AVI-SPL: Transforming the workplace in Canada and around the world
Founded in 1979, as technology has evolved over the last 40 years naturally, so too has AVI-SPL and the needs of its customers.
John Zettel, the organisation's CEO, explains: “There are many companies undergoing workplace transformation and our constant goal is to provide innovative technologies and solutions that enhance the collaboration and improved business outcomes that come with it. While technology has certainly been the catalyst for workplace transformation, what's really driving it is the workforce itself, the millennial and digital natives that are currently in, or entering the workforce. By 2020, they’ll make up half of the workforce and their demand is for different experiences in the workplace compared to earlier generations.
"We moved deeper in terms of collaboration and seeing somebody's face," he says, "not only how you see content but how you work on it and how you get work groups in disparate locations to come together. Not just talking about a worksheet but physically working on it at the same time. Without the resources that make these things possible, vital functions like talent acquisition and retention, project management, and company culture begin to suffer."
Meeting customers’ workplace needs
In recent years, the company has made several big acquisitions enabling it to expand its capabilities to meet the needs of the changing workplace and workforce. In 2012 it acquired managed services provider Iformata and, most recently, bought VideoLink LLC to offer broadcast quality video and production as the enterprise video market continues its rapid growth.
The acquisition of Iformata signified the future of AV and its convergence with IT, including the emergence of Unify ME Symphony Platform, the cornerstone of AVI-SPL’s its award winning managed services, according to market researcher Frost & Sullivan. The present and future of workplace collaboration, Symphony is a vendor agnostic platform that monitors and manages an organisation’s new and existing AV systems to improve the quality of experience during meetings. Symphony runs diagnostics on those systems, troubleshoots and creates custom alerts, schedules and launches video calls, among other critical processes to enhance the company’s collaboration and productivity.
The platform makes meeting management efficient, and as Frank Mehr, Senior Vice President of research and development explains, it is a valuable extension of a company’s IT department. "If you go to a meeting and the first ten minutes are people trying to use the technology, you're just wasting corporate resources and frustration builds up. Problems occur, but you must be proactive to prevent them, or reactive if an unforeseen event happens in the middle of a call.
“With Symphony, our customers have support behind them that quickly explains exactly what to do, before or as it's happening. It saves organisations a tremendous amount of time and increases their employee’s and customer’s satisfaction," he adds.
A local force around the globe
In 2013, AVI-SPL exploded onto the global scene, becoming the first multinational AV systems integrator and collaboration solutions provider when the company expanded into the UK and Canada, and into Germany three years later.
"We saw this as an opportunity to be global providers and differentiators compared to our competitors," Zettel says. "Our customers responded well to that, and then of course market expansion has done very well for us. All of these solutions are connected, and our service platforms that monitor everything are all connected. The global presence is clearly important to be able to ride a consistent and timely response to our customers on a global platform."
Although it has a global reach, AVI-SPL still operates on a local level. "We felt there was a clear need in Canada for a local provider with global capabilities," explains Boris Koechlin, Managing Director in Canada. "We can go to our Canadian customers, many of whom are multinational organisations, and talk about how the local AVI-SPL in the UK or Germany, for example, can implement and standardise their workplace transformation throughout Europe. If not there, then the US or the Middle East, or Asia. Wherever in the world they need to go."
The company has achieved a lot since it's been in the Canadian market, and is currently doing business with nearly half of the Canadian Fortune 50 companies.
"We've done campuses for Imperial Oil where we built 11 buildings for them, including its global headquarters in Calgary," Koechlin says. "We've carried out work for Deloitte in Toronto, and it’s won awards for creating a transformational workspace."
Koechlin explains what a transformational workspace is: "Most of us can picture the classic miles and miles of cubicles, and everybody has a desk or an office assigned to them. [At Deloitte] you have 19 floors of downtown real estate, and there's not one office, boardroom or workstation assigned to anybody. Every day thousands of people arrive for work, scan the open space, decide what kind of work they're trying to do that day, what kind of mood they're in, and select a place to go to work. It's the new way of thinking about how you arrange an office to enhance collaboration and productivity."
Mehr cites a leading pharmaceutical company with a presence in over 50 countries as a particularly successful project. AVI-SPL was asked to manage its video and AV devices, as well as transform all the back and front end systems. It was done in a seamless, transparent way to the point where nobody noticed.
"As the AV devices were removed, there was nothing for managing and monitoring these devices that became unknown," Mehr explains. "The interface, the front end, everything remained exactly the same - the only difference was the vendor’s name on a device, like Crestron, for example."
The Canadian market today
The Canadian market is hugely competitive. "The industry is very saturated," Koechlin says. "The economy is doing fairly well right now, and there's a lot of opportunity out there.
"We are increasingly useful in helping Canadian companies expand their global footprint, both directly in the traditional work we do, but also as leaders in the industry. One of the things we talk about regularly are interesting applications that we‘ve identified as potentially interesting to our customers around the world. That commitment to a global community, and the extent to which we execute that, means everybody wins because it's a bigger audience."
Partnering up with today’s tech leaders
Mehr says that one of the company's key elements is having strong partnerships with major manufacturers. "We have to be flexible to provide an environment that is comfortable and works for everybody.
"We have partnerships with Crestron, Microsoft, Cisco, Polycom and many other top brands. And what happens a lot of the time is we go in as the trusted advisor to a lot of our customers, because they want to invest in the technology, and want to know what research we have done, and what we recommend, and they appreciate us being well-versed in all of these important aspects," he adds.
Each year AVI-SPL holds their signature TechX, a customer event that Zettel explains is very important to the company. "We select different cities where we have a local presence and invite technology decision makers to get a chance to interact with not only our team, but with select technology providers, and the latest products on the market. It gives them a chance to get really cutting edge information on topics that are pertinent to them, and an opportunity to see, touch, and play with today’s innovations that could benefit their organisations."
Training, certifications lead differentiation
According to Zettel, another key differentiator is the organisation's training, which has been a significant factor in creating a highly-qualified workforce with the most industry certifications in the space.
With AVI-SPL’s advanced training, along with strategic direction, the company’s accomplishments have been recognised numerous times in recent years. Among the ones Zettel is most proud of is Frost and Sullivan's North American Managed Services Company of the Year, multiple Vendor Partner of the Year awards, and being ranked number one by Systems Contractor News the past 11 years.
"Those really mean a lot to us," he says. "Ultimately, the whole of our company is the sum of its parts, and it takes a lot of people moving together to get to where we've come. The quote I like to use is that being the biggest hasn't made us the best, being the best has made us the biggest.
"It really speaks to every employee in AVI-SPL about the dedication to progress, to being forward-thinkers and pioneers in our industry, and not letting complacency sink in. Technology will continue to advance, the workforce will continue to change, and we take great pride in our ability to evolve to meet the present and future needs of our customers and their transforming global workforce."