement its chairman Owen Ellis (pictured below) will be taking up the role on a full time paid basis after 10 years, having resigning from Morgan Stanley. He will become the first person to hold a full time paid position with the sponsor funded organisation in its 20 years history.

AVTE caught up with Kevin McLoughlin, AVUG Group Management Committee member to  find out more about the organisation, from its origins to its plans for the future.

Hi Kevin. When was the AVUG first formed and why?

The AV User Group was first formed in London in 1996 by Simon Dudley. Back then he was a sales rep at PictureTel.

The purpose was to provide an independent, supplier agnostic forum for end users of AV equipment to learn from their peers and industry suppliers by sharing best practice and experiences. The ultimate goal is to promote effective use of audio visual equipment and services to the end user community.

Who are you predominantly appealing to?

The audio visual and UC end user, whether engineering, production, event, project delivery, etc.

What is your geographic reach?

The group is now truly international. We hold meetings in New York, London and Hong Kong. We recently started a UK regional group, which will meet again in Glasgow in January and hope to launch on the US west coast (San Francisco) in 2018.

How has the AVUG evolved over the past 20 years?

Originally a small informal group of around ten end users, meetings were held intermittently and there was no supplier engagement or interaction. Supplier engagement crept in around 2002 and formal sponsorship around 2005/6 by which time membership had increased to around 50. The group took control of its own destiny in Janury 2010 when membership was around 70 and has subsequently expanded into New York and Hong Kong and now has more than 650 members located around the world.

Tell us about those members.

Our members are from most market sectors and across all audio visual service provision, numbers are continually growing, with 350-plus in the UK and a further 300-plus worldwide.

How often do you hold meetings?

London has set the model of four meetings a year, which sits well with our members work lives and this model will spread across other locations. UK regional meetings will increase in 2018 with the north of England with further plans to spread across to Northern Ireland and the RoI.

Is there a membership fee?

Membership has always been free and keeping it free is core to the Group’s aims. The Group’s funds come from sponsorship.

How supportive has the industry been towards AVUG?

The Groups funds come from sponsorship. Being a community of their clients they are obviously very keen to be engaged with the group and generally incredibly enthusiastic about the Group’s growth and supportive of the spread into new locations. Without sponsorship from the wider AV community our member’s benefits would be vastly reduced.

How closely do you work with the industry?

The Group maintains strong links with manufacturers who see the group as a valuable asset for end user feedback and customer relationships. We are constantly looking for more ways to provide value to both them and our members through our engagement.

The relationship provides a way for end users to influence roadmaps so that manufacturers develop products they actually want to buy.

What is the biggest thing that members get out of attending your events?

Knowledge. In addition to manufacturer presentations there are case studies from members, educational seminars from industry experts, product demonstrations and site tours.

Following meetings we hold our networking events, which bring together end users, suppliers, manufacturers, consultants, AV media and technology managers in a melting pot of ideas and information exchange.

What would you say are its key benefits?

When I first attended in 2011, I was immediately helped by being connected to the right people, peers and suppliers, who could solve the technology challenges I was experiencing. This quickly became a two-way activity as I shared my own experiences and presented a case study to the London group. Volunteering to join the management committee was just a natural extension, as I wanted to help share the group’s benefits with as many others as possible. With members ranging from global organisations to one man teams the group becomes an equaliser where all members have access to peers and suppliers as a joint resource to help them do their jobs better.

How important is it for end users to be at the forefront of new technology?

It’s paramount. As our technology becomes more network based it’s the AV end users responsibility to be at the leading edge of technology. New developments happen so quickly that before you realise, you have old technology with no support that becomes a risk and security threat. In addition large global corporate enterprises can easily fall behind their own clients and become ‘incompatible’ or suffer serious interoperability issues with their clients and the rest of the industry. Finally, they can’t afford not to if they want to attract and retain talent in a technological age.

What are your ambitions going forward?

To continue membership growth both in our existing areas of operation as well as globally, adding more member value and benefits resulting in the group becoming a standalone world leading AV end user membership body.

These are very exciting times for the group as our chairman Owen Ellis will shortly be taking on a full time role allowing him to drive these ambitions forward into a new phase of growth.

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