Harman has consolidated its regional offices into one Singapore HQ. Pride of place is the Harman Professional Customer Experience Centre. We take a tour.
Text:/ Christopher Holder
The aircraft carrier is definitely turning round. As you might imagine for a company with around a US$7b annual turnover and 29,000 employees worldwide, it’s not a quick and painless process. The Professional segment of the Harman business might be small compared to its connected car division but it remains by far the largest group in our sector – so there are plenty of eyeballs trained on Harman’s every move.
I spoke to Harman Professional’s regional boss, Ramesh Jayaraman (read the full interview later this story), and the prevailing mantra is about shifting focus to ‘solutions’, ‘experiences’, and to the ‘end customer’.
AV Asia Pacific dropped by the new Customer Experience Centre in Singapore. It’s impressive, and it’s a tangible manifestation of Harman’s pivot to solutions and users, and not just traditional ‘sales channels’.
Built into Harman’s new regional offices it provides a nexus point for distributors, technical support people, integrators and installers, as well as key customers to meet, consult, be trained, and be inspired.
All of Harman Professional’s big-name brands (the likes of JBL, Crown, Soundcraft, Studer, AKG, Martin, AMX, BSS, dbx, Lexicon) are present but they’re organised in terms of application rather than product group. In fact, the theme of the centre is ‘Engineering a Connected Enterprise’ and there are spaces for those interested in venues, theatres, recording studios, commercial facilities and hospitality. Through interactive touch panels and live demonstrations, guests can experience the latest in networked AV, broadcast 4K video and other audio, video and lighting technologies.
“With the opening of our new Customer Experience Centre in Singapore, we are demonstrating our commitment to expanding growth and customer engagement in the Asia Pacific region,” said Ramesh Jayaraman, Vice President and General Manager, Asia Pacific, Harman Professional Solutions. “The new location will help us develop closer relationships with our enterprise and entertainment customers, as they experience firsthand how we can meet their needs through innovative, integrated and holistic solutions.”
Ramesh Jayaraman: One of the big markets for us in the Asia Pacific is hospitality: hotels, bars, nightclubs, shopping malls, etc. The hotel industry in the Asia Pacific is huge, with developments in the Philippines, Australia, here in Singapore and elsewhere.
In this area, we showcase our Martin brand of lighting which is great for retail theming, mood lighting in a hotel lobby or something more dynamic in a small bar or club. With the audio options on the other hand, we want to help customers to look, feel and experience our vast range of ceiling speakers The little JBL Control 42s working with a sub is quite a revelation for many, as are the pendant speakers — perfect for situations that feature industrial interior designs with exposed ceilings.
Not forgetting the AMX Inspired signage platform, which is also a great fit for Hospitality. Whether it be inside a hotel room, hotel lobby or shopping mall wayfinding.
Ramesh Jayaraman: The idea of the Experience Centre is to better demonstrate all the various markets Harman is engaged in. You see, many customers’ experience of Harman is confined to our individual brands such as Soundcraft, Studer, or JBL. We want to change that experience and showcase to customers how Harman Professional Solutions is a one-stop solution provider to your audio, video, lighting, and control needs.
Everything you see and hear is all within one converged network. So all our audio, video, lighting, and control, is sitting on the one converged network. This is quite a unique selling point as far as selling a solution is concerned.
The purpose of this Experience Centre is to showcase how everything works together. We’re leveraging Harman’s technology even when we’re presenting something as basic as a set of headphones. There’s an AMX control panel controlling a BSS media server, which is playing back media on demand for the customer to listen to, whether that’s a speaker or headphone using the mixing console.
Ramesh Jayaraman: This is using the SVSI technology to do the video wall processing. We have a decoder behind every single screen, but otherwise you do not need any external processing in order to achieve a video wall – it’s all programmable by a web browser interface. For us here, we use the video wall and the stage for presentations and showcase our offering for large venues like stadiums, outdoor arenas and large displays.
Ramesh Jayaraman: Martin Professional is best known not only for its show lighting but also architectural lighting options. Everything from the LED floodlights — building-level fixtures — down to strip lighting (which is illuminating the graphic wall) to simple gobo projectors are featured in the experience centre. It provides another facet to the offering. Especially for customers coming from large venues — these days it’s just as much what you’re doing outside the stadium as it is inside the stadium.
Ramesh Jayaraman: We’ve got a miniaturised version of the sort of technology we would see at a Harman-powered concert or event. A small VerTec line array system, a Soundcraft Vi7 digital mixing system, a Martin M6 lighting controller, and a range of Martin Professional high-end lighting fixtures — Auras, LED washes, and a lot of the creative LED elements as well; from low resolution pitch LED dots to 6mm LED panels. Bring in live-recorded stems and you can mix a show in here. It is great training for FOH engineers!
Ramesh Jayaraman: We’ve got a new microphone demo app where we’ve recorded hours of different instruments using the different AKG mics. It’s about letting the customer hear. You can use that Perception microphone for vocals, but hear the difference when you use a AKG C414.
Ramesh Jayaraman: The network video section demonstrates the capabilities of our SVSI by AMX system. You can select from different levels of quality depending on your bandwidth and the level of latency.
We’re demonstrating SVSI’s first-generation 4K video over the network. With a side-by-side comparison of the raw 4k coming from a Blu-Ray source and the networked version. It’s quite impressive. There’s very little difference in the colour rendition, with just a bit of latency. What it does is it uses a derivative of JPEG2000 compression. Currently, we’re showing it using a gigabit connection. The newer version is down to 250Mbs of streaming data, which actually makes it considerably more usable.
We’re finding increasing interest in 4K quality video streams in meeting spaces, video walls and more.
RECORDING & PRODUCTION
Ramesh Jayaraman: The centrepiece here is the Studer Vista V console. Historically we send customers to the Studer factory in Europe for the sort of training they can now enjoy here — having the console here is a real treat. Broadcast, especially, is really based around providing a customised solution, so it would be great to sit with a customer here and understand their requirements and work with them on the options, and work through precisely how they’d like their console to be configured and/or their OB truck to be laid out. We can support multi-channel audio and have a JBL L7 series 5.1 system here.
JBL EON ONE
Ramesh Jayaraman: Lastly, the new Eon One. It is finding homes everywhere. Not just with portable PA users but AV rental companies, hospitality customers, somebody who wants to do a little town hall in the middle of their office, schools, and educations institution. Its handy, portable and can be used in both indoor and outdoor spaces. It is great for a small meeting to public performances.
Ramesh Jayaraman: The new Soundcraft Ui console means that as a guitarist, I can plug my instrument straight into the DI box and then access a bunch of dbx guitar modelling, and Digitech amp modelling built-in.
The Soundcraft Ui forms the core of our new connected PA solution we launched at NAMM. You can plug in one of our new AKG microphones and the mixer automatically detects the microphone model and recalls any saved preset you have configured for that microphone. Connect to our new JBL PRX800 loudspeakers, and the mixer knows you’re connected to that loudspeaker and you can control the DSP from the loudspeaker.
The future of live performance has indeed arrived. We are excited how this is going to evolve further.
Ramesh Jayaraman: This is our entry level Soundcraft product, it’s an all-in-one DSP core controlled by any HTML5-enabled browser. So there are multiple ins, outs, Dante GPIO control, the ability to plug in external fader bays. You can control it via an iPad, your phone or your laptop. There’s a built-in wi-fi access point so you can record into it. It’s all configured as you would expect an on-air console to be. Perfect for small radio stations, for ENG, in the back of a broadcast truck or somebody taking out in their rucksack.
Ramesh Jayaraman: Welcome to the world’s most professional and exhaustive headphone display area! It’s important to differentiate the professional headphones from the consumer alternatives. We do not have Bluetooth; they are not controlled by apps; they are all reference-quality product. Having the gallery here allows people to understand the tonal differences between a closed-back and open-back pair of headphones.
RAMESH JAYARAMAN INTERVIEW
AV Asia Pacific Interview: Ramesh Jayaraman, Vice President and General Manager, Asia Pacific, Harman Professional Solutions.
AV Asia Pacific: You’re heading up Asia Pac for Harman. How’s it now set up?
Ramesh Jayaraman: For Harman the Asia Pacific region consists of 20+ countries where we work with our distributors, partners, system integrators and retailers to offer Harman Professional Solutions’s brands to our customers. The region is headquartered in Singapore.
AV Asia Pacific: You’re quite new to this job. What’s your background?
Ramesh Jayaraman: My background is in business strategy, planning, direction, and in driving growth in a co-ordinated manner, with the focus from start to finish on the customer ecosystem with distributor, system integrators, dealers, architects and consultants, designers and end users.
At Harman our focus will be on our customer and their experience. With all the different Harman brands now under one roof, together with their in-depth expertise we are in a great position to take advantage of the potential that the region has to offer. For my part, my appointment allows me to work with Harman global teams and bridge the gap with a regional Asia Pacific perspective.
I come from a systems integration background with 15+ years of experience. During my earlier tenure our team had changed the company from a product-based to a customer-centric solutions-based company. The approach and experience will be of great help in my current position, while Harman is already in a great position with strong momentum and we are looking to further accelerate growth with the great team we have on ground.
AV Asia Pacific: Harman is going through significant changes. What’s been your main focus in the early days of your tenure?
Ramesh Jayaraman: Harman’s approach is based on a Customer First approach. We have segmented our markets with emphasis on business development and channel management catering to the diverse nature of our customers. The enterprise business comprises of different vertical segments such as corporate, education, government, hospitality and large venue and entertainment business comprises touring, retail and cinema. The lighting business, due to its unique nature, will continue the strong focus on architectural lighting and entertainment lighting while being subject matter solution experts to our business development efforts. This allows us to approach each vertical, by offering flexible, customised, complete best-in-class audio, video, lighting and control solutions; solutions that our customers can trust will meet their needs, work right the first time and continue to work well for years to come.
AV Asia Pacific: Sounds like that’ll necessitate changes in the way you sell?
Ramesh Jayaraman: Our strategy is to work closely with our distributors, partners and system integrators and offer to our customers the best in class suite of Harman Professional Solutions. We follow a ‘vertical specific’ approach in our markets. Our focus is aligned with our global strategy and focus areas. These include Cinema, Touring and Retail in Entertainment business and Corporate, Education, Government, Large Venues, Hospitality among others in our enterprise solutions. Over the years, Harman Professional solutions have transformed from a products-based, to a customer-centric solutions-based business, always working closely with the partners ecosystem and leveraging their expertise. More importantly, we are now creating experiences by merging our different technologies such as Martin Architectural Lights, AMX control automation, LED panels and JBL speakers to the cinema space and bringing exceptional experiences that every customer is looking for.
AV Asia Pacific: Practically how do you do that?
Ramesh Jayaraman: We’re assisted by a business development team and consultant alliance group team; it’s a structure that looks at working with end users and influencers.
If the market is hotels, then we’re actually talking to those hotels directly, and pulling the integrators and distributors along with us to provide the solution.
AV Asia Pacific: Talking to end users presumably ruffles the feathers of your traditional channel partners?
Ramesh Jayaraman: As mentioned earlier, I come from a systems integration background with 15+ years of experience, and there are distinct roles the manufacturers, distributors and system integrators play. My role is to facilitate our traditional channel partner to increase their markets, customers and business. We are helping them to enhance their ability to sell and service their customers using the latest technology, training methods and customer-first approach. The approach is to stimulate the market to enhance business and market penetration.
AV Asia Pacific: Traditionally, if I’m an AMX dealer or an integrator that relies on AMX, my view of Harman is comparatively narrow. But surely that’s a good thing… I’m a specialist?
Ramesh Jayaraman: I’m a person who looks at the background of customer first.
When people plan or address an opportunity, they’ll naturally view it through the prism of one vertical or another. That said, we’re encouraging those people to delve deeper; to peel the Harman onion; to leverage the Harman portfolio to best serve their vertical.
AV Asia Pacific: Where does the Experience Centre fit?
Ramesh Jayaraman: The Harman Customer Experience Centre is another recent Harman investment in the Asia Pacific region that will have a positive impact. The centre gives visitors specific insights into Harman Professional Solutions, including category-leading brands such as AKG, AMX, BSS, Crown, dbx, JBL, Lexicon, Martin, Soundcraft and Studer. These best-in-class products are designed, manufactured and delivered to a variety of customers, including recording and broadcast, musicians, cinema, touring sound, commercial sound and contracting applications. From major sports arenas, entertainment venues and nightclubs to hotel resorts, classrooms, airports and houses of worship among others. Our customers are looking for a full solutions package and Harman is in the forefront of bringing it together for them. At the Experience Centre, customers are able to explore the wide variety of solutions, test proof of concepts, consult with specialists and experience Harman technology in real-world scenarios. The experience centre is also a convergence of technologies, showcasing our end-to-end solution offerings, our AV over IP capabilities, while highlighting the experience collectively with our various solutions.
AV Asia Pacific: Does the Experience Centre also say to your channel partners: hey, we’re a smart company and we’ll help you with back office technical support for that project you’re tendering or to your customer’s design?
Ramesh Jayaraman: Our first focus is to work closely with our partners, and make them the best at serving our customers. As a support, we’ve got a technical team centred here and they work on key projects with our distributors and integrators to bring it to fruition. It’s something we do internationally as well. We can provide support small to mega business deals.But the more important intent is about simplification. Yes, large-scale projects can be intricate and complex. Lastly, it is about simplification. Our product roadmap is about making systems easier to operate and easier to configure. We’re starting to see that with our new connected PA product…. Not only do we have the equipment talking to each other, to showcase systems, we’re building an ecosystem, where products actually recognise each other.
AV Asia Pacific: I guess we’re returning to the fact that everything is soon to hang off the network. That’s how simplification and interoperability comes about.
Ramesh Jayaraman: And that’s part of our pitch to the integrator: they have to upskill:
It happened in other industries 10 – 15 years ago. It is continuing to evolve in the AV industry. As I alluded to earlier, the IP transformation for the security industry was swift… not much more than two years for it to take over. In fact, it happened so quickly that people got bounced out.
We’re living in an IP world. It’s not a matter of if your business will be totally impacted by it, it’s just a matter of when. The world is simply getting more connected.