Each week, I am highlighting on some of the incredible people who are in the Audio Video Industry. As this blog is mostly about AV insiders, today we are profiling Oliver Hall .
Here is a brief intro about him.
Oliver Hall has worked in the Audio Visual industry for over 10 years. Prior to founding Ultamation – a UK based, multi-award winning Crestron integrator and software house – in 2007, he worked for 15 years in the games industry for Sony Computer Entertainment throughout the revolution in consoles and network gaming, and was honoured with PlayStations’ Award for Outstanding Achievement in 2000. He lives in the North West of England with his wife and two young sons, and when away from the technology, enjoys a broad range of hobbies on land, sea and air.
Please drop your questions in the comments below and I will make sure that he sees them.
1.Describe your journey in the AV industry? How did it start?
The truth is, I’ve never really seen myself in the AV industry per se. I see us more as providing the middleware that enables integration of anything and everything in today’s digital lifestyle. That naturally covers AV, but I’m equally interested in all of the other elements of the integrated home from lighting, security, automation and by far the most exciting side of things at the moment are sensors and new ways of interacting with systems, such as VUI. My formal background started in Computer Science at Exeter where AI was a strong element of the syllabus, followed by a broad experience in traditional IT disciplines working for PlayStation where I was involved in software development, large infrastructure projects and IT strategy. After 15 years with Sony, and with the beginnings of a young family, I decided to return to the North West of England and strike out my own. That was the start of Ultamation, combining my passion for software development with automation and new technology – the fact that we’re seeing a move towards AI completes the circle.
2.What do you think is the challenges that are facing a new person who wants to join the industry.
Honestly, I don’t think there are really that many inherent challenges. I’m a firm believer that we make your own luck (you might call them opportunities) and if you can find a way to achieve that in a considerate and fair way, then you reap what you sow. It may take time, but if you put in the effort, the CI industry is a great place to be. There’s always something new just around the corner, one day you’ll be writing software to a spec, then next you’ll be reverse engineering an opaque protocol. If you’re looking for a career with a mix of technology, problem solving and creativity, I don’t think you need to look any further.
3.What are the positives of working in this industry
Constant exposure to new, innovative technology and a virtually limitless scope of things to experiment and try out new ideas. We have a core stream of business which keeps things moving along in the right direction, but we’re also constantly looking at interesting new things. We’ve moved from the standard project delivery model to developing software, applications and integration modules, to enrich the Crestron landscape, and now have a hardware revenue stream. These all came about from ‘tinkering’ and developing a nose for what was worthwhile, and what should be left on scrap heap. The key is not to become too focused on one thing that doesn’t provide a useful return, though that’s not necessarily financial.
4.What in your opinion would you change in the industry? What are the negatives that are prevalent ?
There are frustrations, just like in any industry, but you just need to find ways to work around them, or move on. Early release of products with inadequate testing – both hardware and software – is probably top of my list. Marketing departments don’t tend to be the ones dealing with the fallout when products don’t live up to expectations. Lacklustre support for CI from manufacturers is also high on the list. It’s present in everything from simple control of TVs to complex metadata for Media Players. I can understand the lack of effort in some areas – most domestic TVs aren’t going to be deployed in an automated home, so why both developing a complete command set – but things are heading in the right direction. Sonos seem to be going the right way, and IP control is coming of age for TVs.
5.Describe your ideal client? What do you wish clients to know before hiring you.
You develop a gut feel for whether a client is going to be easy to work with or not, though I have a little metric for evaluating clients. There are obvious things like whether a client understands the financial implications of investment in a Crestron system – that’s not to suggest they should come with an open cheque book, but if you’re working on a £100k system and you find yourself focused on saving a few pounds to reuse an old ‘own brand’ TV that doesn’t have discrete IR control, then you can expect challenges along the way. Client ‘engagement’ is my primary trait; I’d sooner have a client that is asking questions about every nut and bolt, than one who you have little to no relationship with – there’s a strong chance the latter will be disappointed with whatever they end up with, no matter what the cost or quality.
6.If you were going to start over, what would you do differently ?
Very little – we’ve grown slowly and manageably, built valuable relationships over the years, and we’re in a good place for what’s coming up.
7.Describe a typical work day for you. What are your daily disciplines?
I try to practice a lose “Inbox Zero” philosophy, though I’m not a slave to it. Keeping things neat and tidy means you can focus on the important stuff and it doesn’t fall through the cracks. One aspect of that is to try to deal with stuff as quickly as possible, so you don’t become jaded looking at a task you keep putting off indefinitely. That’s especially important when dealing with support requests; it may mean not fully ‘switching off’ – which I’m not good at – but clients seem to appreciate a quick reply to a support call, especially if it’s a simple fix. I try to imagine myself at the other end of the conversation, sitting in a property with the client asking why their XYZ isn’t switching on. It’s very motivating to feel you’ve helped someone. Day-to-day, I’m involved in every aspect of running Ultamation, but my main passion will always be software development, so I try hard to never get too distant from that side of things.
8.Describe the apps and gear that you use daily which makes you more productive?
This won’t sound cool – a pen and paper. I’ve tried apps, like Remember the Milk, Evernote, Harvest, etc. to be more productive or help managed my tasks, but ultimately, that all fall into disuse. I have a squared paper pad for notes and diagrams, and a To Do pad for tasks. There’s something about writing and drawing diagrams that helps me remember the stuff I need to, and not think about the rest. I have a strong dislike for the ‘procrastinapps’ that allow you to hide stuff to deal with later.
That’s not to say I don’t use software tools – Slack for team communications and Fogbugz for case management.
9. Let me know a few unique projects that you have worked on.
We’ve also done some sophisticated security integration where Crestron managed a web of beams around an estate and actually creates safe corridors to allow the owner to enter and leave the grounds with tracked video monitoring – but that’s obviously private.
[RELATED] : If you have missed any of the previous interviews, please click here.
10. How do you stay relevant in this industry.
Working on new integration modules means we’re always scanning for suitable opportunities so that means following the usual suspects on social media and reading online and print magazines and this helps us keep abreast of what’s going on. The main thing is not to rest on your laurels or become bogged down in one thing and keep updating our products with new features to keep ahead of the competition. CI and AV is moving quickly and it’s getting faster!
For more information about Oliver Hall, please find a few links.
Showroom: https://youtu.be/S6RAQrdqkh4 (in collaboration with Intuitive Homes)
Twitter: @Ultamation & @UltamationTech