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Meet your integrator: Focus 21

Focus 21 sales director Darren Barton-Taylor gives overview of the business – now in its 20th year – and the current trends and challenges he’s seeing in the AV market

Focus 21 sales director Darren Barton-Taylor gives AVTE readers an overview of the business – now in its 20th year – the current trends and challenges he’s seeing in the AV market today and how integrators are saving businesses time, money and stress

Hi Darren. Tell me about Focus 21. 

Focus 21 is a specialist AV integrator. Our role is to fulfill design and build projects for clients for every element from video conferencing through to digital signage. Last year we became the UK’s first AV Provider of Excellence (APEx) with InfoComm which is testament to our dedication to training for our teams and ensuring that we deliver excellent quality for our clients.

What is your typical target market?

We specialise in the coporate sector and have lots of experience with law/legal firms, financial institutions, hedge funds, banks and various corporate headquarters.

Increasingly we are being asked to also look after retail projects, contact centres and digital signage projects by clients who we have installed corporate solutions for.

How has the industry changed in recent years?

The industry has moved towards IT networks with integration of the two disciplines working very closely together. In recent years the technology has moved from analogue to digital for audio and video. The customer base has also become extremely well educated which enables us to innovate and look at a variety of options with the client who can make an informed decision about established and emerging technologies.

What about the subject of AV/IT convergence? 

It has changed our engineering resource, with the teams moving from projection experts to network experts. The co-ordination at the start of a project is based alot around the IT and build schedule of a building as AV/IT is becoming an established service to be considered in the overall building design. Now, collaboration and meeting spaces are more of a platform conversation and there are so many great products emerging to make that a seamless experience for the user which merges both IT and AV products and disciplines.

What trends are you seeing in the market?

A major trend is the move from LED displays rather than projection as the pixel pitch is now high enough for auditorium and meeting environments. The emergence of Skype for Business across hundreds of businesses and the requirement for smaller VC and Huddle Rooms is increasing for clients who are working rapidly on a global scale.

Are you seeing any changes in attitudes by businesses towards having good quality AV?

Large screens have become more cost effective which means that the customer can afford to put larger screens into larger rooms. When we work on new builds or refurbishments there is also a focus on digitally enabling all the meeting spaces and providing VC as standard, rather than focusing on just the main boardrooms. That’s testament to the importance of good quality AV to businesses in their daily operations now. We also work long term with many of our clients and AV decisions are a board level conversation now, which is great news.

What’s your favourite piece of kit right now?

I really like the MXA910 ceiling array microphone as its a classic example of looking at the requirements of the end user and integrator and creating a product which suits them giving a great end result. We are also looking at a number of interactive panels and Skype Room Systems at the moment which give a great collaboration experience for meetings requiring a creative output.

What are the biggest obstacles?

As the industry is so very busy at the moment, finding engineers of a high calibre that are able to work to our high standards is a frustration and an ongoing battle.

Why should end users go through an integrator and not attempt to do things alone?

Time, quality and expertise. Many IT managers have the expertise to integrate a certain amount of AV themselves, which is great and so it comes down to if they have the time to do the projects themselves. Our teams offer a very specific knowledge and are InfoComm trained in everything from throw and optimal viewing distances to cabling and the latest video-conferencing technologies. Sometimes using an integrator is helpful to assist in the debate between consumer products and how those may or may not work in the commercial space. From an ongoing basis integrators can provide service and maintenance, supported by relationships with manufacturers that can make this happen quickly or they will hold replacement parts to have things back up and running smoothly.

How important is having good quality AV for a business? 

It’s about the experience for the people using the room and getting the best out of meeting participants. A good AV system will always maximize productivity. In contrast, a bad one can be tiring on your sight and for those in the room. The use of a meeting room should be an enjoyable and seamless experience. Digital signage should be easy to manage and reliable, while centerpieces in lobbies and communal spaces should be impactful and striking. If you can achieve that, then AV can have a great positive impact on both internal and external audiences.