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Interview: Simplicity is key

David Davies 16 February 2011
Interview: Simplicity is key

With a team of more than 60 people, SMC is one of the UK’s most eminent and well-regarded systems integrators. At the helm is Steve Moore (pictured), who started off in specialist hi-fi before developing a passion for the then-emerging custom install market. He spoke to David Davies about the early days of SMC, the creation of the DigitalPlumbers brand, and the importance of simple control interfaces.

Please tell me about the early days of SMC.

I trained as an architect at university before going into specialist hi-fi and starting a business there. In 1998, I went to the US and looked at a bunch of people who were doing CI there and [started to get an impression of that market]. I started doing CI jobs here in the UK and, in 1993, left my previous company and started up on my own. I still work with a lot of the developers from those early days. I can be sure about that because I have quite a few 15-year anniversary lunches over the next few weeks! People tend to stick with us, which is great.

In 1999, we moved to our current office and, over time, have taken on extra space to the point where we now have around 4-5,000sqft and a staff of about 65 people. In addition to the main business, we have a [low-cost] brand, DigitalPlumbers, which is designed to bring similar functionality to smaller homes, as well as the SMC Fast-Track [scheme]. Most of our work these days comes from private clients, although we do quite a lot of residential developments as well as some commercial consultancy business. It’s a real mix.

The arrival in 2003 of two new partners for the business, David Smith and Robin Courtenay, was very significant. They are great at a whole variety of stuff I’m not so good at, and they have really enabled us to work in a more grown-up way.

In what ways have customers’ expectations of control capabilities changed in recent times?

The worst thing that someone could possibly say is that our TV used to work fine, but we spent 20 grand and can’t use it now! It’s not something we’ve ever had from our customers, but I don’t think it’s an uncommon situation [in the wider industry]. So our focus is on trying to make it as simple as possible, eg. straightforward keypads for lighting, etc, and an ‘up/down/left/right/yes please’ interface for the TV. And if you have got a larger screen there, you need to make sure that it all works as expected. Similarly, it’s essential that the network is what it needs to be [for everything on it] to function reliably.

It’s important to remember that, 25 or so years after the advent of the [personal computer], people are comfortable with a lot of this technology. At the same time, the cost of doing a reasonable system that works well has fallen. Consequently, the point at which these two things intersect has changed.

Finally, what are your expectations for 2011?

We had a very good year last year, and are expecting to be very busy this year as well. The first quarter is proving to be very strong and there are a lot of opportunities on the horizon. We aim to act as a grown-up business all the way ‘round, managing every aspect of a project. It’s tough work but at the moment everything is looking OK. Now it’s my job to fill the order book for 2012 and 2013!

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