Office buyers are responsible for the acquisition of all manner of business technologies, with AV an increasingly important constituent. In this report, AV News looks at the requirements of the office sector for meeting room and office solutions, and the purchase route followed by decision makers.
As of February this year, of the 29.3 million gainfully employed 21.2 million were classified, by the Office of National Statistics (ONS), as working in the service sector – that is, not in manufacturing, agriculture, construction, energy and water. Even within these organisations falling outside the ‘service sector’, there are offices.
Again according to the ONS, there were 2.10 million enterprises registered for VAT and/or PAYE in March 2010. Corporate businesses (companies and public corporations) represented 58.9 per cent of total enterprises, when measured by employees. Sole proprietors and partnerships account for 37% per cent of total enterprises, with general government and non-profit making up the balance.
Construction accounts for 13.1% of all enterprises and retail has 9.0% – these people are less likely to work in an office. As for the remaining 70 odd per cent, it adds up to a shed-load of offices. The professional, scientific and technical sector accounts for the largest number of businesses with 15.4 per cent of all enterprises registered – they all work in offices (or labs as some of them call their offices).
On the basis of the figures, and including the 631,000 people in the UK who claim to have a home office, we estimate that the ‘office market’ in the UK represents more than 4 million potential installations – and that’s probably conservative.
As an industry, are we doing a good job in addressing this market? The usually infallible editor of AV News once said to a leading distributor that: “The projector is the office printer of the digital age.” Is it? Well, in places it is: The corporate market – that 0.4% of companies and organisations with more than 250 employees – is, we contend, well served by the AV industry. The problem comes with the 98% of companies and organisations with less than 50 employees. We all know that AV technology could benefit them, so why don’t they?
Guy Phelps, corporate sales manager for NEC Display Solutions, thinks it’s probably a question of money:
“The term “office sector” covers an extremely broad spectrum of small business to multinational corporate, but the fundamental benefits of AV use are the same. With resources stretched to the limit, every minute of productivity and every pound of investment is scrutinised in order to maximise its’ benefit. This is a familiar scenario in today’s business environment. Business managers must make budget cuts whilst still being pushed to increase productivity.”
“It seems an impossible task, but a wise investment by the office buyer can potentially make a big difference by addressing both issues. The latest advances in collaborative meeting solutions are proven to increase productivity whilst delivering a cost-effective solution. The key to selling to this sector is understanding the customer’s needs, and therefore their Total Cost of Ownership is crucial to reducing long terms costs, consider the on-going operational costs, maintenance requirements, warranty support offered etc.”
Stuart Davis, group manager, market development at Epson UK accepts that budget is a key issue, but that the complexity of many AV products and solutions deters the office buyer:
“One of the key drawbacks voiced by many businesses about adopting AV technology is both the cost and the complexity of some equipment. It is therefore essential that any products are easy to use and maintain, as well as being cost effective to purchase and run.”
So which technologies would ring the office buyer’s bells? Phelps believes that some of the more recently introduced technologies might offer the ways into this market:
“Video conferencing solutions offer the advantage of reducing travel costs and management time resource. With numerous interactive solutions available we are seeing a new level of interactivity leading to better inclusion and engagement from participants. Large format screens and ultra short throw projection enables businesses to maximise the use of even the smallest meeting room reducing rental costs.”
The multi-functional capabilities of these technologies, Phelps believes, improve the ROI by driving up usage of the solutions:
“With the 24-hour and networking capability of commercial-grade equipment, AV offers the opportunity to maximise the assets through additional uses. For a multi-site corporate, this could be management communication, or staff training. General communication like this is crucial in environments within a business where there the staff are not sat behind computers, are working out-of-hours or in noisy environments. For the office sector, this could be a factory unit or a warehouse, or simply to give a corporate message to reach all staff over a 24 hour shift pattern.”
Davis also highlights the potential of interactive products in the office market, an opinion which is supported by the imminent launches of collaborative projector solutions for the business community by both Hitachi and InFocus, to join the existing solution from Epson:
“The innovative nature of interactive projectors provides businesses with a flexible and cost-effective way to easily integrate interactive capabilities in any meeting space, no matter what shape or size, and it eliminates the need to purchase and install interactive whiteboards. An interactive projector can cost less than half the price of installing a separate projector and interactive whiteboard and equipping workers with the technology and tools they need to be able to do their job more effectively and efficiently enables businesses to improve productivity, cut costs and most importantly increase revenue generation.”
While not wholly in agreement with Davis, Martine Dodwell-Bennett, group sales and marketing director at Steljes, says that there is a growing realisation among office buyers that meetings cost money, and that technologies that make meetings more efficient and effective have a quantifiable value.
“With the flipcharts and dry erase boards found in typical offices it is hard to capture all the information that comes from a meeting. Often notes from meetings are hand written, then transcribed at a later stage and distributed to the team. It’s little wonder that improving the efficiency of meetings has become a high priority for today’s organisations.”
She argues that office buyers are choosing to install interactive whiteboards to create a more collaborative, interactive environment where teams can easily access and interact with information. Where the purchase of an interactive whiteboard solution cannot be justified for every office Steljes offers the TeamMate VariHite as a mobile alternative.
Because it is fully mobile, VariHite enables users to create their own ‘meeting room’ in any suitable office or space. Used in conjunction with Smart Technologies’ collaborative solutions, users can create their own connected ‘meeting room’ where dispersed staff can set up a data conference, utilise touch screen commands, write in digital ink over any application, generate and integrate data, share desktops, and write and save notes immediately with colleagues anywhere in the world.
While the benefits of deploying these and other AV technologies can be compelling, reaching the key decision maker has traditionally been difficult for new suppliers. Phelps believes that there are signs that this is changing:
“In terms of the purchase route followed, the channel has not changed. What has changed, in many cases is who is doing the buying. Often the purchase comes via a facilities department or IT department and increasing we are seeing someone with specific responsibility for specifying AV equipment, project-by-project. In many cases, where there is a new build, the developer will employ the expertise of a consultant with the specific remit to specify the AV requirement.”
But, he adds, the buying process can be more complex in larger organisations:
“The AV purchaser for large organisations will look to the manufacturer for project support at a sales and technical level. There will often be an in-depth process of tendering, examination and specifying before any purchase decision is made. Manufacturers will be required to supply demo equipment and perform side-by-side testing against competitors.”
Phelps concedes that the manufacturer’s focus is inevitably on the corporates, working in partnership with the specifier engaged by the client:
“By engaging with the AV consultant, the ultimate aim is to ensure the customer has the best recommendations that the manufacturer can offer, and allows the flow of additional information that might not necessarily feature in a tender document, such as the scalability potential of the equipment as their business expands. This obviously gives the customer the best grounding for making their decisions, and maximises the chance of a sale.”
Davis is concerned, that outside of the corporate space, too many AV purchases are made ad hoc, from the Internet and without regard for the real needs of the organisation:
“At Epson, we recommend that businesses speak with a specialist AV reseller who will be able to ensure that the product specified is suitable for the requirements of the office environment in question. The specialist AV reseller will be able to ensure the projector is bright enough, installed correctly and has the correct service package. Businesses should also be aware that buying cheaper units online rather than through a specialist AV reseller can risk investment in the wrong model, poor installation and a higher cost long-term due to lamp replacement or service costs.”
Even so, Davis is optimistic that office buyers are increasingly aware that they need to look beyond the flipcharts and dry-erase boards if they are to make meetings more productive. In addition, companies are looking for solutions that support their environmental aspirations by reducing their carbon footprint and helping them to achieve their goal of carbon neutrality.
Epson’s ultra-short-throw products are intelligent and interactive projectors that allow businesses to turn any standard whiteboard or smooth surface, such as a wall or a table, into an interactive presentation area.
A business version of Hitachi’s ultra-short throw projector is scheduled for release following the introduction of the education version at ISE. Where the purchase of an interactive whiteboard solution cannot be justified for every office Steljes offers the TeamMate VariHite as a mobile alternative. Guy Phelps, corporate sales manager for NEC Display Solutions: “The term “office sector” covers an extremely broad spectrum of small business to multinational corporate, but the fundamental benefits of AV use are the same.
Stuart Davis, group manager, market development at Epson UK: “One of the key drawbacks voiced by many businesses about adopting AV technology is both the cost and the complexity of some equipment.”
Selling to the office market: hints and tips
Much of the following will be familiar to you, but, you never know, you might pick up the odd nugget! The focus here is on selling to the 98% of UK businesses that are unlikely to have a corporate account manager:
- Present packaged solutions rather than products – include everything, justify the inclusion and make plain the consequences of putting a red line through specific items. ‘No surprises’ should be your mantra.
- Many office buyers claim not to be brand-sensitive, but they are – there might be a very good case for putting forward that innovative but little known brand, but in this market it won’t work.
- Include training and telephone support in the first order, even if you lose money on it (if a lack of understanding prevents the solution being used, it will be that lack of use that kills the repeat order.)
- Pitch the benefits to the head honcho (in a smaller business it often a case of your AV solution versus a new car or a holiday.)
- Everybody works too hard in smaller businesses– pitch the lifestyle benefits as well as the businesses advantages.
- Business owners are vain – use words like class-leading and innovative, but stay away from ‘pioneering’. Business owners are also cautious – that’s why they are still business owners.
- Business owners are dreamers – paint the bigger picture (international markets, global supply chains etc) alongside an outline roadmap for future investment – but always in the context of measurable and achievable goals.
- Finally, and even though the private sector is allegedly awash with cash, capital purchases can still be difficult – make sure that you have an alternative, such as leasing, squirreled away in your back pocket.