Insights from RDSE from the Focus 21 team


Last week was a great one for events and networking with suppliers and seeking our inspiration from design agencies and new technologies. Big thanks to Exertis for the invitation to their showcase and we can highly recommend Retail Digital Signage Expo which next year will be double its size, taking over the National Hall at Olympia, a huge testament to the development of digital within the retail industry at the moment. 
Fine pitch LED at the forefront of new displays


A few manufacturers were out in force with high pixel pitch LED on display, all of which looked great quality. In recent months we have installed 3 statement LED displays for clients in a variety of resolutions and aspect ratios including the first 1.5mm Samsung LED Display. Their 2.6mm looked great at RDSE with what is one of our favourite tech adverts at the moment playing. The white content worked well and really showed how well the display stood up to solid colour content. 


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hjKd24UCPYY


Marble is on trend
A trend picked up from the RDE element of the show was the amount of marble being used in interior designs for retail in 2017. Digital signage can be seamlessly built into marble backdrops for a high-end feel, particularly popular with the beauty and perfume clients at the show. 
RFID is finding a place in customer insight
RFID applications were scattered throughout the show and we are seeing the use of these moving into customer insight. When activating RFID on specific items you are able to measure how much interest one product has over another, or the most eye catching locations for star products. These insights can then help the merchandising teams in retail to optimise both the placement of product but also the connection with digital signage. 
Retailers are looking to connect digital signage with social media
Social media and the display of integrated channels to connect the business with its online profile at the forefront of the agenda of many retailers we met. More than ever, the instore experience can drive users to the brand’s channels while in store through promotions, interactive signage and content which connects instore and online. This should be at the forefront of audio visual experience, particularly for brands immersed in the millennial market as a core audience. 
Get in touch to talk about your retail digital signage solutions with the Focus 21 team on sales@focus21.co.uk. 

A day in the life: Mark Lyes, Account Manager

How did you become an apprentice at Focus 21? What else did you consider doing at the time? Why AV?

At sixteen years old I had my heart set on being an Electrician, and was looking at apprenticeship opportunities with companies who could sponsor me to take the necessary course at Kingston College. Of all places, I heard from my Nan’s neighbour, who worked for Focus 21, that they regularly take on young people. He gave me a man called Nigel Warrilow’s number and I promptly gave him a call – not knowing he was the Financial Director at the time! We chatted for a bit before he invited me in for an interview. The rest, as they say, is history. 

How did your career progress from there?

I spent three and a half years as an AV apprentice, spending four days working at Focus 21 and one day at college. Most of my apprenticeship was spent building AV systems at head office, learning the trade and occasionally working on-site at installations. 

After gaining a wealth of knowledge and experience in the AV sector I decided to stay with Focus 21 once my studies were finished. From there I trained to become an AV installation engineer, specialising in installing equipment throughout the UK, including LFDs, projectors, mounts and everything in between.

After that I became a Service Engineer and spent the next three and a half years working my way up the ranks and responding to service call outs to client sites all across Europe. 

My next role, which I still hold, was that of Account Manager. Here I focus on key accounts in the financial, law and professional service sectors and draw on my experience and skills gained throughout my career to provide advice, system designs and AV, IPTV and video conferencing solutions on design and build projects throughout Europe.

What particular skills did you develop? What qualifications did you gain?

Alongside my apprenticeship I passed my InfoComms CTS qualification, which provided me with a thorough understanding of the industry and Focus 21’s place within it. It was a vital part of my education in AV that really helped my career progression. 

As a Service Engineer I also took several courses with our manufacturing partners, getting invaluable hands on experience with them and their various technologies, and building lasting relationships along the way.

You've done every type of job in the business - how does that help you now?

Having spent over a decade learning about manufacturer’s technologies, the AV industry as a whole, and working on the front line with clients, I’ve gathered tonnes of knowledge on the entire client installation process, from start to finish. This made the move to Account Manager a natural progression for me, allowing me to draw on my years of experience to work across the whole client project. 

What's your favourite thing about working at Focus 21?

Total comradery with everyone who works in the company – I’ve been around so long now I feel like part of the furniture!  It really does feel like a home from home. 

Your favourite project to be involved with so far?

My favourite project to date has to be our installation with London Stock Exchange. The whole project – the supply and integration of Scala servers and 508 Christies Microtiles – took place over eight weeks, from start to finish. 

Despite the small time frame we managed a successful installation within four weeks – just in time to be opened by George Osborne, who was Chancellor of the Exchequer at the time. There’s nothing like a bit of pressure to spur you into action! 

What are you working on at the moment?

I’m currently working on something exciting with a new client using AV over IP encoders and decoders. It’s a cutting edge project for a US-based financial company looking to open a London office as part of their global expansion. Watch this space!

What would be your advice to an apprentice starting out today?

Make sure you know what you want to achieve in your role; if you don’t have a clear-cut goal you can never measure how far you’ve come. 
 

Authorised reseller of Microsoft Surface Hub

We’re thrilled to announce that we have added Microsoft’s Surface Hub – one of the most exciting corporate tools on the market – to our portfolio. As an authorised reseller we will help businesses deploy Surface Hub into their workplaces for better collaboration and project working.

Surface Hub provides businesses with a complete, connected presentation device built for communication in shared working spaces. Designed with a simple easy-to-use Microsoft interface that will be familiar to users, the Surface Hub is immediately accessible, providing an engaging platform for teams to share and develop their ideas.

Working closely with Microsoft, Focus 21 is now trained to support customers to fully deploy Surface Hub, from project design through to installation and ongoing service.

Jim Harwood MD of Focus 21 comments:

“This achievement is proof of our commitment to providing customers with the latest and greatest products available to the market. Built specifically to enhance collaboration and interaction within a business, Surface Hub is the ultimate corporate tool for businesses on the Microsoft 365 environment. It’s Skype for Business experience combined with seamless sharing makes it a great experience for the user.”

Our Highlights from ISE2017

After a busy time back in the UK, we’re reflecting on ISE 2017 and its inspiration for innovations for collaborative workspaces, digital signage and auditoriums. Here are a few things that caught the eye of the Focus 21 team at the show:

One of the most impressive stands from a display point of view was LG. With their excellent OLED digital signage and B2B LCD solutions, LG’s displays were some of the most vibrant and attractive in the show from an architectural integration point of view, as well as functionality and content reproduction. LG’s 65-inch Dual-View Curved Tiling OLED signage was demonstrated to best effect and eight connected double-sided, flexible OLED panels in a ‘Twister’ formation. In case you didn’t catch it here’s the stand in full flow: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BRNUH7dynSk

Prysm’s Visual Workplace showed a powerful collaboration cloud for teams that work remotely. This immersive environment gives excellent data visualisation which is compatible with screens, video walls and devices, making each surface as easy to use as a tablet. This technology will be great for clients looking to visualise complicated data sets of high-resolution imagery and work on it simultaneously and is one of the best we’ve seen. http://www.prysm.com/solutions/prysm-visual-workplace/

As Crestron, partners we are always the party to their newest products and innovations. As a business, they never fail to be ahead of the curve for corporate solutions and the next generation DigitalMedia NVX Series was our favourite product from them in 2017. Taking network AV to the next level, DM NVX Series can transmit 4K60 4:4:4 HDR video with no latency, giving you an infinitely scalable software-defined matrix. http://www.crestron.com/microsites/digitalmedia-streaming-nvx/

Cabletime’s Mediastar 782 IPTV and Media Player and the Digital Media Decoder 780 are both now available with new remote controls, including wireless keyboards and mouse, which can be used as an interactive wand. The Media Player will also be working hand in hand with Cabletime’s brand new digital signage content creation software, Creator and the tools that enable it to deliver rich HTML support, live IPTV streams and video playout.

Panasonic’s new AF1 digital signage series won an Innovation Award for Digital Signage, and on visiting their stand, we could see why. These displays have a built-in media player which enables them to be controlled by its Android-based OpenPort platform, making them a simple and intuitive digital signage screens for roll out on a large scale.

On the first morning at the show, we won the AV News Integrator of The Year Award which was a great accolade, praised by the judges for our team’s Infocomm training levels and some great installations in 2016 on behalf of our clients. Read all about it here.

Eshe achieves Technologist certification

Eshe Johnson is the latest member of the Focus 21 team to achieve her InfoComm AV Technologist certification. Having joined the team as an administration apprentice two years ago Eshe quickly worked her way up to the role of Customer Service Administrator, developing an ever-growing knowledge of AV technology along the way.

Eshe comments:

“As Customer Service Administrator I’m on the front line when it comes to handling customer calls, talking the customer through the issue, logging the fault and escalating it to the technical support team as necessary. This certification has provided me with a better understanding of both the technology and customers use cases, allowing me to better service their call and recommend the perfect engineer for the job.”

Jim Harwood, Managing Director comments:

“Training is vital for all members of the team, be it engineering, customer care or installation. We’ve got more staff taking this qualification than ever before, giving them a strong understanding of the challenges faced by our customer and how best to solve them.”
 

Integrator of the Year at the AV News Awards

While attending ISE 2017 we were honoured to be awarded with Integrator of The Year at the AV News Awards. Held on the first morning of the exhibition, we took home a hefty glass trophy and plenty of praise from the awards judges. 


Here’s what the judges said;


“Focus 21 is celebrating a record year, growing the business both in terms of installation work, maintenance contracts and market sector. They show dedication to education for the whole team with an astounding 52% of the technical work force now advanced accredited with 28 of 82 people holding CTS, three CTS-D and nine CTS-I. Their service excellence was demonstrated in their incredibly high daily and monthly first time fix records.”


After a great year of innovation and some fantastic projects with both established and new clients, we’d like to thank our team, clients and our manufacturing partners for all your hard work, dedication to excellence and support.  


See the full list of winners from the awards ceremony here: 
 

We’ve renewed our Cisco Channel Partner status

We’ve been granted Cisco channel partner status within the Small and Midsize Business (SMB) Specialization for the 14th consecutive year! This fantastic achievement means we are aligned with Cisco’s product and implementation strategy across all technologies, with a specific focus on collaboration products.

This was achieved through intense studying in order to pass the four SMB exams. The benefits we’re passing on to our clients include regular services training from the Cisco team to ensure that we’re always first to know about new developments and application methodologies. 

This results in us having the best in class product knowledge and we’ll be amongst the first to know about new developments. We will also be working closely with the Cisco team to develop business strategy and supporting collateral for our operation. 

Canon Registered Partner status renewal

Once again our accreditation as a Canon Registered Partner for Projector Solutions has been renewed thanks to our prowess as an AV solutions provider with a track record of delivering value to clients. 

We continue to work closely with Canon through enhanced training and a greater insight into next generation product development. This knowledge will be passed on to our clients so we can ensure they are getting the best products, solutions and services. 

Preferred partners of Avocor

We have become a preferred partner of interactive technology manufacturer Avocor and are proud to be amongst the first to take its flagship VTF series to market.

We have become huge advocates of the VTF series largely because the systems are so intuitive and easy to use, with no need for user adoption training. They feature Avocor’s market-leading InGlass touch technology, an embedded Windows 10 PC and an open platform with no propriety software. These combine to deliver the experience of having a giant tablet on the wall with sizes ranging from 65” to 84”. Users then have everything they need at their finger tips, from browsing the internet to accessing their data and using all the programmes they usually would from a Windows operating system.

Jim Harwood MD of Focus 21 explains:

“The series is specifically designed to enhance collaboration and is ideal for huddle spaces and interactive meeting rooms, something that we are seeing an increased demand for at the moment. The very simple plug in and play system lets multiple presenters easily share their thoughts throughout a discussion, with the Ultra HD display showing intricate levels of detail, perfect for visualising complex data sets.”

The brand took part in our Tech-a-tete series filmed earlier this year so an in-depth product video of us putting the solution through its paces will be released in the New Year. Stay tuned!

Two new CTS certifications

Focus 21 has two new CTS holders among its ranks with Chris Voykovich and Zygmunt Day both achieving the certification.

Chris has been working as senior technician for two years, having recently been promoted to Manager of Hire and Events, and looked to CTS as a way to grow his knowledge and technical abilities to further advance his career.

Chris explained:

“CTS is very important to the team here at Focus 21 and achieving this is a recognition of the skills I’ve acquired over the years here. It highlighted problem solving abilities and how to apply the common sense needed in real life situations, as well as showing me the bigger picture of Focus 21. CTS helped make the grey areas of what we do black and white.”

Zygmunt ‘Ziggy’ Day, Installation Engineer has been with Focus 21 since 2014, and has also gained his CTS certification.  CTS was important to him because he wanted to gain a deeper theoretical understanding of the industry and the greater impact this has on the business a whole.

“I went for my CTS certification because I do this work every day and I wanted to understand the depth of what I did. It will help me make more informed decisions during my work day, as the test stretched me to understand not just the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ of what I do, but also the ‘why’, and to see the bigger picture of what I’m achieving.”

Ziggy is looking forward to applying his new knowledge to his work in 2017 and to completing the next levels of certification as soon as possible.

Jim Harwood, Managing Director comments:

“It’s inspiring to see so many of our talented young engineers striving to achieve these levels of professional certification. Not only does this allow them to climb to greater heights in their careers, it also lets us deliver incredibly high levels of service to our customers.”

InAVation Award Corporate Project finalists

The finalists for the InAVation Awards 2017 have been revealed and we are delighted to be in the running for the Corporate Project Award. This is for the OMERS installation that we completed earlier this year alongside MiX Consultancy and it has taken the industry by storm.

With the heart of its operation based in Canada, OMERS required true global connectivity, both in terms of AV conferencing systems and monitoring solutions. This was achieved using a Crestron Fusion enterprise management system to integrate the building and AV technologies, so they work together as a single system, accessible globally through the OMERS WAN.

Video conferencing solutions were a key focus of this project and needed to be delivered in the flagship boardroom, four video conferencing suites, four presentation rooms and a flexible space, which can be set up as two presentation suites or one larger meeting room for theatre style sessions.

The piece-de-resistance of the installation is the Boardroom on the 29th floor with dual 98” NEC screens that are presented in a landscape format, making them almost as spectacular as the London skyline view.

Darren Barton-Taylor, Focus 21 Sales Director explains:

“This installation has been hailed by OMERS as a shining example of how all communications should be conducted with the site christened as the new global standard. Plans are now underway to replicate this set up worldwide, with Toronto Canada being the next stop.”

Find out more about the OMERS project here: http://www.focus21.co.uk/omers

We’re finalists in the 2016 AV News Awards

A great way to top off a record year for us at Focus 21; we’ve been announced as finalists in the AV News Awards, held at Integrated Systems Europe.

 Taking place from the 7th-10th February, ISE is the biggest AV industry trade show in the world, taking over the whole of the RAI exhibition centre in Amsterdam and the AV News Awards begin the celebrations with a morning presentation on the show’s opening day.

We are recognised as finalists in the hotly contested AV Integrator of the Year category thanks to our dedication to education. With more than 52% of our technical workforce holding InfoComm CTS certification, we have the largest group of certified professionals in the country. We have also been recognised as the only company with three triple-certified professionals under the CTS scheme.

We were also the first UK company to receive APEx certification and were able to renew this for the second consecutive year having hit InfoComm International’s incredibly high standards and measures relating to customer service and quality of solution.

2016 has also seen a large focus on end user education, allowing our clients to find the best solutions for their business with us. Events like our recent Tech-a-Tête showcase, which demonstrated the latest Skype for Business collaboration solutions, allows us to take the knowledge acquired back into the sales process and share with manufacturers to truly understand the need of clients and advance product pipelines accordingly.

This year has seen some incredible projects, with two industry titles choosing to feature our OMERs installation as their front covers! Our apprenticeship programme has seen some fantastic successes, with our first scheme graduate Scott Eggleton now an Installation Manager with the company and current apprentice Lee Jones being awarded Apprentice of the Year at Basingstoke College of Technology.

Jim Harwood, Managing Director comments:

“It’s thanks to the team that we have made it to the finals of the AV News Awards and I’m incredibly proud of how everyone helped to grow the business in 2016. The strides we have made in professional development and project success have set us on a great path for next year and we can’t wait to see if we’ve won!”

Justin to discuss Real World Certification at ISE

Justin has been invited by InfoComm to present a session at ISE about Real World Certification on the InfoComm FlashTrack stage on Friday 10th February at 10.30am.

Taking place from 7th-10th February ISE is the biggest AV industry trade show in the world, taking over the whole of the RAI exhibition centre in Amsterdam to present 13 halls of innovation, from displays to control systems and virtual reality.

Justin leads from the front when it comes to an ongoing AV education as an InfoComm CTS, CTS-D and CTS-I holder, one of just a handful of triple-certified professionals. Having experienced the benefit of advanced systems understanding within his own work, he has driven the company’s investment in education for which Focus 21 excels as the largest holder of Infocomm certifications in the UK; 28 CTS, 3 CTS-D and 9 CTS-I. This equates to 52% of the technical workforce holding at least one CTS qualification.

Recognising that the industry is made up of a diverse collection of skills, from former music industry professionals to ex-military and those fresh from education, Justin personally mentors everyone taking the exams through the process, sharing knowledge, experience and his passion for establishing an industry wide level of excellence.

The FlashTrack stage can be found on Stand 13-N100 and all sessions are free to attend. View the full listing of InfoComm FlashTrack sessions. To register to attend the exhibition visit https://registration.n200.com/survey/0hlzs6anfdarp

 

Construction Line Recertification

We have renewed our certification with Construction Line for the second consecutive year, once again proving that we operate at an incredibly high service level with outstanding Health & Safety policies.

Construction Line is the UK’s most connected and progressive provider of procurement and supply chain management services. This Government run scheme is essential in aligning industry standards and will play a major part in connecting us to new markets.

John Chandler, HR, Training, Health & Safety Manager explains:

“This will help propel us into new markets giving buyers confidence that we can quickly and confidently deliver projects, from new builds integrating with architects to refits in listed buildings. This is complemented by our extensive AV industry knowledge and certifications of excellence within this field, including APEx, for which we were the first UK based company ever to be awarded this accolade.”

Zoe Byrne achieves AV Technologist

Zoe Byrne is the latest to achieve InfoComm’s AV Technologist certification. Since joining the company in October 2014 Zoe has passionately built up her knowledge of the essentials of AV technology with this cause propelling her even further and taking her on the road to CTS.

Zoe Byrne

Zoe Byrne

Zoe explains:

“Taking on the AV Technologist exam has helped to quickly expand my understanding of AV systems and processes, something which I considered key to my development within the Focus 21 team. This had aided me in my understanding of the contracts and procurement process and I aim to embark on the CTS in the New Year!”

Jim Harwood, Managing Director comments:

“We prioritise training for everyone in the company, not just the engineers and installation teams. The foundations are an essential first step and ensures that our teams truly understand the challenges our clients face and the solutions that we put in place.”

Chris Voykovich appointed to Manager of Hire and Events

Having joined our team in 2014 as our Senior Technician we are delighted to announce that Chris Voykovich has taken on the role of Manager for our Hire and Events division. 

Chris Voykovich

Chris Voykovich

The team delivers the technical AV production for seminars, conferences and corporate celebrations, ensuring complex event set ups facilitate the objectives of the clients and captive audiences. This ranges from correct lighting to properly distributed audio, spectacular production and live social media feeds, widening the reach in the room to a global audience. 

Jim Harwood, Managing Director of Focus 21 explains: 

“Chris has outlined his ambitious plans to grow this vibrant area of our business, establishing Focus 21 as the exclusive AV supplier for more live music, conference and unique venues around the country as well as lead technical production agency for prestigious award ceremonies. We’re behind you all the way, good luck Chris!”

The company is the long-standing Preferred AV Supplier for Saddler’s Hall in London working alongside specialist event professionals Party Ingredients to deliver conferences, weddings, formal and informal dining experiences. They also work with the Focus 21 integration clients to produce events in their offices adjusting permanently installed systems for their needs.

Chris comments: 

“My journey into the world of event AV started in high school producing talent shows then completing an Audio Engineering Diploma and I’ve never looked back. I love the buzz of a live event and as technology has developed, especially within the visual realm, the effects you can create to wow and immerse and audience are really exciting.”

 

Skype For Business Tech-à-tête – Get Involved!

We’re going to be putting eight manufacturers through their paces on the 3rd November as we host our first Skype For Business (SFB) Tech-à-tête! Our goal is to put your questions to them live on Periscope and create a series of reference videos so you can compare these solutions anytime.

The brave manufacturers taking part are Avocation ViviTouch, Crestron showing R2, InFocus showcasing Mondopad, Microsoft with its Surface Hub, NEC with its Shadow Sense Interactive Screens, Polycom, Smart and StarLeaf. 

This will take place at our Deepcut offices where each manufacturer will set up their solution ready for us to experience before we hit them with your questions. To take part, join us on Twitter @Focus21AV and on LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/company/focus-21-visual-communications-limited

Welcoming Darren Barton-Taylor to the Focus 21 Board

Congratulations to Darren Barton-Taylor who has been appointed as our first Sales Director. Darren has been part of our senior management team for four and a half years so there isn’t anyone more qualified or passionate to expand our business horizons into new vertical sectors.

Darren Barton-Taylor

Darren Barton-Taylor

During this time, Darren has been consistently successful in terms of sales performance and received excellent feedback from key clients and the genuine respect and friendship of colleagues around the business.

His role will now concentrate on establishing us into new market sectors including higher education, retail and new build corporate facilities. 

A team of dedicated Business Development Managers will be appointed specifically to focus on the expansion into these vertical markets. 
    
Jim Harwood, Managing Director at Focus 21 Visual Communications Limited explains: 
 
“Darren will also be targeted on the overall sales performance of the business and in the coming weeks and months we look forward to welcoming new starters to the team as we endeavour to continue to accelerate the growth of the business. Darren will certainly have his work cut out, but he is highly capable and we wish him every success in his new role.”

Darren Barton-Taylor, Sales Director at Focus 21 comments:

“The excellent relationships we have with manufacturers, incredibly high standards of delivery and unrivalled systems expertise means we are now in the perfect place to be focusing on business growth. I’m looking forward to this challenge and exploring the new and dynamic market places we will become a part of.”

Service team breaks long standing record

Our service team is continually raising the bar when it comes to efficiency, reliability and performance and this month have beaten both our highly esteemed internal  ‘daily first time fix’ record as well as our ‘monthly first time fix’.

To put this in to context, a first time fix is when we correct a client’s issue during our first visit to site, so these are measured by the day then in total across any given any given day, week or month. We take great pride in our level of service so have been monitoring these statistics since we began.

The service team smashed the record, which was last beaten in June, by an incredible 119%, travelling throughout the UK and Europe, from Barrow to Brussels and everywhere in between.

Jim Harwood, Managing Director at Focus 21 explains: 

“Due to our increasing client base and the amount of service and maintenance contracts we now hold, the expectations and pressure on the team is growing every day. They have truly risen to this challenge and are doing incredible work to quickly and confidently get systems up and running again so minimum downtime is experience.”

Well done guys, sure we’ll be hearing more from your adventures and endeavours soon!