Executive Q&A: Core Connectivity

Jamey Swigert, Atlona
(Image credit: Future)

SCN: How long have you been with this company, and what are your responsibilities?

Jamey Swigert: I was responsible for managing Atlona's inside and outside sales teams in the Americas upon Panduit’s acquisition of Atlona in 2019. That included setting sales strategy, establishing quotas, overseeing sales incentive plans, developing partner programs, and managing the distribution channel. I became executive director of Atlona in 2021, and today I am responsible for overall management and P&L responsibilities as it relates to Atlona’s business.

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I joined Panduit in 2014 in a product management role and then later moved into business development where I had the opportunity to take Panduit into the AV market. I developed a strategic plan that included developing acquisition target lists, initial approach to owners, offer development and due diligence. That journey led Panduit to Atlona and led me to my current position.

Atlona Logo

(Image credit: Atlona)

SCN: As Atlona celebrates its 20th anniversary, what are you most proud of?

JS: Two points come to mind. The first is how we successfully integrated Atlona into Panduit. We have an intentional and well-thought-out plan to maintain Atlona as an independent organization and brand. We also wanted Atlona to leverage the resources and capabilities of a larger parent organization and bring the best of each company to the other. We have achieved those objectives.

Plus, we wanted to maintain Atlona’s culture, which was and remains very distinct from Panduit’s culture. There has been some blending of those cultures, but in a way that doesn’t make Atlona employees feel as though they have been swallowed by a large global company. They maintain their independence and Atlona still projects that feel of a private company. I think that is very important in the AV industry. 

SCN: What’s been the response to the new online Atlona Academy?

JS: The pandemic forced most companies to reconsider their training objectives and how they deliver training content. That naturally meant shifting all training online. We rebuilt our curriculum as we transitioned out of lockdowns and created an entirely new structure. Today we have 100 percent new content and we have recently resumed in-person, hands-on training now that business travel has fully resumed.

The response has been positive. People’s approach toward hands-on training has changed since the pre-pandemic days. Just like hybrid work and hybrid learning, training initiatives now benefit from a hybrid approach. The people who come to our in-person training events learn a lot, and our online content is well-organized and developed in a way that allows us to easily add and change content as new products and features become available. 

SCN: How is Atlona addressing the growing trend of BYOD in meeting spaces?

JS: Atlona was among the first out of the gate with wireless collaboration products in 2017. This was around the time that the BYOD movement gained momentum, and most products at the time relied on dongles or software downloads. We were at the forefront of supporting native casting capabilities direct from the user’s mobile device. Last year we began shipping the AT-WAVE-101, our second-generation wireless presentation platform, which added dynamic content layouts and automated connect and disconnect capabilities, which among other enhancements positioned the WAVE 101 as a hands-free BYOM solution.

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We continue to move forward with other connectivity innovations that are at the core of Atlona’s philosophy. That includes the inclusion of USB-C in many Atlona products, as USB-C is becoming the predominant connection technology. We are adding more power into USB-C delivery for our customers, including the ability to charge devices as they present. Finally, we continue to advance our capabilities with USB routing, such as tying microphones, cameras, and speakers together. Working on the core technology that enables our products and everything to seamlessly work together helps us stand out in the marketplace. 

SCN: What trends—or stumbling blocks—are you seeing in the AVoIP space?

JS: The integration side of the AV business remains somewhat challenged with fundamental networking knowledge, such as properly configuring switches. The industry has made strides in developing networking talent from the inside and bringing in outside talent with IT experience. But integrators lacking those networking skills are hesitant to propose or specify it.

There are arguments to be made about whether standardization is good or bad, but when products do not work together, that is problematic for the end user.

The lack of standardization among vendors presents another challenge. There are arguments to be made about whether standardization is good or bad, but when products do not work together, that is problematic for the end user. Interoperability matters, and while it’s not a complete barrier to AV-over-IP, it does make customers think longer and harder about whether that’s a route they want to take. 

SCN: Atlona is known for its connectivity solutions, but then there are the Atlona Room Kits. What makes your room kits unique?

JS: The Atlona Room Kits, or ARKs as we call them, developed from discussions with our integration partners. We were hearing that they wanted to bid on more projects but lacked the resources to handle the workload. When you have two designers and 10-15 bids, the math doesn’t work. Project bids are time-consuming tasks that require a lot of knowledge, parts from at least several manufacturers, and assurance that those parts will work together. This was made more difficult as supply chain challenges emerged.

The ARKs were developed to reduce the bottleneck of design, procurement, and hours on site. These are all-in-one kits that helps integrators complete jobs as quickly as possible. That begins with a single part number that provides everything an integrator needs to setup a meeting space—down to the pre-terminated category cables. All the customer needs to know is the size of the meeting space. There is no design, the ordering is simplified, and the kits are 80% configured upon being received. This speeds up the entire process and helps the integrator get in, get out, and move on to the next job.

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As for cameras and speakers, Atlona has been making PTZ cameras for several years. However, our new Captivate Series includes an ePTZ camera that provides the high-quality performance and imaging of a conventional PTZ camera, and automatically resizes and centers the image based on the detection of up to six people. It continuously adapts as people enter or leave the field of view. The Captivate line also includes our first speakerphone, and both products work in unison to provide advanced functionality within flexible meeting spaces and smaller collaboration environments, including huddle spaces. Atlona developed this line specifically to improve videoconferencing experiences over the native capabilities of most laptops, computers, and all-in-one devices. 

SCN: What’s the one piece of advice you’d give a company looking to upgrade its meeting spaces?

JS: There is a benefit for end users to standardize on certain technologies and manufacturers, but sometimes it’s helpful to take a fresh look at other vendors. Meeting spaces and classrooms are undergoing major technology transformations everywhere, and as companies and schools refresh their infrastructures, they should consider the challenges they have faced with their existing systems. My advice is to have an open mind and consider new options, because you will be surprised at what else is out there. 

SCN: What new initiatives can we expect from Atlona at InfoComm and beyond?

JS: We debuted OmniStream 2.0, our next generation AV-over-IP firmware, at ISE. It is a major advancement that brings new capabilities like 4K@60, fast switching, and multiview processing. These will help customers create layouts on video walls that typically require external processors that cost north of $10,000. We can provide thumbnail previews on our Velocity touchpanels for sources, and new, highly-efficient coding means that customers can move more streams between switches. And the best thing for OmniStream customers is that it is a completely free firmware update. That is a lot of new capability for no cost.

Given all of these important benefits, OmniStream 2.0 will be the center point for us at InfoComm. We will soon release a new Velocity touchpanel and that will be on the stand, and there are several other new products under development. I don’t want to give away too many details yet, but Atlona has a very strong product release schedule through 2023, some of which will debut at InfoComm. 

SCN: What’s next for the Pro AV industry?

JS: There will continue to be change. Things have changed very fast in AV over the last three years, but I don’t see that slowing down in the near future. We know that chipset vendors behind HDBaseT and AV-over-IP are on the verge of bringing new functionality to the market. That will shake up things on the manufacturer side.

Customer preferences are also changing and diverging. There is a set that is moving toward BYOM. That is timely because we all became very familiar with soft codec conferencing and remote work during the pandemic. Another segment wants to invest in licensed rooms that run a specific instance of codec and locking themselves into an ecosystem of certified hardware.

These are two very divergent paths, and it will be interesting to see how each develops. As manufacturers, we have to be prepared for the market moving in many directions. That goes for the integrator and distributor as well. In the end, we all have to be agile and willing to adapt to changing customer preferences.

Mark J. Pescatore
Content Director

Mark J. Pescatore, Ph.D., is the content director of Systems Contractor News. He has been writing about Pro AV industry for more than 25 years. Previously, he spent more than eight years as the editor of Government Video magazine. During his career, he's produced and hosted two podcasts focused on the professional video marketplace, taught more than a dozen college communication courses, co-authored the book Working with HDV, and co-edited two editions of The Guide to Digital Television.