Interview: Mike Blackman Gives Insights into ISE 2015

Mike Blackman, Integrated Systems Europe’s managing director, is a happy man.

Mike-Blackman-266x400ISE 2015, which kicks off on 10 February at the RAI in Amsterdam and runs through 12 February, will more than likely shatter attendance and exhibitor records as well as showcase big-name brands that once upon a time didn’t consider custom integration a worthy sector in which to play. Blackman and his team have come a long way from 2004 when ISE debuted in Geneva with just 3,500 attendees and 120 exhibitors. With ISE 2015 set to take up almost 40,000 square metres of space and welcome more than 1,000 exhibitors, we spoke with Blackman about what this year’s more than 50,000 attendees can expect to see and experience on the show floor.

HW: Why is ISE a must-attend event on the residential custom installer's calendar? Blackman: This is the only pan-European event for the residential market. Anybody who is talking in the residential business—and we are talking business-to-business, not consumers—then this is the place where the most manufacturers are. This is the place where product launches are happening. It’s where the most custom installers actually come together—more so than any other event worldwide.

HW: What can we look forward to at ISE 2015?
We’ll see the return of some companies that had been here in the past. We’re seeing a lot of new exhibitors. We have one day dedicated to both residential and commercial smart building. There you’ll see companies like Control4 and many others that are focused on the residential sector. KNX is there and a lot of what they are doing covers the residential sector as well. More than 35 percent of the exhibitors are dedicated just to residential. It’s comprehensive. All of the major control companies are there. We have everything from control to multi-room audio to home cinema—all aspects.

HW: There are quite a few product and company debuts at ISE 2015, including Dolby showcasing their breakout audio technology Atmos, Jeremy Burkhardt with his new company, Origin Acoustics, and software giant, Microsoft. What is the significance of having these well-known brands on the show floor?
It’s always good to have major brands because it certainly puts a stamp on the show being important. You always see when the major brands in the industry start to support it in such a big way it doesn’t matter what industry you’re in, that shows the importance of that event. ISE has gathered importance for quite some time. What’s happening now is, on the residential side, we are seeing more and more of those brands who are known in the prosumer sector rather than just the install sector because they are coming out now with products for the install sector. They have recognised that ISE is the platform for the people they want to reach.

HW: The Smart Building Conference debuted in January 2013 in Amsterdam and has had subsequent events in both the UK and Germany. How will this year’s event at ISE, slated for 9 February, differ from the previous London and Berlin events?  How do you see this event evolving in 2015?
The event that is held in London focuses on the UK market. The one in Berlin is then focused on the German market. Amsterdam’s event is focusing on the Pan-European market. The subject matter being covered—the speeches, the presentations—in Amsterdam will be very much across the whole of Europe. Not just focused on one country, while the other events have been focused on those countries and what is happening there. So you are going to see a wider platform and certainly some new speakers. I’m quite excited about the keynote for this year, which will be delivered by Rogier van der Heide [of Zumtobel Group, Austria]. We’ve got quite a few good architects, including Paul Fletcher who will be talking about smart building myths. We are covering all aspects. You’ll see views from the architects. You’ll see design aspects. We have people from companies in the industry who will be giving specific presentations talking about solutions, case studies, and things that people really need to know.

HW: As the organiser of the Smart Building Conference, have you seen much traction, change, or progress in the adoption of the smart build approach for residential custom integrators? How so?
I’m certainly seeing traction in the commercial sector, because they need to show energy efficiency. Architects are trying to win the contracts so they have to show things like that. It is starting to make traction on the residential sector now as well. They are people who are becoming much more aware and being more energy and environmentally conscious, so they are looking to see “How can I make my house more energy efficient? More smart?” What is helping is utility companies and telecoms are starting to push the concept to consumers already, so that’s helping to get that push from upwards. The problem is that most integrators are only talking to architects or building construction companies. And when they are trying to make their profits work sometimes they are not willing to push concepts like this. They are aware of it, but they are not pushing it so much. It is becoming pull now from the consumer side. Then the architects, the construction companies, are going to have to actually stand up and say, we are doing things now to attract consumers to their projects.

HW: What do we need to do as an industry to expand our palate of skills and knowledge to gain a solid footing within the smart building track?
It’s training. It’s education. One part is actually getting the message out to the end customers, so that there is demand rather than [just] supply, because if it just down to the supply side a lot of these companies are looking at their margins. Although they know about it, they are aware it, and they see the reason for actually making buildings smart, more energy efficient, if there is a pull from the consumer side, then they are going to be forced to make these offers. So that is one part—we have to educate the market. The other part is the integrators have to educate themselves about what is possible. They have to qualify themselves and show their competency not only to the constructors and architects, etc., but also when they start talking about it with consumers, the consumer wants to have confidence that he’s got somebody who knows what he is talking about.

HW: ISE have a number of seminar theatres on the show floor with 1,000 exhibitors spread over the RAI. What are your expectations with the uptake in attendance? Are there any standout seminars you would encourage residential custom integrators to attend?
There are two things being covered on the custom integration side. The first is that CEDIA has a whole palate of education and training going on during the show that you can find on the ISE website. In addition to that, we have a theatre in Hall 7 that is dedicated to residential solutions. You mentioned Jeremy Burkhardt. Jeremy will actually be doing some sessions where he will focus on how custom installers can sell into the luxury market; what skills, what tips they are in actually selling their skills and solutions to this market. There’ll be presentations from Dolby. There is a lot more being offered in terms of education, training, and information exchange. So I really recommend looking at the programmes on the theatres. They are running every day. I think that each day in the residential theatre they are about 10 sessions, so you have quite a wide choice. We’ve had a lot of applications to speak [in Hall 7]. We’ve tried to make sure that these are product presentations; that there really is a knowledge exchange. We’ve gone through a process to find what we think will be interesting to custom installers.

HW: The commercial AV side of ISE has seen a huge rise in exhibitors demanding end-user visitors, which you and the ISE team have started to deliver. Are there any programmes for the residential custom integration side to attract end-user groups? Not at all. It is a business-to-business event, I think it is very difficult for an exhibitor to give the right message at the same time to both consumers and the custom installers, on the same platform. How you present yourself is going to be different as well. I think if a residential consumer came in to the show he’ll be very lost and maybe disappointed or distracted. We have no intention of actually going towards the consumer side. We are going to stay very much a business-to-business show. On the commercial side, we brought in end-users because of the demand from the manufacturers; they realize that the commercial end-user is getting involved in decision-making. We are seeing more often, with the decision process for bringing AV into companies, that the IT managers are getting involved because more and more products are actually network capable; the IT managers are saying as soon as something that is going to be put into their building and [on to] their network that they want to understand what it does.

HW: In 2016 ISE will increase to a four-day event. What has the initial feedback been and what does that mean for the visitors and exhibitors?
The feedback has been very positive so far. There are one or two exhibitors who [have voiced concern], but they see the sense in having an extra day on the stand. And, we do appreciate that some of them will need more starting cost to do an extra day. But we’ve got to a situation where our attendance is just growing and whereas the first show we had 3,500 attendees we are now doing, even on the quietest day, we are doing almost 18,000 attendees. Day 1 is just phenomenal. Day 2 is overcrowded and can be uncomfortable. We have a responsibility to both our exhibitors and our attendees to give them a safe and comfortable environment in which to do business. And we realise now that we are getting overflow on that second day and we need to spread that load.

HW: ISE 2015 event is slated to have more than 50,000 attendees and more than 950 exhibitors occupying more than 36,000 square metres of space. Outside of the four-day show, where are you going to find more room?
We’ve got two things. First, for 2016, there is a new building, the Atrium, that is coming on board. It will actually be almost finished on time this year, but the interior is not finished yet, so we can’t use it for 2015 but we can for 2016. That is the first extension. There is another extension going on in the planning which will be ready for 2017, which is an additional building that the RAI is putting into play. And then we have the option of temporary structures. So we still have space to grow.

We did some analysis to see how big we think the show could be long term and we believe that Amsterdam is worth us staying there. It works. There are direct flights going to 250 different destinations every day, so it makes it very accessible from almost anywhere. And that’s something that is really relevant if you are trying to make it easy for attendees to get into the show. It’s an easy ride once you get into Amsterdam—either by plane or by train or car, we have ample parking. The transport system is satisfactory and we have ample hotel space to accommodate people coming in. These are important factors that we look at every time we choose a location for a show: Does everything work? It’s great if you find a nice venue but if you haven’t got enough hotel accommodations and people have to stay 100 kilometres away it starts to become a chore to actually attend. We look into all of these factors and work with the city to make it work.

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