In The Field: Boaz Shani of ProAV Africa
HiddenWires talks with Boaz Shani, Managing Director of ProAV Africa in Kampala, Uganda.
Countries/Territories serve: Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, Kenya, South Sudan, Congo and Burundi
Specialises in: IT, Houses of Worship, TOA technology, Commercial Integration Projects
When was ProAV Africa founded?
Three and a half years ago, my partner and I had a company we started that was also distributors for unique technological solutions for the telecom industry. At some point my partner, Amir got in touch with an old friend that was appointed to be the Sales Director for Africa at Kramer Electronics and he asked him if he would like to become the distributor for Kramer in the region. That was our turning point—when we understood that this is something that is not done at all in Uganda and very few do in the region we decided to move completely to only dealing with initially Kramer but as customer demands grew we had to get more products to make a complete—or as much as complete as we can—solutions. For each of the brands we represent we offer full support and training and we are exclusive distributors for them in the various countries.
What was the drive behind starting the firm?
I was always involved with electronics and show biz ever since [I was] 13. I did all of the roles in events, from water boy to technical producer and line producer in big events like Metallica, MJ, Elton John in Israel as well in Uganda. I’ve been running my nightclubs for many years and always did the AV setups and tuning myself. When Kramer approached my partner it was so much for me.
Did you recognise a need in the market? How did you identify it, if so?
Yes, the moment Kramer showed us their line of products we saw that there is a huge gap in the market. It depends on how one looks at and sees business. Me and my partner are believers in innovation and leading with solutions, so we took it on. We invested in a showroom, stock, and training of technical teams and sales teams from scratch.
In my time in Uganda setting up nightclubs and managing them, I saw that there is no one providing such products and solutions and all that was available are the cheap products that don’t do the work, don’t last, not to mention a warranty is something that does not exist. My partner and I have been in the region for more then 15 years we had our contacts to start and approached major IT companies and expose them to a new niche: PRO AV. Some to date still don’t get it and the potential in it, but some have started to pick up and work together on interesting projects, at the time we didn’t know any PRO AV professionals to work with but with time we found that in Uganda there are actually two to four companies who understand PRO AV and so things started to move in the right direction.
What were some of your early challenges as a company starting out in Kampala?
People—not only the team we tried to form but clients as well to date—do not understand and don’t have much knowledge in understanding what we are talking about both from a technical point of view, concepts and budgets—always comparing apples to tomatoes (Counterfeit vs. Brands). People think PRO AV is always plug-and-play and everything they find online works. For example, RCA to HDMI cables or complete mobile outdoor sound system for 50,000 people at $60,000.
How did you face and overcome those challenges?
Who said we did? (laughing). We still face those on regular basis and the key for the long-term success is training and educating the people over and again. We do that for free on social media. [We offer] free seminars for who ever wishes to know more about Pro AV and the available technologies to training sessions in our show room.
Is it true that you are the only integrator in your area?
The only distributor of reputable leading worldwide manufacturers in Uganda, Rwanda, South Sudan and Burundi.
What challenges do you currently face in the Ugandan AV integration market?
Lack of professional system integrators and lack of understanding concepts by those we try to work with—IT companies that we expose to PRO AV still think AV is as simple as IT.
How are you addressing these challenges?
Asking lots of questions in order to educate who ever we can, training...training…and more training to all that come our way.
What kind of requests do you receive the most in your residential AV business?
The residential AV biz here is still in its diapers. We have advised a few clients, but they choose to go to Dubai, South Africa or UK and buy the systems directly. It’s annoying, but I do believe that at some point they will come back for service and support and then we shall have to talk again.
In brief, tell us about one of your more difficult integration projects?
We recently installed a prototype smart room at the Kampala Sheraton using Kramer K-Touch to manage the room’s AV system, including a Cisco codex.
What was requested?
The client wanted to have a room with all the latest and best AV systems, which includes videoconferencing and fully controlled from an iPad.
Why was it difficult?
Cisco with their rep in Uganda failed to provide drivers for the control and so the project was about to fail as per client expectation—for the sake of Kramer and the other brands—we have gone out of our way spending hours to get this room working to perfection.
How did you solve the problem?
We had to let our head technical person, who is also a programmer, take his time (almost a week) to get this working—and he did.
What do you anticipate will be the next big AV integration trend in your market? What is driving it?
The African market is so empty that each and every thing in AV will be the next thing: digital signage, PA systems, Dante, BYOD. True collaboration with VIA of Kramer is a big thing, smart houses and offices with K-Touch 3.0, HDBaseT and so on…the potential for growth is huge and everything can and I believe will be the next big thing. The fact that Africa is developing fast and the AV growth is rapid, the education and marketing efforts will drive people toward existing solutions.