Sound, lighting and AV specialist Audiotek has designed and fitted out leading clubs and entertainment venues around the world, along with corporate and government work. Its Dublin-based CEO Frank Murray talks about how IT supports the business and the search for the golden bullet to maximise efficiency.
Obviously, Audiotek relies a lot on technology for the audio and video services it provides to venues, but can you tell me how IT supports your business?
We use technology as the glue that holds everything together but it comes back to people: how you meet the customer demands, and how the chemistry works for them. Like any company, we could perform out of a suitcase and a handheld and a laptop. Everything we do is driven by our software and our people.
Every element of what we do is driven by information technology: the music is digitally composed and presented. Our backbone systems in all of the venues we do are all software driven and controlled.
We can analyse and fault-find on all our systems remotely. Every single element is networked. The systems are intelligent, they self-analyse. Everything in the amp is accessible by us, and there’s a GUI front end if you want to do it locally … With most of the manufacturers we work with, the major selling point now is not the performance, it’s the control. We can look at an amp in Tel Aviv and can tell if it’s not working.
What kind of software do you use in the business?
We would use all the collaboration tools that are out there. We Skype all the time, we use Viber. We’re looking forward to 4G – it’s extraordinary in the UK and the US. We use Dropbox a lot because of the size of files we would be working with.
I would always insist on having our own independent service for everything. I would never risk having it all cloud based, because I know how these things can go wrong.
What’s the split between what you save to the cloud and what’s stored locally?
Every piece of data is saved in both. I’d be freaked out by doing it any other way.
Isn’t there an element of keeping a dog and barking yourself? Isn’t the idea of moving to the cloud that you can save money, so why do both?
Totally, but I would be too old fashioned and have seen too many things go wrong to risk it.
But seeing as you’re using the cloud, what advantages does it give you?
It’s a very good way of ensuring you’re never caught out. If I’m sitting in New York, I’ll get [my information] from the cloud but I like the idea that if something happens, I can just plug in to my own server. It’s like having a bit of paper. I can’t work paperless; it’s nearly a visceral thing that you have in your hand.
We’ve nine people here in Dublin, two in London and two in the US full time. Everyone talks to each other at least twice a day. Everyone needs to know what’s happening and what we’re working on, because everyone can contribute.
The worst thing in an SME is that two people can be doing completely different projects, but had it been thrown out there [to the group], one of the other people could bring a fresh pair of eyes to problem, or maybe bring a way of doing it that’s radically different. So everyone must get involved.
The HQ Beach Club at Revel’s Resort in Atlantic City, USA. Audiotek won a €3m contract to design and install the sound, lighting and AV elements at the venue
How do you make that work, when your staff are spread between different locations and different countries?
At the moment, we’re testing a service backbone where service calls are logged automatically and they go up on the system, which then allocates it to people most appropriate to the job. By the time their GPS is prompted, there’s a virtual service sheet done and by the time the service call is over, it has generated an invoice.
The time expended on travel is all calculated automatically. Once it’s assigned it automatically feeds to the service administrator, and it goes automatically to accounts and a report is generated for the venue operator, as well. We built it ourselves. To be honest, there’s a couple of apps that go most of the way there and we’ve tweaked it.
That sounds like it could be a game changer for the company?
It’s too early to say. The game changers rarely work as well as they should. You get battle scarred by taking these things and seeing them as a panacea for what you’re trying to do.
The goal always is to make us more efficient. We like the idea that everything you do has to be intuitive. If it doesn’t flow, you’re on an uphill battle. It has to bring you nearer to, not further from efficiency. As soon as people [in your company] see it, they have to embrace it instantly.
So your approach to bringing in new IT sounds very much like you prefer to get buy-in from staff instead of imposing the change …
To be honest, the key guys in the company all have their own order numbers … they come and tell you what they’re doing as opposed to asking your permission. I try to run it more or less as a consensus. It’s not as hierarchical as some places.
If they don’t believe in it, it’s a waste of time. Most of our staff are with us over 10 years. We tend to make it a collaborative event and something they’re a part of. If people invest themselves in a job and feel they’re part of the result, then they’re happy to work.
I like to have a bit of uniformity but even that can be thrown out the window … I’m happy to maintain flexibility.
There’s a lot spoken about the ‘bring your own device’ movement: do you have a company-wide standard for devices or is it everyone for themselves?
Two or three people here would look at stuff all the time. Anyone in a small business with a technical bent is always looking for the killer app or killer product that will make your life easier – the golden bullet that solves a problem.
We would not look at anything and say ‘you can’t have that’. If it makes sense, we buy it. Now, we’ve gone up a few cul-de-sacs in our time but we always try and bring tools to the job that make the most sense. You have to constantly be on top of what’s available to offer people to do their job.
It’s the same with fault-finding and analytical tools. We would have that and we would always be looking for something better.
Every one of us would be early adopters of iPads, iPhones and Samsung Android devices.
What’s your own approach to technology – is it just a cost to be managed and a service to be provided as cheaply as possible, or do you think it can be a competitive differentiator and a source of innovation?
We’re all geeks. We’re in the leisure and hospitality business and the entertainment business. We’re a little bit naïve in that we get excited about the next big thing.
When dealing on an international level, the level of information these people have, they’re very switched on: they’re always working in social media and looking for trends in fashion or music innovation. If you’re going to meet these people, you need to talk their language if you’re going to talk them into using you as a company.
What are the big trends in your sector and how will you use technology to address them?
Virtual teleconferencing is a very big thing at the moment. But I still make an effort to go there and meet people face-to-face, and reassure them and show that I have done the legwork.
We would go to shows constantly, we do exhibitions, but no matter how good the technology is, you still have to press the flesh and be there yourself. Once you’ve established the relationship, the technology reinforces it.
But to take the other day, for a meeting with a client we pulled our architect who happened to be in San Francisco, I was in Dublin, the client’s representative was in 14th Street and Eighth Avenue in New York. We talked about some aspects of the job, and I pulled in one of our guys who was in Clontarf. We pulled photos up as we were talking. And the drawings will be sent before the client gets out of bed this morning. Technology makes life much easier.