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The Digital Concierge

The Digital Concierge
  • The housing market continues to climb for systems integrators that specialize in multiple dwelling units, but the task remains complicated when it comes to working with unit owners and developers. Here, AMX finalizes work at The Plaza Hotel, where private residents will have exclusive access to local restaurants and venues via personalized touchpanels. New York's Concierge Direct is the residential systems integrator on the project. With the U.S. housing market reporting some of the lowest numbers the industry has seen in years, logic dictates that development of multi-dwelling properties has cooled off as well. To a significant extent, this is true, however a surge of foreign investment in areas like Miami, combined with limited space in premium districts of cities like New York, Chicago, Las Vegas, Phoenix, and Denver (if you can't build out, build up), still has systems integrators that specialize in the MDU (multiple dwelling unit) market with plenty on their plates.
  • In large part, this is attributed to a developer's need to differentiate a property from the competition, and fancy countertops, finishes, and fixtures only go so far. "The developer is offering a lifestyle. Why you would want to live at the Mandarin versus the W versus the Ritz-Carlton boils down to the lifestyle you want to have," said Chris Westfall, national director of residential sales at AMX Corporation. This is where AV integrators come in, he said. "Those developers compete based on amenities. If you can provide them with a greater level of service to the resident, you provide them with a higher level of distinction out in the community."
  • Today, developers of luxury high rise and combination condo/hotels (where units can be sublet when the owners aren't there) are turning to technology to set themselves apart from the crowd.
  • "Seven or eight years ago, developers started to ask for differentiating factors," said John Gutekunst, regional director at Crestron Electronics in Maitland, FL. "That can manifest in being able to provide internet, where the developer becomes the ISP for the building." Integrators are also providing systems for common areas-such as digital signage and meeting space technologies-in addition to audio/video distribution, lighting control, and motorized blinds and shades.
  • Concierge services, too, are growing increasingly popular, appealing to busy residents seeking easier ways to manage their lives. Touchscreens are programmed to integrate with on-site amenities, such as the parking valet, spa, or laundry room, as well as with businesses in the community, such as restaurants and grocery stores. AMX's Amenities Solution, for example, is linked with a Simplikate Solutions Techsierge system in an effort to streamline these functions.
  • Systems integrators that specialize in MDU developments, however, employ a different business model than those who work in standalone residences: not only must they interact with the unit's owner when the time comes to customize their dwelling, they must also deal directly with the developer.
  • AMX employs a certification-type process designed to educate dealers about the business management aspects of MDU projects. "Dealers have great expertise in terms of connecting different electronic systems, making lighting systems work, and integrating control systems, but the challenge is understanding the financial sale and being able to speak the developer's language," Westfall said. "The dealers that have been successful in the MDU channel understand that. Technology is an enabler to help them with their product, which in this case is a beautiful, high-end, luxury residence-a lifestyle that is separate from the crowd."
  • This process requires integrators to be extremely well-versed in construction management, Gutekunst notes. "We tend to see more of that skills set in our commercial audiovisual dealers," he said. "If you have a sales center, usually the developer doesn't finance that. You have to finance that for a year and a half, and sometimes up to three years."
  • Cash flow management is also critical, as payment terms differ from those on individual projects. "There is a lot more that can go wrong in a big building than in a single-family home. Other trades get behind-because of labor, materials or financing-and the AV dealer is at the end of the food chain," Gutekunst points out. "They may not get paid as expected, and they have to be able to weather that."
  • All of this requires integrators working in the MDU market to establish themselves as specialists in this area, according to Nicholas DeClemente, director of operations at Concierge Direct, an integration firm based in New Rochelle, NY. "It's a totally different model, and to do it successfully you need to set your business up in a way that will allow you to focus solely on MDU."

Carolyn Heinze has covered everything from AV/IT and business to cowboys and cowgirls ... and the horses they love. She was the Paris contributing editor for the pan-European site Running in Heels, providing news and views on fashion, culture, and the arts for her column, “France in Your Pants.” She has also contributed critiques of foreign cinema and French politics for the politico-literary site, The New Vulgate.