James Goulding talks to Nigel Steljes about his new company and interactive flat panel displays
Avocor is a new name to reckon with in the AV industry. A specialist manufacturer of interactive touch screens for the education and corporate sectors, the company is the latest venture of Nigel Steljes who set up and ran AV distributor Steljes for 28 years.
Steljes went into administration in May after falling out with SMART Technologies, which accounted for 60- 70% of the distributor’s turnover. Avocor was officially launched on June 14, but its interactive touch screens – the world’s fist to run on the Windows 10 operating system – were originally unveiled at January’s BETT show under the Vividtouch brand. The 65, 75 and 84in flt panels cost around £3,000 to £5,000 and are sold through a network of value-added resellers.
On June 17, Avocor announced an agreement with Nureva Inc. to distribute its Span ideation and classroom collaboration systems. James Goulding spoke to Avocor managing director Nigel Steljes about the new company, its products and its plans for the future.
Business Info:What does Avocor manufacture and where?
Nigel Steljes: We build an interactive panel, currently branded Vividtouch but it will transfer across to the Avocor name. We have designed this product very, very carefully to give teachers exactly what they want at the front of the class. Most manufacturers say the same, but this product has significant differences relating to touch, functionality, connectability. All of those things are really key. And the operating system is Windows 10, which is pretty much ubiquitous.
We use an OEM manufacturer called Agile Displays based in Taiwan. They are a quality manufacturer. They make displays for a number of high profile vendors and have been doing so for a long time. The general view is that they make a very high quality product. We are on our third generation of product built by them, and in our experience product reliability is very good.
BI:The Windows 10 Vividtouch VTF series was unveiled at the BETT education show. Are you also targeting corporate customers?
Steljes: This panel was designed with an education user in mind. So, on the front it has a freeze frame function, which enables a teacher to freeze an image on the screen so that pupils can refer to it while they are doing coursework or while the teacher is loading something else on their computer. Then, as soon as they want to go live again, they can bring it back. It also has a blank screen feature, so if the teacher wants to be the focus of attention they can press a button and the screen will go blank. These things were designed for education. But the amazing thing is we have had a phenomenal response from the enterprise market. One major bank is about to deploy nearly 250 panels in meeting rooms around the globe. The tick box for them was the Windows 10 platform. All their people have Windows 10 loaded on their notebooks, so it offers a completely familiar experience; there is no bespoke software to learn.
BI: Is there much demand for interactive displays in the corporate market?
Steljes: My track record has always been bringing in new technologies. I launched LCD panels in the ‘80s – they sat on overhead projectors and gave very simplistic data projection. That morphed into the self-contained LCD projector, and I was the largest distributors of those – the largest in the world for a period in the ‘90s. Then, we launched plasma televisions at £12,000 a pop. The point is that we have always spotted the next thing. In education sales of interactive flat panels (IFPs) are very robust, but it is a replacement market – IFPs are going in and interactive whiteboards are being taken out. The excitement and the potential, especially when you build something on the Windows 10 platform, is in the enterprise market.
When you try to sell something that operates on a bespoke platform, that requires a training programme and is unintuitive, it’s very difficult to get buy in from organisations. But we are offering a tool that is familiar and simple to use.
The consultants who negotiated the deal with the bank sat in a room with three of its stakeholders – one from HR, one from IT and one from Facilities. HR said: ‘We have no issues with training in HR, because it’s a Windows platform.’ IT said: ‘It’s a Windows 10 front end, so there are no issues with integration with our systems.’ And Facilities said: ‘It’s a big telly on the wall, we’ve got no problem with that’. People have never had that simplicity before; AV was always a bit quirky.
BI: So the bank was willing to invest even at a time of political and economic uncertainty.
Steljes: Of course. If a bunch of managers in a room write stuff down on a flip chart or use dozens of Post-It notes, somebody has to take responsibility for capturing and photographing that information. That’s how most meetings still happen in enterprises, and it is such an inefficient way of doing things. You need to use a digital whiteboard, an interactive device, a collaborative device; write things down; save the pages; and then, at the end of the meeting, hit ‘email all’ so that every attendee gets the notes straight away. That’s efficiency and it saves organisations money. There is an upfront cost, but over the fie years you have the technology you will save thousands of pounds.
BI: In addition to Windows 10, your product literature highlights InGlass technology. Please could you tell me more about that.
Steljes: This is probably the most important thing. It comes from a Swedish company called Flat Frog and is completely unique. Most touch displays are run on an infra-red basis; they scan the surface of the screen – the top one or two inches. Very often, if you are wearing a suit and your cuff touches the screen as you write, you will see a blemish underneath as the panel thinks you are double-touching. Also, with infrared it is impossible to draw a line, stop, leave a gap of a pixel and then continue the line in exactly the same place. Because infrared hovers above it is not that accurate. With InGlass technology, the sensor is inside the glass, so when you touch the screen the response is pixel perfect; you can draw a line, leave a gap of a pixel and start again. Ours is the only device currently on the market that can do that.
BI: What plans do you have for Avocor? Will you manufacture other products and/or distribute products from other manufacturers? I see that you have a distribution agreement with Nureva.
Steljes: In essence, Avocor is going to be our brand. We will move away from the Vivitouch name and rebrand everything under the Avocor label. Nureva is a legacy thing and over the course of this year we will probably form another company to handle them. I’ve known the founders of SMART Technologies for a very long time – Dave Martin invented the interactive whiteboard. He and his wife left SMART Technologies some three or four years ago to work on new projects. It’s natural for me to get involved with Nureva as I helped build the interactive whiteboard brand for SMART. It’s very exciting technology.
BI: What exactly is Nureva’s ideation technology?
Steljes: Ideation is a projector-based solution that you really have to see to understand. Effectively, you have a screen 10 foot wide and no more than 3 foot deep that gives you an incredibly wide canvas to work on. In addition to the screen, there is an extra 10 foot you can scroll either way, so you actually have 20 feet of canvas to work on. If you put two screens side-by-side you have got a 20 foot wall of information and thoughts, with a 40 foot scroll. To try and achieve such a canvas with interactive flt panels would be prohibitely expensive, but doing it with a projector is relatively cost-effective. In North America, Nureva’s fist customer was NASA; it has big problems and needed an effective means of solving them and sharing output from meetings digitally.
BI: Is Avocor considering any other product areas?
Steljes: We are focusing purely on interactive devices. The name trust will be on screens; that is what we do. We are currently working on our fourth generation product which we will launch at BETT next January.