Could Unified Collaboration Benefit from Euro-Product Design Approach?

It became increasingly clear at Integrated Systems Europe (ISE) 2015 that there’s a space to be filled in unified communications on this side of the pond.

George Tucker

Aristotle postulated that nature abhors a vacuum.

The Horror Vacui, as it is called, states that no space can be left unfilled, that the universe moves to occupy any ‘empty space.’ The show floor at Integrated Systems Europe seems to have taken this notion to heart as no space was deemed unworthy of a booth (or ‘stand’ as the official pamphlets called them).

Despite the nearly infinite size of the show, there were stands to fill every offered void. From the large hall spaces to corridors and transom bridges, there was a company to plant a flag and get a little eye contact.

This in-rush was about more than just taking physical space, there are market niches being created by medium and large manufacturers’ continental drift.

One of the main themes of #ISE2015 was that of unified communications (UC) where the installation, configuration and fit to finish is drastically simplified.

The UC category covers products like Crestron’s DMPS3-4K-150-C, Vaddio’s AV Bridge Matrix Pro, Oblong’s Mezzanine, and even Barco’s ClickShare. All push a no-hassle hook up and implementation and, in the case of Crestron, an ability to install and function in less than a minute. The UC methodology is being applied across commercial as well as residential applications and product lines.

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The potential for new install clients and value added is great. There are some lurking issues for the manufacturers and integrators, which open the doors for other solutions. Despite the apparent democratization of solutions, the process and products provided, a rather large hole has opened up.

Creation and support of an “alternative” or “entry level” category is fraught with perils and pressures to not infringe on existing lines. The inherent dichotomy of servicing an emerging market and protecting those which have not completed their life cycle is a paradox.

From restrictive dealership models (allowing access to only certain lines), initial costs and client desire for features not provided in middle lines — all provide cracks for opportunists.

One of the undercurrents at ISE 2015 is the emergence of local-grown control systems. In fact, there were 190 offerings listed as exhibiting under the ‘Control Systems’ category alone. Manufactures ranging from the Taiwan based Lite-Puter and the collective of KNX-based systems, such as Thinknx and EMT Controls, to lighting solutions like Helvar.

Throughout the show floor one would stumble upon small systems manufacturers making their first appearance to the international market. These systems came about to service very specific regions and/ or local industries, where existing solutions were either unavailable or cost-prohibitive — companies such as IntraHouse and Apex Liviau. As a necessity, these globally-inspired control products are still made in the regions where they were first made and installed.

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While a good many of these companies were brought in under the umbrella of standards such as Z-Wave and groups looking to show their reach and wider acceptance, an equal amount came stag. The declared motivation is one of measured growth and filling niches left under-serviced, nearly all deny interest in penetrating ‘across the pond.’

The North American market appears to, for the present, have acquiesced the mystical precious mass market to the likes of quasi DIY, off-the-shelf programmable processors. Systems based on Arduino, Pi and XBMC rule the day in this emerging market. ‘On continent’ the look leans towards small but manufactured systems over brainstorm and build. 

With fairly sophisticated interface graphics and applications combined with expandable standards protocols and uber local support, is this a back to the future? Can the U.S. sustain such micro markets? We may just be missing out on a remarkable opportunity if the answers are no.