I have been interviewing new techs and installers lately to bring on a couple of more people to the team. It was a long, grueling day yesterday, meeting with 17 applicants and interviewing them all. There were several we liked a lot and will likely bring back for second round interviews. Part of the interview process was to discuss the products they are currently working with and their opinions of the pros and cons. I was focusing mainly on control systems, networking/remote management systems and, to some extent, media distribution. One thing I found consistent throughout all 17 interviews was that no one is happy with all aspects of any product range, although, overall, there are a lot of good options out there with more positives than negatives.
Within the control system category, the main benefits I heard were ease of deployment/programming. Comments included that clients love it, that it’s easy to explain to clients, and it does everything needed for the system and covers all of the subsystems well. Negative comments tended to be either about a certain control system being too complicated to program or too limited in its user interface. These negatives were typically mutually exclusive; hard-to-program systems had very customizable GUIs and those with limited user interfaces were really easy to deploy and program. On the whole, most of the interviewees seemed really happy with the control systems that their companies were deploying.
Responses about networking gear seemed very hit and miss. Some really loved the gear they used, while others felt the same gear was subpar or not robust and reliable. The biggest gripes I heard about networking gear were about reliability and faulty firmware. On the other hand, most were pretty positive about the networking equipment they were installing. Everything from Araknis to Ubiquiti to Luxul and Pakedge got mostly good reviews. Some GUIs were more difficult than others, most had little idiosyncrasies that took some getting used to, but on the whole, a solid product line up. It seemed that Araknis and Ubiquity were the ones most liked, mainly for price point (Ubiquiti) and reliability/tech-support as well as a decent price (Araknis). Most liked the Pakedge GUI, except those who came from a networking background and preferred a more technical and traditional interface.
Remote management got a lot of mixed reviews. Everyone LOVED being able to service client sites without having to physically go there, but almost everyone had some form of wish list for the service that their company employs, and the concerns were consistent for each provider. Some providers have an inordinate amount of false positives because they send an alert if a device doesn’t communicate with the server for more than 10 minutes, with no mechanism to adjust the time limit. Others require a lot of set up at initial install to map every connection and parent/child relationship. Yet another does not have a very good mobile interface and most of the troubleshooting is happening after-hours or while in the field, so mobile is critical. On the positive side, having the tool is something no one is willing to give up. The amount of service calls and time it saves everyone is life-changing.
Finally, media distribution is a thorn in everyone’s side. The challenges of 4K HDR and possibly 8K down the road along with the bandwidth limitation of Category cable has everyone on edge about the installs and pre-wires being done today and how to “future proof” for tomorrow, especially in a market where running conduit or pulling wire in the future is not feasible (pre-war construction apartment buildings with cinderblock or clay walls, concrete slab ceilings and no attics or basements). While clients love the idea of everything centralized and not seeing anything in a room except for a TV on the wall and integrators are making good money selling and installing these systems, there is a lot of agita out there.
I strongly encourage all of you to talk to as many people at different companies as you can. Either get on some of the Facebook groups, attend networking events or when you are hiring talk to the techs about topics you are researching or having issues with. There is no better way to gain market intelligence than to network and ask the questions.