In the Field with Ajish Raju, chief evangelist at Favante
Ajish Raju – the first person in India to obtain a Crestron CSP qualification – discusses the current challenges and opportunities his Bengaluru-based AV consultancy, Favante, faces working in the residential technology industry in EMEA.
You boast many years’ experience working in the AV. What first sparked your interest in working in the industry?
l kickstarted my career in the IT field, working as an application development trainee in Visual Basic 6. After a little more than a year, the company I was working for was acquired by an Indian distributor AMX. I worked there for 2 years as tech support for all the system integrators in India. Soon a bunch of us was taken over yet again to work for another company which was into developing device drivers for AMX and providing programming services to dealers. While I worked there for 8 years, we dealt with providing programming services not just for AMX but for other control systems brands like Crestron, Extron, etc.
So what started as an accident (or divine appointment like I'd like to think) brought me to AV industry and over the years I knew I belonged here. My interest grew as I experiences more of the latest technologies and engaged with more end users.
What prompted you to start Favante? How easy was it to set up in the area and how much of your current work is in the residential sector?
Favante officially started functioning in 2015, after we worked for over a decade as employees. We clearly saw the challenges of running tech start-ups with our previous experiences and thought probably we could have a better go. To our dismay, we were slightly wrong, and we soon discovered that setting up a company was the easiest bit of it but running it well and staying ahead is the real challenge.
At the moment most of our revenue comes from the corporate sector, with a smaller proportion of residential projects. Unfortunately, even if try to focus more on the residential sector, our clients tend to be leaning towards the commercial side, but we are working on getting an equal number or more residential projects.
"The benefit of working from India is that it is much economical for all parties, but on the flip side you can end up compromising on quality."
Where does most of your work take place? Are your services particularly in demand in countries outside India? Do integrators and consultants tend only to work in India, or are there opportunities in other countries for India-based companies? Do you face competition from neighbouring countries?
The major share of work comes in from various metropolitan cities in India and from the Middle East. We have also done onsite work in Greece and Kenya and offsite work in Canada and the US. We are discovering new markets for system integration based on our vast technical experience (collectively about 36 years) and brand agnostic approach.
Based on my understanding, the trend for over the last 5 years, has been that companies set up either a home office or a branch in Dubai/Singapore. These countries are the hub for AV industry and so corporate clients have easy access to the same provider worldwide. The benefit of working from India is that it is much economical for all parties, but on the flip side you can end up compromising on quality. Working with international companies have taught us to follow strict guidelines to standards as we strive to improve quality.
CIs in neighbouring countries either take over a local company or partner with them than to set up a local branch, probably due to the bureaucracy involved. Usually, corporate clients have fixed contracts with the same AV company, even if it requires onsite work.
You have experience working in different countries, what is the key difference between working locally and working in locations such as Kuwait or Qatar when it comes to technical deployment?
Projects in India require economical solutions with advanced functionalities, so it's more like high maintenance less profitable projects. Whereas, in the Middle East, projects require latest tech gear, no matter the cost.
How has business been in the last 18 months? How do you see business being in the next 18 months? Is there enough product awareness is the marketplace among clients – how are they being informed?
Due to our staff mostly being technically skilled, we suffered last year in terms of sales. So this year our focus is on sales generation for revenue stability in addition to delivering solutions successfully on time. In the near future, we are looking at internal expansion and organic growth.
Most clients in India refer to security systems implementation as home automation. When we finally educate them about the real deal, they find home automation solutions unaffordable.
Clients usually gather information from their friend circle who may have similar automated set ups. However, most of them are not technically aware of the latest products or technologies.
Tell us about one of Favante’s most interesting recent projects. What challenges did you face in completing the project and how did you solve them?
We are currently working on a residential project which was previously handled by another CI. The interior designer fearing that the project wouldn't be launched on time, approached us to complete the main floor even when there was already an existing CI. Working on completed projects without proper wiring and documentation is a challenge by itself and to top it he had not provided the client with the complete source codes.
Later, almost after 2 years, the end user called us to do a full functionality revamp and rewiring of the site, impressed by our initial work.
The “smart home” is currently a buzzword across EMEA but how do you find awareness of home technology in the country?
Smart home has been a buzzword for a long time, but lately with the launch of Apple HomeKit and other DIY technologies, end users have numerous affordable and efficient options to choose from. Yet for clients that require advanced or extra functionalities, our service comes to rescue.
What would you change about the industry if you could (i.e. More education? More/less government legislation? More professionalism?) How difficult is it to find the right technical staff?
I would say the industry is saturated with well-trained CIs and since the local market is huge everyone gets a share of the pie. I personally believe more professionalism could be of great help.
We prefer hiring freshers over experienced candidates as they tend to stay for a longer tenure. Finding a cultural fit for our company is an even bigger task than training them technically. Most employees tend to stay committed for a maximum of 2 years and then leave for pastures new.
Do you have to provide your own training or do you have to rely on manufacturers supplying product training locally?
Attending manufacturers training is a mandate for all of our technical staff as product knowledge is essential to what we do. Additionally, we provide in-depth training on in-house projects in order to stretch their skills. After all, hands on experience is the best training one can receive.
Your career in AV started back in 2006 working for AMX India. What changes have you seen in the residential industry over the past 11 years and how has Favante had to adapt to them?
The noticeable change I’ve seen is manufacturer’s user interfaces being replaced with iPads or similar devices which can be integrated with the processor. Also of late, voice control can be preferred over touch control due to more seamless and user-friendly functionalities it offers.
Ajish Raju is chief evangelist and head of AV technical solutions at Favante
Ajish Raju can be found on Linkedin at: https://www.linkedin.com/in/ajishraju/