Christian Bozeat’s first involvement in the AV industry came when he was working in Australia, during a spell of travel around the world.
“It was the very early stages of content being distributed around Australia,” he recalls. “They had no internet, they couldn’t get the music around anywhere, so we used to stream it up via satellite and decode it, so you could get the latest music in the middle of the outback.” After selling these systems into bars and hotels he also started designing them, and found that he really enjoyed what he was doing.
Returning to the UK, he worked for Jonathan Pengilley (now managing director of Habitech) at an integrator called DDI. He moved on in the integration world to Matrix Display Systems, than Saville AV, then to Electrosonic for six years. “I always had a passion for quality engineering and it was reinforced in Electrosonic, where I learned a huge amount,” he says – including “understanding a design process, understanding an installation process and project management that was very AV specific.”
Believing that there was room in the market for a different approach – “I was responding to lots of tenders and I felt that there were areas that could be enhanced” – he set up his own consultancy with a business partner in 2012. “We had a great time of it – I was around the world working for Shell, BP, Wipro... I worked pretty much all over the world and I took all my knowledge from the UK and looked at how that was being deployed and the challenges in the construction processes in other marketplaces, which was really interesting.”
This experience, he says, helped him to “understand the challenges of deploying complex technology into really challenging locations, really challenging cultures... and construction cultures, because it’s not just the people that are different. You have to deal with people differently and have to have empathy for the way that they work and understand that you’re in their area. You have to understand their construction processes, which can be a little different, and you get a lot out of that. But also you can give a lot back: in the middle of the Congo they might not understand some of the processes that we’ve developed for a while that are going to help them out.”
After leaving that consultancy, he met up with Michael Kottke, who had been looking to expand macom beyond Germany for some time. “It was pretty clear for both of us as soon as we spoke that actually – that’s it, done, thanks very much! We understood where we wanted to go... We have the same passion, we understand the construction process in the same way and the challenges it presents, and how we can help, and be part of the solution rather than the problem.”
Kottke is now operations director of macom GmbH (UK), while Bozeat is managing director. “If Germans are known for anything around the world, it’s engineering quality – and so we kept the GmbH in the company name because we wanted people to understand that it is a German-based engineering company.”
The UK company has been established for a year and a half, and has grown “500%, I think” in staff numbers during that time, with in-house engineers, CAD designers and consultants. The head office is in Stuttgart, and macom has 10 locations in all, including Barcelona and London.
One important role for an AV consultancy, he says, is to help the client think more deeply about its working environment.
“Technology is changing, and has the ability to change the way we work. But if you just go in and you look at it from a new building and construction piece, and then by the time we get to it, the meeting rooms are already defined. We try and engage with clients much earlier in the process – what is your business trying to achieve? Where are you trying to improve your productivity? Where are you trying to push the boundaries in your particular business? – and work with the different teams within that.”
Taking a cue from the IT world, where testing is much more established, “we work through that process. We might say, ‘OK, you work like this. These types of technology could help you. Let’s put a proof of concept together – let’s monitor it, manage it, and see what the results are out of the back end of that.’”
If the results are successful, the next stage is to standardise. “We can look at the software and architecture, the operational concepts that go with that, which all affect the user journey, the way that AV is seen and the way that it’s utilised. Once we’ve got those proofs of concept defined, then we can bring up the concepts for your new buildings and new deployments, and then work out how we roll it out on a global scale.”
It’s also important – particularly if the aim is to steer users into a new way of working – that people trust the new AV system; so it must be is properly supported and managed. “The technology is there to be able to do that – software management tools, remote access to devices, a whole series of things that can be deployed if you have a proper strategic view of how you’re going to deploy your entire portfolio. People do it in IT – why have we not done it in AV? I think that tide is turning now.”
Bozeat believes that AV and IT people need to work more closely together, and understand each other’s worlds better. “We absolutely need our IT cousins – we have a far greater reliance on the network, on bandwidth availability, and on understanding some switches won’t work with certain devices. There’s a big conversation to be had with IT so we need to work very closely with them.”
He continues: “What I think is important is for IT teams to understand is that there are different skill sets within AV which they don’t necessarily understand, and they need to work with us on.” The construction process doesn’t really impinge on the IT world, whereas “I have to talk to people about ceilings and speaker placement and bolting things to walls, and floorbox locations and heat loads… [IT people] don’t have to talk to the construction guys, so they don’t have to have an empathy with how that construction process is going.”
"Smart buildings at the moment are not really smart, they're enhanced-reporting buildings"
IT people don’t always think about the wider context for products, he continues. “Microsoft Surface Hub, for example, is a very good product but you need to think about how it’s going to be deployed, and what software you’re going to utilise with it, whether it actually needs another PC to do the things you want to do with it, and then how it’s going to be integrated into the space, how’s the audio going to work in that space, do you need additional audio, do you need additional cameras…?” Simply buying a load of products, however sophisticated they are, will not solve your problems, he asserts.
He’s also clear on the importance of clients working out their strategies in a number of technology areas. “It’s like smart buildings, which are something that we do a huge amount on. Smart buildings at the moment are not really smart, they’re enhanced-reporting buildings – but they’re on their way. But unless you have a strategy for what you want it to do, why do you want a smart building? Is every building that you have around the world doing it? What’s your strategy for gathering [the data]? Once you gather it, what are you going to do with it? Who’s going to review it and make the decisions before AI starts to kick in? If you want to go to full AI, you have to have a plan in place now to get there.”
Regarding the AV integration, “you have to have a room booking strategy, you have to have a UC strategy, you have to have an AV strategy, and all of these things tie in together, which is where macom comes in, to try and pull all these pieces together.
“One of the things that we’ve been looking at in a construction programme is a master services consultant. You might have an AV consultant or a designer, a integrator, an M&E consultant, a security consultant, an architect in there, but somebody needs to pull all those technology pieces together, and they need to make sure that it functions together so that the reporting can be done together.”
He believes that the construction process can be “a fairly major blocker to technology advancement.” He outlines the familiar scenario where the AV team is only called in after all the major architectural design decisions have been made. “But rather than using technology to resolve the issue for a space, we should be working as a team, the architectural team and the technologists, to inform the spaces together and create better working environments.
“I think there is a really big case for working a lot closer with the architectural teams and the IT teams to understand the challenges that these amazing advances in technology put on the construction process.”
When macom UK was announced, the company itself made the point that a German company was spreading its wings into the UK ‘despite Brexit’. So does he think that Brexit will have an effect on the UK’s AV industry?
“I think it will, but what it is, I don’t know. I don’t think anybody does. Moves and changes are never really bad in the construction industry, and… leveraging technology to address the challenges that Brexit may or may not bring is certainly in the forefront of our minds.
“If you’re going to be working from home, or in a different country, then you certainly need to have the communication tools to be able to do that. And if you’re moving to the UK or from the UK, you need to be supported within those environments.”