This Integration Guide was sponsored by Atlona, KanexPro, Luxul, and Peerless-AV as a supplement to Residential Systems, June 2017
Home integration is experiencing a renaissance that is difficult to ignore. From shifts in how consumers are using technology expressly created for their living space to the expansion of home technology professionals’ knowledge and skillsets in answer to growing networking demands, residential systems integration remains a potent and viable sector, even as achieving profit margins continues to require new approaches to project design and employment of more creative ways to bring in clients.
Southtown Audio Video’s Heather Sidorowicz noted that companies competing in larger commercial bids should consider CTS certification through InfoComm. This project is an example of her company’s crossover work.
It is of little surprise then that more residential integrators are crossing over into the light commercial integration space—a straddling of two markets that has become easier as products, technology, and user requirements have steadily evolved and converged to effectively blur a once heavily defined line.
“Our connection to commercial has always been by focusing on areas traditionally often overlooked by commercial integrators, including a higher level of fit and finish, simplicity of the user experience, and creative approaches to addressing user needs, rather than focusing on a bid specification,” said Mark Hoffenberg, CEO and president of AudioVisions, who broached the commercial/residential divide way back in 1991 when his team worked on the first Virgin Megastore. “We do not generally respond to commercial bid specs and instead focus on referral-based commercial projects that often come from existing clients.”
Bringing a residential systems integrator’s mindset to the light commercial sector has its positives (as Hoffenberg outlined above) and negatives. Crossing over from the aesthetic-focused, small-team, timeline-flexible world of home projects into the deadline-driven, large-team production of commercial projects can be disorienting and often requires a bit of a learning curve. So, how can this be done successfully?
The emphasis on training is a linchpin of systems integration across all categories and sectors. The confluence of creative home integration project design with the lightning-fast development of robust new technologies such as voice control, wireless networks, and IP networking coupled with the giant presence of IoT, has injected systems integrators with a host of new skills in a relatively short period of time. Keeping up has become critical, and industry organizations such as CEDIA and InfoComm have played a huge part in bringing key players up to speed. For many residential systems integrators looking to add light commercial projects to their portfolio, InfoComm’s CTS (Certified Technology Specialist) certification has become an important first step—and, with three different forms of the certification available (CTS for general technology solution tasks, CTS-D for AV design specialization, and CTS-I for AV system installation specialization) integrators can cover all their bases whether working on a residential or commercial job.
Casaplex’s Amer Din said that his team often uses enterprise-grade products in residential integration products, but in some instances the reverse is true, especially if budgetary limitations exert influence. This project is an example of his company’s boardroom work.
“Certainly, one should aim to become CTS certified through InfoComm, as this is often required on larger bids,” noted Heather Sidorowicz, president and owner of Southtown Audio Video NYS WBE. “As for light commercial, most knowledge from residential works perfectly for light commercial. As you pick up more commercial brands, I would highly recommend requesting training on those products and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Many commercial distributors offer design help so you know you are spec’ing the right solution.”
Drew Balsman, who heads up integration firm HD Media Systems, has found that having training in multiple areas has boosted his commercial integration prospects, which has led to better health for his business. “Things like extra safety training and OSHA training are a given in this space,” Balsman explained. “Specialized training in areas such as IT, access control, and cameras has also been huge for us. However, the biggest investment and most important training we have done in this space has to be NICET training. Every market is different, but for us getting guys NICET certified so we can do commercial fire panels has made a huge impact on us getting opportunities to bid other commercial items.”
Industry-grade certification should be paired with product training, which is often offered by the manufacturer as part and parcel of vendor deals. Intimate knowledge of the functions and limitations of your product roster can boost confidence in cleverly designing successful commercial systems with products not often thought of as a fit for that sector. A prime example of this is the approach used by New York-based integration company Cloud9 Smart. With a core commercial AV business grounded in the installation of conference rooms, Cloud9’s sales and technical teams are trained in five typical pre-engineered conference room packages, making the bidding process faster and easier, but the team is also versed in the functionality of residentially recognized brands and how to successfully apply those features in a commercial setting.
“We use Savant for our control system and Lutron for lighting and shade control, so our operations team is using the same brands they are trained on for our residential products, and know some of the workarounds we use to make it them more commercial friendly,” said Bruce Reed, senior systems engineer at Cloud9. “Our technical teams are also trained internally on our conference-focused product lines from brands like Polycom, ClearOne, and Vaddio.”
Reed added that Cloud9 has maintained an in-house IT department since the company’s inception. “Everyone in our technical department has some level of networking training,” he said. “Networking is much more complicated in a commercial space, and being able to speak with IT vendors about the networking requirements in a commercial AV project is critical.”
A focus on project management training cannot be underestimated: even light commercial projects can move with a swiftness that is often induced by multiple crew and contractor deadlines and changes. Staying on top of, or even ahead of where you are in the project scheme can save your team from headaches, delays, and embarrassment.
“Most of the training is focused on our project management teams,” Hoffenberg noted. “Since commercial projects usually require a higher level of engagement, weekly meetings, progress reports submitted in writing, [and] specific timelines, it was important for them to understand the differences between residential and commercial. At the end of the project, our programming team also needed to shift their mindset to ensure that each system was immediately user friendly, even if that ultimately meant removing some features we would traditionally include.”
KNOW THE DIFFERENCE
For residential systems integrators used to the slower pace of installation projects and the smaller team configurations involved in project completion, the transition to commercial can be jarring, especially when the CI is not the only technology expert in the room.
Cloud9’s Bruce Reed, said that his company’s technical teams are trained internally on conference-focused product lines from brands like Polycom, ClearOne, and Vaddio. This project is an example of Cloud9’s commercial work.
“When working with IT-focused stakeholders, because so much of the AV system overlaps into IT infrastructure, it’s important to clearly draw the line between where the AV vendor work ends and the IT vendor work begins,” Reed advised. “We typically build out a detailed responsibility matrix showing who will be installing the network, the Wi-Fi, and the client’s PCs. We make spreadsheets that outline the networking scheme for the AV equipment within the IT provider’s network, and make networking schematics showing how our devices will be physically connected to the site’s network. All of this supplies peace of mind to the IT stakeholder who may be worried about what exactly you are bringing into their world.”
Hyper vigilance of your status in the production schedule was further underscored by Balsman, who explained that the incredible turnaround speed of projects means forging a relationship with other subcontractors. “You have to keep a constant eye on how things are progressing because general contractors are almost always on huge production deadlines, sometimes to the point of if they are not completed by a certain date a fine is incurred,” Reed said. “Building solid relationships with subs is vital. Someone that is willing to give you a call and give you a heads up can be huge.”
The shorter production time is often why Hoffenberg assigns a larger technical team to commercial projects, and also why he emphasizes a full understanding of the systems being installed.
“The difficulty in designing a commercial project is that your primary contact is usually the builder or company IT specialist and not the actual end user, and often their understanding of the end use case is less than perfect,” Hoffenberg said. “This means you have to do a more thorough job of truly understanding what the ultimate use of the system will be.”
Amer Din, who serves as general manager and COO for integration firm Casaplex, noted that his team often uses enterprise-grade products in residential integration products, but in some instances the reverse is true, especially if budgetary limitations exert influence.
“We recently deployed a full network, power conditioning, battery backup, surveillance, and access control system on a working farm that also contains three homes for the farm owner and family,” Din said. “Our largest hurdle was overall budget and costs. As the client was best served using an all-inclusive solution, residential-grade power devices were used in conjunction with enterprise-grade network, surveillance, and access control gear.”
Sidorowicz’s team has used this approach as well, though her Southtown Audio Video team often adheres to a commercial-only products rule when it comes to specifying control, power, and processing technology. Recently, at the University of Buffalo’s Athletic Training Center, Southtown Audio Video utilized Paradigm speakers with independently zoned volume control via DBX Zone Pro with more residential-based control when costs forced a decision.
“Power was by Crown and processing was by Atlona, who also plays on both sides,” Sidorowicz said of the project. “The challenge was price; at the time, we were breaking in with this client, so it was necessary to find a middle ground.”
Product overlap is also nothing new for Reed’s Cloud9 Smart firm, where Savant control systems are used in typical conference room installations, though not without some hurdles. Cloud9 has come up with a solution that continues to work for its team.
“One of the challenges we’ve had to overcome with using Savant in commercial environments is customization for controlling conference room-focused equipment,” Reed noted. “We’ve created custom GUI pages for the Polycom Group Series videoconference products, the Sound Structure line of products, ClearOne’s Interact line, and many more. Because it’s pretty outside the usual Savant tech support realm of expertise, we’ve had to make a focused effort to standardize and stick to our typical design approach whenever possible, so that we’re are not spending huge amounts of time troubleshooting profiles and building custom pages.”
HD Media Systems’ Balsman tries to stick to enterprise-grade products especially because they are made for commercial projects and urges his fellow integrators to get out their residential-focused comfort zones when spec’ing for these large installations.
“Don’t be afraid to learn new brands and techniques,” Balsman said, adding that his experience using a residential-grade control system in a boardroom setting made it difficult for the system to work seamlessly. Balsman’s team eventually were able to successfully complete the project using lots of third-party products, but it forced them to find a new control line better suited to their commercial products.
AudioVisions’ projects often include a mix of commercial and residential products. “Examples of this include using Cisco Enterprise networking equipment in residential projects and Apple TVs in commercial projects,” Hoffenberg said. “The key is to understand how the space will be used and find matching equipment that people are comfortable using.”
Having suffered an alarming downturn in the late 2000s, it is with some relief that the custom integration market is back on its feet, but survival has been aided not only by a quick adjustment to new economic and tech norms but also by a determination to diversify and expand integration offerings to stay fiscally healthy.
“Diversification in residential and commercial jobs is a necessary act of survival for integrators; if the housing/real estate market is [not] doing well, there are other areas in which efforts can be focused. This is how Casaplex made it through the recession,” Din noted.
Din’s point of view is shared across the board, the sting of the recent financial crisis still faintly pulsing in the background. Having a full and diverse schedule of integration projects certainly can’t hurt.
Llanor Alleyne is a contributing editor to Residential Systems.
COMMERCIAL CROSSOVER PRODUCTS
KanexPro’s new line of HDMI 2.0 Matrix Switchers (pictured) feature 18 Gbps of bandwidth for each HDMI input and output, as well as a video resolution to support up to 4K/60Hz. With fast switching up to 0.2 seconds when used with several video sources to 4K display, the HDMI 2.0 Matrix is the ultimate switching solution. The HDMI 2.0 Matrix includes four additional audio ports via S/PDIF connectors to support audio de-embedding from HDMI and can be fully controlled via RD-232, IR and Web based GUI using Ethernet where end-users can switch, control and manage the matrix using graphical and visual indicators directly from the computer or touch-panels.
The Epic line of routers from Luxul (pictured) offers a platform for optimizing the user experience in smart homes, workplaces, and retail establishments. This experience is delivered through Luxul and third-party applications running on the Epic platform, including enhanced content filtering from Router Limits, remote management tools from Domotz, and additional applications, including Ihiji’s remote network management tools and Luxul’s Roam-Assist wireless controller technology, which is on its way. Any and all of these advanced features can be implemented at the integrator’s discretion. The Epic 4 Series is designed to offer a solid 600+ Mbps WAN to LAN performance experience, while the Epic 5 is designed for higher-end installations relying on a fiber connection offering a full gigabit per second.
COMMERCIAL CROSSOVER PRODUCTS
Atlona’s AT-UHD-CLSO-840 is an eight-input, four-output 4K HDMI and HDBaseT matrix switcher built for videoconferencing, multi-screen presentations, and divisible room installations. The CLSO-840 (pictured) offers both local and remote inputs and outputs for flexibility across AV formats and connectivity options, providing a powerful matrix solution for classroom, corporate, and hospitality environments. The new matrix is equipped with five HDMI and three HDBaseT inputs, two HDMI outputs, and two HDBaseT outputs.
COMMERCIAL CROSSOVER VIEWPOINT
WHEN INTEGRATORS MOVE FROM RESIDENTIAL TO LIGHT COMMERCIAL, HOW DO YOUR PRODUCT OFFERINGS HELP ACCOMMODATE THIS SHIFT?
BY CHAD RUSSELL, REGIONAL SALES MANAGER, RESIDENTIAL – WEST, ATLONA
Atlona’s product line is structured in a way that makes it easy for installers to break out of that point-to-point sandbox as the systems grow larger. Our HDVS line is a perfect solution for the scenario I mentioned above; as installers move onto enterprise-level systems, our CLSO and OmniStream products, for example, support a multi-source architecture to move from one source point to multiple displays. The connections and the end points may be the same— encoders and decoders, transmitters and receivers—but as installers scale up, Atlona provides ways to move all these signals over the network to serve multiple end points. We offer a clear progression in our product line to become even more efficient as systems scale.”
BY KASHYAP KHETIA, SENIOR PRODUCT MARKETING MANAGER, KANEXPRO
We’re committed to developing products for every application, whether it’s residential or commercial. With the shift from residential to light commercial, we’ve developed products that enhance the ability to connect and present or ‘Bring Your Own Device.’ Many of our new products, including the 4x4 and 8x8 HDMI 2.0 and UltraSlim Extender and Switcher, provide our integrators with reliable, feature-rich products for meeting rooms, small corporate offices, classrooms and lecture halls, and other locations where the need to connect and present within seconds is crucial. There’s a growing emphasis on the ability to collaborate with any device in any location and we continue to develop products to serve those needs, and provide our integrators with solutions to any project they have in the workplace.”
BY CLARK ROUNDY, VP, MARKETING AND PRODUCT MANAGEMENT, LUXUL
Luxul considers the use of our equipment to be interchangeable between residential and light commercial applications. Additionally, Luxul offers integrators a wide range of options that can be adapted and scaled to installations of virtually any size and budget. This is true on both the wireless as well as the wired side of the network. As an example, our new Epic series of routers gives integrators a choice of options that can be used depending on the size, scope and performance requirements of the network being designed at the time. Finally, regardless of which Luxul products are being used, the implementation and user interface is common across the product line. So, whether the system is designed for a residential or a commercial environment, the integrator will find a familiar approach to installation, setup and optimization of the network.”