Interview: Fintan McKiernan, Ideal Systems

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Fintan McKiernan, CEO of Ideal Systems SEA, talks about how the broadcast integrator entered the world of AV and what frontiers it will explore in the future.

Ideal Systems began in Dublin, Ireland when the founders built a recording studio called Windmill Lane Studio. They went on to build studios in London and over the years Ideal Systems transitioned into the broadcast industry and relocated to Hong Kong in the 90s on its way to becoming one of the largest broadcast integrators. The evolution of the company continued as three years ago it added an AV division in Hong Kong which was followed by an expansion in Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia.

Fintan McKiernan, CEO of Ideal Systems SEA, is responsible for the integrator’s business activities in the Southeast Asia region. He manages the broadcast, live production and AV divisions. According to him, the focus of Ideal Systems has become clear: “Our core business today is systems integration be it broadcast or AV or even more generic ICT. We design and build systems and solutions.”

The move from broadcast to AV integration felt natural and McKiernan says: “By definition broadcast is AV. Perhaps hyperspecialised AV but AV nonetheless. Right from our musical beginning, Ideal Systems has always had some AV capacity. But our real move into AV was based on the fact that we needed more AV specialisation to sell, design and support AV customers than we could do effectively with our broadcast engineers.”

The experience in broadcast engineering helped the AV division get established quickly. McKiernan says: “We set up AV as a separate division. The structure looks similar, sales, solution architects, deployment engineers, project managers, support engineers, but our people are more focused and trained on the technologies from AV manufacturers.”

Ideal Systems knew that the move into AV integration would not be easy. McKiernan says: “While being similar, broadcast and AV are different. Creating the separate division allowed us to focus and recruit AV specialists, and when the AV team is supported by our existing broadcast and software engineers, interior designers and wiremen, it all locks together very well.”

How well did Ideal Systems’ hard won broadcast expertise translate to the world of AV integration? McKiernan explains that the answer may not be clear-cut: “It’s not so much that broadcast skills translate to AV, but that our broadcast engineers and architects can learn the AV technologies quite quickly. The language and technology is similar, even if it’s a parallel universe.”

However, the trends shaping broadcast and AV are similar and McKiernan says: “This is a convergence story, broadcast is well on its way from Baseband to IP and the AV business is also on a migration path to IP. This is where our broadcast and AV skills will join.”

Ideal Systems’ approach to the business of integration also meant that it walked into the AV world with a point of differentiation. McKiernan says: “We were already pretty unique in the broadcast systems integration space, where we were unique in having our own in-house interior design team, who can design everything from control rooms to studios. We even design and make our own media consoles for control rooms. “From broadcast we already have years of experience in technologies like 4K and 8K and migration to IP. For years we have been building broadcast facilities, but when you look at them today, they are data centres, and not majorly different from the data centre that we might build for a hospital. Both are security sensitive, mission critical and can never go offline.”

The fact that Ideal Systems has a footprint across all of Southeast Asia has meant that its AV division was able to start from a wide base. McKiernan says: “We are a multinational SME. Broadcast is a boutique business and in each country there aren’t many broadcasters. So to grow our business we had to operate in more countries. But the same challenge, the fact that there are not many broadcasters, made us very conscientious of our quality. In a market with few customers, you can’t fail to deliver, you don’t have many bridges to burn. So when we take this customer first approach into AV we believe our customers will appreciate it.”

However, AV is far from being the final frontier for Ideal Systems. McKiernan has identified the convergence of both broadcast and AV with IP as a major trend and this leads to a new business segment. He says: “Our march into ICT has already begun, this again is leveraging on our existing skills. We have been building broadcast facilities for years and we used to build the CAR, (Computer Apparatus Room) for a broadcaster but as we move to IP, this has become a data centre. So ultimately, we are an ICT technology services supplier with an amazing depth of understanding of how to manage large files and streaming video securely. This is a really good skillset to have in the future world we are all going to live in.”

While Ideal Systems will continue to evolve, McKiernan’s objective is simple. He says: “I really strive to drive value from the synergy between our divisions, where we can run lower latency engineering and cabling teams for example and derive more value from the fixed expense of our regional offices in terms of logistics, and local billing. I also sit on the board of Ideal Group where we try to extrapolate these operational efficiencies across the entire group.”