INTERVIEW: Crestron now & next

This week sees the first ever virtual Crestron NEXT event being held. Editor, Amy Wallington chats to Jeff Singer, executive director global residential marketing at Crestron Electronics about how it has dealt with the recent pandemic and what is next on the company’s radar.

Scheduled to take place throughout this week, the company is updating their dealers and partners on what has been happening at Crestron and what is coming up in the near future. 

What has Crestron been doing to get through the pandemic?
One of the most important things in terms of us getting through the pandemic is that we already had redundancies built into our supply chain, so it was never interrupted, we never stopped manufacturing and we never stopped stocking and distributing product. And as the pandemic moved globally and regionally, we were able to adapt and shift schedules and shift capacity into different areas and different regions. That was really critical.

The other part of it was training. We have online training and we have in-class training; we dedicate a lot of resources to training our dealers and our partners. I’ve got to give a lot of credit to our training department who immediately sprang into action and created a whole curriculum of remote classes and remote education when the pandemic hit.

Our support technicians and engineers created studios in their homes to have high-quality remote sessions with customers instead of going out and visiting them like they usually would. The sales team were also regularly phoning dealers to check in, not to make a sale, but to make sure them and their families were okay and offering their support. 

The best part is that we never stopped working and we didn’t lay off a single person due to the pandemic. A lot of our engineers and product managers went into the lab to grab equipment after we officially shut down our main offices at the beginning od lockdown so that they could take it home and continue R&D. Everyone rose to the occasion and showed what a fantastic group we are.

How have you found virtual training? Is that something that might continue post-pandemic or are you looking forward to having physical training events back?
We certainly started doing more webinars and techinars and virtual or remote classes, and I don't think that's ever going to go away. But there's certainly value of face to face, in-person events. I think we're all looking forward to the day where we can start to ramp that up or fold that back into our normal routine. 

A big focus for our commercial and residential business is the idea of working, learning, and socialising from anywhere. The situation is so fluid, so it kind of depends on where you are and what's happening. We've all seen the graphs and the positivity rates going up and down in different parts of the world. It's tough to make a blanket statement but I do think what is safe to say is that there’s no going back to normal, there is going to be a new normal. A lot of big companies have already announced that they're not going back to the office 100% and some of them are not going back to the office at all, so I think what is obvious or should be obvious, is that the idea that, every employee in every company is going to be in the office five days a week, is just not going to happen. And that's post pandemic, because we will get through this. It will be safe to go back and do whatever you want to do. But the idea that nobody's going to be working from home ever again, that is not going to happen. 

Do you think we are going to see a shift in office technology, adapting and installing it for people’s homes? You’ve released Crestron HomeTime over lockdown which is a conferencing platform, but it also provides a social side too. Is the key that you have to get a mix of a working platform for work and a social platform for leisure?

Well, I think it's a combination of both. First of all, we did our first launch into the marketplace with Crestron HomeTime, and that was a partnership between Zoom, Logitech and Crestron. And the idea was, everybody was using Zoom, but it was never designed to be used in that way. So, we got together and created something that was really meant for the home and something that groups of people and families could use in a better way, as well as having that integrated into the home control system. Using the same remote that they use to turn on the TV and change channels, homeowners can now use it to start and join a Zoom meeting. They can also control, pan, tilt and zoom the camera for the meeting, as well as adjust the lights and the shades and the temperature without having to get up. So that was that was really cool, but that was our first launch or introduction. 

I think the broad way of looking at this is that we now need to be able to work or learn from anywhere. When all this happened, kids and teachers were kicked out of school, offices were locked down and everybody was kicked out of their office, and they went home and they basically set up a laptop or a tablet on the kitchen table. That was fine as a short term solution, we had to do something. We literally woke up one day and we weren't allowed to go into the office or school, so we made the best of it. But now I think we all know that this is not a short term, temporary situation, so we need something that's more permanent and more professional, especially. 

There are a lot of homes where you've got two adults in the home and each of them works. You have at least one, maybe multiple kids in the house, and they're all trying to learn and go to school remotely. So, the idea that everybody can be sitting around the dining room table and functioning efficiently, that's not ideal. We know that everybody needs a space to work and they need something that is more dedicated or purpose built around what they're doing. 

From a residential perspective, Crestron is uniquely positioned as we have a long tradition in the commercial enterprise space. For us, this whole idea of unified communications, web conferencing, audio conferences, presentations, being able to do desktop extension, things that are all brand new to most others in the home space, we've been doing it for years, there's nothing new about it. We already had those relationships with Microsoft and Google and Zoom and Cisco and we've already created the technology and the hardware and the software and it's been field tested for years and years. So, this is nothing new, we didn't have to run out and create anything new and nobody's being a guinea pig, hoping that it's going to work. We were uniquely poised to be able to bring that type of technology into the home. 

Now, having said that, you're spot on, in that those products have a lot of features and functionality and things built into it, specifically for large scale enterprises that do not necessarily translate into an individual's home. We needed to be very thoughtful and strategic about how we bring that into the home. We don't want to over complicate it, simplicity is the key, because a lot of our dealers are not IT experts, they're not UC experts, this is not what they normally do. We were very aware of that and we wanted to create or offer solutions that were these professional, permanent, really high quality, but super simple for the home. And so that's what we did. 

So, the idea is if you are Twitter and you send all your employees home, or you want some sort of a hybrid situation where they're in the office sometimes and working from home sometimes, if you're the IT Director for Twitter, and it's your responsibility to make sure that all your employees are connected, and you're managing thousands of employees, you want them all on the same platform. You need them to be on the same platform. And you want that experience that, whether they're sitting at their desk in their office or sitting at their desk in their home, to be the same. That's the whole point of working from anywhere. So again, the idea is that to be able to leverage a lot of the same technology, the same products, we’re coming at it from two different perspectives, but you're arriving at the same place. It’s the same platform and same technology. If you're coming at it from a corporate perspective and you wanted to implement it the same way, tying into the network with all of the security protocols and you're tying up all those corporate servers and things like this, if you're an IT director working in a big company like that, then Crestron can make that happen. If you're a homeowner, or an architect or a home builder, or a residential dealer, and you do not have those same concerns, but your client still wants to be able to have a really high quality, comfortable, professional, work from home / learn from home experience where everybody has their own space to work and not interrupt each other, then again, you can use the same technology but in a different way. It could just be a standalone system that doesn't require any of that back-end complexity that the IT director or the company would care about. You can just plug it in and use it and you're good to go.

What can you tell me about Crestron NEXT so far?
Crestron NEXT is really where we as a company are going to be sharing a lot of what's going on now, in terms of our latest products and technology. At the moment, it's all about the remote events and trade shows, so we created this event and it's a combination of live, real-time panel discussions and recorded demos and presentations with live chat for Q&A and live breakout meeting rooms, so people can engage with each other. It's really a way for us to be able to engage with our dealers and our partners and everyone's welcome. We’ve got a lot of great content. Like I said, it's a combination of live and recorded and it spans our commercial, enterprise, education, residential, so we're going to have something for everybody. 

It's everything that we're doing in terms of products, technology, industry trends, things like that, and there's going to be different tracks, so to speak. There's what's happening now, what is the latest and greatest, and then there's a nod to what's coming next in the near future, what are we working on? What do we see happening next? What are we working on to roll out next? And so that's kind of the approach. 

You can find out more about Crestron’s home conferencing platforms and what else the company is working on at the Crestron NEXT Virtual event this week.