Singapore implemented what is termed the COVID-19 Circuit Breaker (CCB). During this period, only essential services were allowed to operate and that too with distancing and other safety-related measures needing to be in place. By and large, residents were told to stay home. The initial four weeks circuit breaker was extended for another four weeks till 2nd June. As there were some positive results from the breaker, some additional businesses have been allowed to open since then. The government has however highlighted that things will certainly not return to normal from 2nd June and have encouraged organisations to continue with telecommuting as much as possible. We expect a slow opening up of businesses.

We reached out to the top System Integrators in Singapore to get their views. Five out of the eight that we approached participated. I think it is fair to say that the outcome of the comments reflects the state of the industry in Singapore as these companies together are responsible for a large number of projects in Singapore.

In regards to the question, if more projects were cancelled or postponed during the CCB, the respondents have overall highlighted that the most of the projects have been postponed with only a very small percentage of jobs being cancelled. That is good news for the industry.`

Fintan Mc Kiernan, CEO, Ideal Systems (Singapore), comments, “Luckily not many of our projects were cancelled or postponed. This is mainly due to the fact that a lot of our AV projects are relating to video conferencing and remote working solutions that organisations need in order to be able to enable their employees to work from home. Also a high proportion of our projects are with government departments and were considered as essential services.”

Did the SIs continue to work during the lockdown period? For Ideal Systems, the company has continued with certain key projects for the national broadcaster and various government communications projects during the lockdown period.

According to Angeline Tan, Managing Director (Singapore/ Malaysia/Indonesia) VEGA Project, the company has had an exemption from the Singapore government for nine staff as they had to be on call at Parliament House for house sittings.

Esco’s General Manager, Christopher Lim, comments, “ESCO as a provider of ICT solutions has been granted the general exemption. A small pool of our engineers have also been activated to support small works/maintenance for some of our clients who are also under the essential services. For these visits, safe distancing is being observed and our team wears a mask at all times. We have also limited the size of our team in the office to one or two a day, for logistics or shipment arrangements. We have registered for SafeEntry for our office which is mandatory to facilitate contact tracing initiatives.”

Both PAVE System and Electronics & Engineering also confirm that they have been providing services to essential organisations during the lockdown and maintaining strict adherence to regulations related to safe distancing, temperature checking and minimum workforce.

SI Asia was keen to know what opportunities, if any, have cropped-up for the SIs due to the stay home notice?

Fintan offers that a range of opportunities has cropped up for Ideal Systems. “On the broadcast side our Cloud Division launched our new Cloud-Based Disaster Recovery system for business continuity which can be quickly deployed should any broadcaster get a Covid-19 outbreak in their broadcast facility. This DR system builds on top of our new Cloud Broadcast Integration platform and demonstrates the speed of deployment and flexibility of cloud-based broadcast systems over legacy systems.

On the AV side of our business, we are seeing a major increase in organisations looking to ramp up their video conferencing infrastructure to allow more working from home and also to host virtual business to business meetings. For video conferencing, we are working with all the key vendors from Poly and Logitech to Zoom. For the latter, we have launched a range of preconfigured quick to deploy Zoom Room’s with LG Business Solutions.”

Angeline highlights that tender interviews are now 100% on video. “We are also able to use video clips instead of face to face demonstration of equipment proposed. On the company end, we now do our project meetings in the comfort of our home and they have proven to be more productive.”

“I am also pleased to share that educational institutes are now asking for distance learning, including sports area. The Parliament has also voted to allow Cabinet members to meet remotely. There is obviously concerns regarding online security which has given us the opportunity to sell our strengths.”

Christopher adds, “The lockdown in response to the COVID-19 pandemic has presented opportunities for ESCO to serve the community by way of enabling remote “working from home” and video conferencing solutions. As a partner of Zoom and Microsoft, ESCO has helped many businesses set up such solutions with ease during this pandemic.”

Gary Goh, Deputy Managing Director, Electronics & Engineering reiterates that the company has seen an increase in interest in several product segments namely, video conferencing, home recording/podcasting/streaming.

We were curious to know how the SIs were handling the current lockdown internally? The theme of upgrading knowledge and using the time to better align operational capabilities was common among all the respondents. Jeffrey Lim, Managing Director, PAVE System shares that he and PAVE management have spent more time virtually with employees resulting in operations becoming better aligned than before. “Staff have also been able to attend trainings, revise and suggest improvements to the workflow.”

“We are focussing on being operationally effective as best we can working from home through regular communication within the teams and department heads. There is also a huge focus on training and self-improvement within the teams,” says Gary.

Christopher adds, “To ensure everyone in ESCO is fully supported in this time, we have established a task force to assist with any issues our staff might face while working from home, be it a technical difficulty, communication platforms or the mental well-being of everyone. We are also encouraging all staff to leverage on the opportunity to upgrade our skills and better support clients in the post-COVID-19 landscape.”

Vega Project, on the other hand, has produced a 23-page Business Continuity Planning collateral. The very well detailed plan touches on human resource management, monitoring the development of the virus updates and how the message is to be disseminated. Details on preventive procedures that have been set in place are clearly spelt out and includes personnel responsible for backup to cover the duties of key office holders, should there be a need.

Fintan shares, “We have many offices across APAC so its been a challenging few months. However, we have used the time wisely and many of our engineers have been using time under lockdown to brush up on skills with online training. We have had many engineers getting AVIXA certification for Zoom Room Integration for example, which will be a very useful skillset after the lockdowns end.”

Our final question to the respondents was to get their opinion on the impact of conferencing solutions business for the AV industry? We wanted to know if conferencing out of residences will have an impact on implementing huddle room and conferencing solutions in offices.

According to Christopher working from home and working in an office are two different things. “An office is a collaborative environment where you don’t work in isolation and most meetings are a hybrid of physical and virtual attendees. It should not affect the demand for huddle rooms and conferencing facilities. If anything the Covid19 crisis has forced people to raise their awareness of soft codec video conferencing and learn how to maximize its potential. This is generally a good thing for the future of the industry and we are gearing up and innovating to address the demand.”

Jeffrey concurs, “We believe demand for huddle rooms will continue as small teams collaboration in the office is still necessary Where is the opportunity for the AV industry? Greater demand for collaborative devices as large organisations diversify their operations to reduce risk.”

Angeline feels that there will be a big change in the “need” for meeting rooms. The debate will be the need versus the want. “On the other hand, I feel overseas travel for business will slow down so video conferencing demand will certainly go up for our industry with even more detail to the audio and video quality.”

We leave the final words to Fintan. “Covid-19 has been a major catalyst for the mass adoption of video conferencing and cloud collaboration in general. We have all observed the rapid increase in popularity of Zoom and Slack, and Zoom has become a household term recently despite being around since 2011.

Because of the speed at which lockdowns were announced and executed, there was very limited effect for the AV industry as many people started working from home using their laptops, onboard cameras with headphones and mic’s plugged in.

However, when offices begin to open up after lockdowns, an increasing number will want to deploy huddle rooms and zoom rooms to enable staff to continue to work from home and maintain some social distancing until the Covid-19 threat has gone away. With this massive increase in professional video conferencing capacity, it will be much more likely that more meetings will take place virtually than before Covid19, especially when travel restrictions, especially air travel, are still in effect.

In essence, we are being forced to adapt our habits away from face to face meetings and to adopt a higher reliance on video conferencing as a way to conduct business. It is highly likely as people realise the ease and effectiveness of video conferencing that it remains as a key business communication medium long after Covid-19 comes under control.”

SI Asia Comment
With safe distancing measures and minimal workforce being implemented, completion of projects will be extended. This would inadvertently affect company revenues and may even add costs to the operations. If clients are willing to bear the additional cost, it will go some way to ease cash flows for SIs. Taking on additional projects will also be a challenge due to the measures but with proper planning and co-operation of clients, it should be manageable.

Note: This article was written before Angeline Tan left Vega Singapore. The company has a new MD as of 1 June 2020.