The Pro-Systems Africa News editorial team had the pleasure of attending the 15th edition of Integrated Systems Europe from 6 – 9 February at the RAI in Amsterdam. Integrated Systems Events managing director, Michael Blackman spoke with us about the show’s past and current achievements and hopes for the future.

The Pro-Systems Africa News team joined thousands of exhibitors, industry professionals, buyers and members of the media at the RAI in Amsterdam in a freezing-cold Amsterdam between 6 and 9 February, for the world’s largest AV systems integration tradeshow, Integrated Systems Europe.

It was immediately apparent that Integrated Systems Events had, once again, succeeded in delivering a record-breaking show, with 1,296 exhibitors housed across 15 halls, and two temporary structures added onto the already expansive RIA facilities needed to house the event. According to Integrated Systems Europe’s post-show analysis, the number of registered attendees for  ISE  2018 increased by 10.2  % to 80,923,  up from  73,413  in  2017. New attendees accounted for 38% of the total – excluding exhibitor personnel, and there were 294 first-time exhibitors.

Since the advent of the fourth industrial revolution, our ever digitising world has created the capacity for the rapid expansion of the professional AV industry across applications that were not even conceived of a mere 20 years ago. Professor Carlo Ratti, the leading architect, engineer, inventor, educator and director at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, presented the opening address for ISE on the evening of 5 February. Prof Ratti points out that: “The future is not written in stone. It is up to us to make the decisions about how we want to live in the future. We have it in our power to invent the way things will be.” It is a theme that permeated the event, highlighting the way in which collaborative technologies, system integration and digital content are changing how that we interact with each other and our world – in every aspect of our lives.

Michael Blackman, managing director of Integrated Systems Events, spoke with Pro-Systems News about his past 15 years’ experience at the helm of the ISE show.

A Story of Growth 

In the early years of AV integration technology, the audiovisual market and the revolution in information technology that erupted following the emergence of the internet seemed to be unrelated. As the idea of the Internet of Things (IoT) started to take hold in our homes, offices and the entertainment world, the links between AV and IT escalated – and a whole new set of possibilities for AV integrators opened up in a relatively short space of time.

In response to the rapid evolution of the AV systems integration market,  a number of professional AV associations came together and headhunted Michael Blackman to take the lead in developing a trade show for stakeholders in the AV integration markets in 2002. The result of his efforts was the launch of the first edition of ISE in 2004, which was hosted in Geneva.

“Geneva is a lovely, central location. However it soon became apparent that it was not a good fit for our industry and we started looking for new home for ISE the very next year,” Blackman explains. “In 2005, we hosted the event in Amsterdam for the first time, and it was immediately apparent that the RAI served as a very attractive location for the event. We were, however, unable to reserve a booking for the 2006 edition of the show, which was subsequently held in Brussels. The third edition in 2007 came home to the RAI in Amsterdam, and ISE has been held here ever since” Blackman explains.

The RAI, which hosts a number of high-profile events throughout the year, has noted that ISE has made a significant contribution to the local economy in recent years, creating opportunities for the hospitality and transport sector during a period that was relatively quiet for small business owners in the past. The RAI management team shared with Blackman the fact that for every US dollar spent at the conference and exhibition venue, visitors spend an average $12 in the city. This has transferred significant benefit to local businesses, particularly hotels, bed-and-breakfast facilities, restaurants, retailers and – most notably – on the taxi industry. “According to city officials, there was one evening last year where 3,500 taxi pick-ups were recorded in a single evening during the show. This is a record for the city,” Blackman points out.

Bringing the AV industry together

ISE boasts the title of being the largest event of its kind to be hosted in Holland and brings a record number of people through the RAI every year. According to Blackman, the show started with hundred-odd exhibitors but has continued to grow by an average of 8% – 10%, year-on-year. “I remember a time when I could list the names of every single exhibitor on the floor. Over the past few years, this list has become so extensive that I need an entire team to keep up with the ever-expanding list of participants,” Blackman muses.

The growth in exhibitor and visitor numbers is not only reflective of more people coming through the door but also reflects a broadening of reach across markets and continents. Blackman states that for the first few editions of the show, attendees were primarily from European countries – accounting for up to 95% of registrations. This demographic has started to shift, with at least 20% of attendees coming from outside of the EU in 2018, including from North America, China, the Middle East, and Africa. “It is very encouraging to see the level of international engagement that is taking place on the floor and in the training sessions,” Blackman points out – a fact that is particularly relevant for an industry that performs such a vital role in bringing people closer together through technology.

Growth in influence and learning

There have been a lot of notable developments in professional AV since the 2017 edition of ISE, particularly within the organising structures behind ISE as well as in the professional AV industry as a whole.

InfoComm International has rebranded to AVIXA as a part of the association’s drive to widen its influence beyond its traditional membership. The TIDE Conference, which addresses the AV user experience and more creative side of AV, held its first edition in Orlando, USA in 2017and came to Amsterdam ahead of the opening of ISE. There have been some revolutionary changes in CEDIA, the other part-owner of the ISE show, which opened its new global headquarters, including a world-class training facility and experience centre in November last year.

Both CEDIA and AVIXA offered a wide range of professional development sessions during this years’ show, which were attended by a record number of AV professionals from across the world. In addition to the formal sessions that continued over the four-day event, ISE provided visitors with the opportunity to visit smaller venues, called Show Floor Theatres, were presentations about key industry topics were open to visitors during the event. These included the AVIXA Commercial Solutions Theatre and the AVIXA Unified Communications Theatre, both sponsored by Crestron; and the CEDIA Smart Buildings Solutions Theatre, sponsored by KNX.

Blackman’s show highlights

When asked about his 2018 show highlight, Blackman pointed to a number of aspects of this edition that have set the event apart from its predecessors.

First, Blackman points out the sheer growth in the event as a show highlight for organisers. “We don’t really need to focus on the number of exhibitors at the show anymore, which provides the opportunity to seek out quality over quantity moving forward,” he states.

Blackman adds that he and his team have actively sought-out high-level buyer groups from a diversity of markets to ensure quality leads for exhibitors. “We have approximately 400 hosted buyers at the event – all key decision makers in their respective fields – which ensure that our exhibitors are provided with great opportunities to do business at the show.”

His second show highlight focuses on the event’s expansion into the city, with the World Masters of Projection Mapping being chief among these. “The Masters of Projection Mapping brought AV technology to the heart of the city, and we have received a lot of attention in the media and from the general public as a result,” Blackman points out.

From 14 January to 9 February 2018, five projection mapping artists demonstrated their response to the theme, using two 40×15 metre water screens as well as the imposing façade of the EYE Filmmuseum, together with Panasonic PT-RZ21K laser projectors. “The Masters of Projection was something new for the show,” Blackman points out. “The event presented some very useful learning curves, and we already have some ideas about how to do things differently moving forward. It was, however, an interesting addition to the show and something that we will look at developing in the future.”

Finally, Blackman points out the outstanding quality and exceptional range of technology that was featured at the event. “I have seen a lot of 4K screens on the floor – which represents cutting-edge technology that opens up a wide range of possibilities for users of these products in the market,” Blackman states. He also highlights the inclusion of virtual reality technology for the second time this year at the XR Technology Zone. Working together with XR industry leader, Holovis, to create a range of fully immersive experiences, using the company’s patented InMo software suite to enable the creation of collaborative virtual environments from multiple real locations and devices. “Holovis developed an XR simulation that allowed visitors to experience what happens if you fall asleep while driving a car. In Blackman’s opinion, the VR experiences presented at the XR Tech Zone highlight the many potential commercial applications of this type of technology in a very clear and accessible way.

Projecting the future of ISE

If the growth of both the scope and attendance numbers of ISE 2018 is anything to go by, there is little doubt that ISE 2019 will continue to offer both exhibitors and attendees new experiences, broader reach and more varied learning opportunities.

The AV industry is, by its very nature, focused on sensory input and it is difficult to imagine future editions of the show offering more than what is already a glut for the senses. Blackman, however, seems sensitive to the balance that one needs to maintain to ensure that the show continues to grow in relevance, quality and authority moving forward.

Reflecting on some of his current challenges, Blackman points out that the show is currently running at capacity, despite the two additional temporary structures that have been erected at the venue to accommodate overflow. “One of our greatest challenges is that while the RAI is an excellent venue for the show, our capacity to grow in numbers and scope is limited. Future infrastructure development at the RAI will determine further growth in exhibitor numbers, rather than the demand from the market,” Blackman states, adding that talks are underway about the possible expansion of the venue, but that nothing has been confirmed at this time.