Last year, way before Covid-19 occupied every waking moment, AV News made the short trip to Eindhoven to visit CTOUCH’s HQ and to hear about their new product roadmap. What we found was a company full of ideas, innovative strategies and confidence. And then came the virus. CTOUCH’s Francois Barlinckhoff tells how the company has limited the impact of Covid-19 while forging ahead with the new modular product strategy.
When the assorted crowd of distribution partners, systems integrators and journalists sat down in the CTouch warehouse to hear about the evolving CTOUCH product roadmap, not only did we learn about new iFPD models (kind of expected), but a whole new product strategy (definitely un expected). Here was a manufacturer of interactive displays not grabbing every available euro at the outset, but evolving the solution, and the customer spend, over time and in accordance with need.
Francois Barlinckhoff explains why CTOUCH feels t Che need to be different to other manufacturers. He also describes customer reaction to Touch’s new way of specifying and buying a product: “Our partners and end customers find the new strategy refreshing. The good thing about the BRIX concept is that it’s modular. In other words, you pay only for what you use. You pay for what you want now, and you don’t have to pay now for what you might need in the future.”
“Right now, in this time and in these circumstances, this helps a lot. People suddenly have to think: ‘what do I need in my meeting room. Do I need A, B, or C? I don’t know.’ So we say: OK. “You can choose this one for now – a BRIX Pro, for example. You can do your whiteboarding, and integrate your room booking. Later on, after six or eight months, you might say: ‘OK, I need video as well.’ No problem, the customer can upgrade BRIX modules, so he doesn’t have to replace the whole display.”
In contrast, Barlinckhoff points out, other manufacturers are making complete and possibly partially redundant displays. “If you have a range of complete displays, the customer has to pay a lot of money, but he doesn’t necessarily know if he wants to use the complete range of capabilities in every meeting room. What we say is: “OK, choose whatever you want! Maybe you can start slow and then upgrade. So just pay for what you need now, and then add. In the current environment, the customer reactions to this has been very, very good.”
Barlinckhoff continues: “Also, because of MS Teams the market grows at 150 to 300 percent. The magic word is definitely Teams. We see a lot a lot of demand for our dedicated Teams solutions and, so far, the response is overwhelmingly positive.”
But does the BRIX not make inventory management a nightmare, with the potential for dozens of different SKUs? Barlinckhoff: “Not at all. We have manufactured two world beating touchscreens. This is the starting point. The modules can be used in any of these screens. SO if anything we have streamlined our portfolio, whilst also simplifying it immensly.” Local assembly in CTouch’s home country of the Netherlands means that engineering support and lead times are reasonable.
But just how fundamental can the upgrades be – do they extend, for example, to the glass (CTouch offers a choice of its own proprietary technology or FlatFrog)? Barlinckhoff: “Customers rarely understand the whole technology. So, what we’ve
made is two displays. One is based on Android. The other one doesn’t have any OS inside. What we saw, and what we have learned is that big corporates are saying: “I don’t want Android because of security. I want to have just a touch screen, a touch display without Android, so it’s secure for my system. I want to have Office 365 on it. And of course, the writing functionality has to be brilliant!”
“And that’s why we added the Flat Frog technology in one of our screens and TrueBeam Technology in another. It’s not that everybody’s asking, ‘Can I have the FlatFrog technology’ – the end-user generally doesn’t know enough to ask for that. We say to the end-user, ‘It doesn’t matter. Choose your BRIX and choose your layer. Do you want to have Android? If not, that’s fine with me!”
CTOUCH is one of the few manufacturers of collaborative technology to maintain a strong position in the education sector – why is this important? Barlinckhoff: “We have a market penetration of 80, 90 percent of Dutch education displays. But if you look, for example, to Germany, France, Spain, these countries are a way of these kinds of numbers. When Germany, for example, went into the lockdown they didn’t have so much interactive technology in place. And correspondingly, they didn’t have so much content. So they had to send the students home, with some print outs, and no online things. The whole infrastructure of I.T. was not there! We are seeing massive growth in these countries”
“So suddenly, we get all kinds of tenders happening. 4000 here, 5000 here – and so it’s growing fast. So we have maintained a strong position. Education has always been of the upmost importance to us. I think everyone now understands how important the Education sector is. On top of that, we have worldwide growth in the corporate market, which is growing massively and because of Coronavirus.”
This time of intense market activity is exactly the time when CTOUCH would want to be in touch with its customers. Barlinckhoff is naturally frustrated: “I’m very involved with sales. After a month or two months of lockdown, I was missing people. But now I’m doing a lot of training, demos, et cetera, with customers, at their customer sites, and it’s always good to see each other. Of course, you can do it online, but it’s the human, face-to-face factor you miss. It’s the small talk around the coffee machine, or a chat about last nights game over lunch. Thankfully we invested, just before the Coronavirus, in a training room. The room has state-of-the-art technology so we can deliver professional training courses online. It also allows us to deliver product demonstrations all over the world with 25 participants.”
The new training facility is a result of a partnership that CTOUCH have with Kinley in the Netherlands. Barlinckhoff: “It means that we can reach out to resellers. We’ve been doing live demos to resellers and end-users throughout lockdown. It’s meant that we haven’t lost that human touch completely. Plus, we’ve still been able to send screens out to customers – whilst, we’ve all got screens at home.”
Sales in lockdown
So despite the restrictions on travel, events and even one-to-one presentations, introducing the new CTOUCH concept to the international market requires some special characteristics and skills in those tasked with selling. Barlinckhoff: “We know that corporate sales are very different to education. It’s very much a solution cell for corporate products. And you really need to understand the customer requirements, their I.T. infrastructure and setup. And to do that, we have to find the right resellers. So when we’re rolling the BRIX concept out in the UK, which will be over the next two or three months, we will be actively looking for those resellers to become accredited to sell these new solutions.”
“They obviously have to possess in depth integration experience, particularly experience with Office 365/ Teams integration, because we want to ensure that the end-users get the very best experience from the installation of our products. So, it’s early days in the UK, but as I mentioned, we are actively seeking a reseller base which has this knowledge.”
And the corporate sector – also going through fundamental change? Change is not just a function of Coronavirus: Barlinckhoff: “No, I think this has been happening for a couple of years. Everybody was saying, yeah, ‘you can work at home’ but nobody was actually doing it. Everybody was driving to the office and then working from 9:00 to 5:00 and then driving back. Now, suddenly, we are forced to do that to work at home. And now a lot of people have realised: ‘Oh, it really works’. On a corporate scale a lot of companies are saying: “I have two thousand employees, let’s do a thousand at home and a thousand in the office. It saves me a lot of money, increases productivity, and it works.”
So you believe that the current growth in the corporate sector will be sustained? Barlinckhoff: “There are thirty two million huddle spaces in the world. Only 12 percent is currently equipped with video. Only 12 percent, so there’s a huge way to go. That’s very good news for us.”
But CTOUCH’s innovations don’t stop at the new features described above. Another introduction in Eindhoven last year was a range of coloured bezels that will undoubtedly make the company’s technology stand out from an almost universal sea of black, with the occasional cream and a red. If colour leaves you cold, the addition of new technical features, particularly software, just might float your boat.
Here CTOUCH has chosen to partner with those who specialise in the development of suitable products. Barlinckhoff explains why: “The thing is about software is that it changes every day – so fast. So you need a team of maybe 50 people constantly working on it every day. That’s that’s very, very expensive. If you have the right partners, then it is not necessary. For example, we can never beat Microsoft at software development -we can never make a Teams alternative ourselves. The only thing we can do is work with them. So we do. Otherwise, if we are starting now, today with 50 people making our own software, it takes us like five years. It takes us like maybe 50 years to be as good as Teams. So you have to have the right partners, and we are very fortunate in that respect!”
So, look out for solutions developed in partnership. Look out for colour coded bezels in October (for the first one) – Coronavirus willing.