Interview: Residential potential9 November 2011
Originally established in 1995, T&T Automation has gradually progressed from an initial base in voice and data engineering to enjoy a formidable presence in the UK and North American residential installation sectors. Managing director Tony Harper (pictured) – who also helms a ‘complementary’ software business, C3 Custom Code Crafters – tells David Davies about the evolution of the company and the nature of its current workload.
What was the starting point for T&T Automation?
It was established in 1995 as a consultative organisation, active in the voice and data engineering workspace. Our clients were predominantly blue chip companies in the financial services sector. Over time, we began to look at other areas for expansion, including systems integration for boardrooms. By 2003, we had started to become seriously involved in the residential side. We were well versed with the standards of documentation required for the financial services sector so found it relatively straightforward to develop into the residential market.
To our delight, we began to gain traction in the market quite quickly. We undertook several projects of £150K in value in the first year, which constituted a very good start. Thereafter, the business grew steadily and by 2009 we had a team of 18 and had begun to win prestigious industry awards on both sides of the Atlantic, such as those given by CEDIA.
It was around this point that you also formed a separate operation based out of Vancouver, Canada…
I had been to Canada many times over the years – I was initially drawn by the skiing and winter sports – and had built up a lot of friends and contacts there. During my visits, I had the opportunity to see some residential installations, and while I felt that they were good, it was clear that they could have been better. So it gradually became obvious that there was an opportunity for us in the Canadian market and we opened up shop in 2007.
In 2011, we are the largest Crestron residential dealer in Western Canada and our operation there continues to be very successful. Aside from North America and the UK, we have also worked extensively in the South of France, the Netherlands, Spain, Bali and Dubai, to name just a few.
As we speak, the Eurozone crisis appears to be reaching a new – and possibly decisive – phase. How affected have you been by the general feeling of economic uncertainty this year?
We are currently in the process of finishing two £1 million projects this year, situated in Surrey and Essex. We also have plenty of mid to lower value projects on the books, but I would say that, overall, things have been a slower this year. Moreover, the gestation period for obtaining the client commitment to contract is often exaggerated, with increasing levels of control, regulation and red tape inserted by clients’ project teams.
It’s clear that the economy in Europe is under extreme pressure. There’s a real feeling of unease and caution; it doesn’t matter which level or marketplace you are operating in. Even my barbers was quiet this morning!
I expect that 2012 will be quieter than this year, but I would note that the Canadian market appears to be something of an exception, with a greater robustness than that of the US. The amount of projects we have on the books in Canada is particularly good.
Finally, how does your other company, C3 Custom Code Crafters (which recently won the Most Creative GUI at Crestron’s 2011 Integration Awards for its programming and interface design at a large private residence], complement the work undertaken by T&T Automation?
The whole idea behind C3 Custom Code Crafters was to provide programming and graphic design services for the whole control and automation sector – not just to T&T Automation, but to other systems integrators and end-users. That very much remains the principle of our operation, but of course there have been many T&T Automation projects to benefit from C3 Custom Code Crafters programmers’ expertise.
One recent example that springs to mind is a US$3m project in North America. This was a very challenging installation, with the need to unify control of more than 1,000 lighting loads, 150-plus window blinds, 72 audio zones, 32 video zones, a huge security system a full IP-based voice and data, irrigation control, climate control, gate access, and much more.
With this installation and a number of others, we really have been dealing with levels of functionality on a massive scale that you simply don’t see very often. The work of C3 Custom Code Crafters has been very important in helping us to realise these cutting-edge projects.