Interview: Manifesting ‘Global’ Capabilities, Audio-Visually


Country analysis: Qatar

Interview with Mr. Talal Wehbe (Chairman) & Mr. Apostolis Koulosousas (Chief Operating Officer) of Panoutron Trading & Contracting WLL.

The dynamism that the global forums and researchers advocate about Qatar’s audio-visual industry is perhaps best demonstrated in the emergence of PANOUTRON- an AV enterprise that formed by the coming together of two companies from two distant and distinct geographies, if not continents. Blending internationally Grecian expertise with Qatari local strengths is what the AVSI enterprise promises. SI Asia interacted with two of PANOUTRON’s top Execs, from respective backgrounds, – Chief Operating Officer Apostolis Koulosousas and Chairman Talal Wehbe – to know more about the success story. Excerpts:

SI Asia: Tell us something about Panoutron, its genesis, purpose and focus…

APOSTOLIS & TALAL: PANOUTRON was founded by coming together of two companies from two different continents, so to say. It was formed by a combination of PANOU S.A. which was founded in Athens in 1964, and LUMATRON Qatar W.L.L. which had its original parental foundation in Lebanon in 1977, and began operations in Qatar from 2002. The combined entity named PANOUTRON came into being in September 2012.

PANOUTRON’s aim is to provide end-to-end turnkey ELV integrated systems and solutions. The company’s strength comes from its strong and 50-year-long experience in creative, cost-effective, and advanced ELV systems. The focus is on major vertical markets that include Hospitality, Corporate, Education and Residential segments. Our vision is to become the first choice for our customers in the local as well as the international markets by providing reliable integrated and high-quality technology solutions. It’s been a fairly satisfactory journey, and we endeavour to better ourselves every time towards reaching our goal.

SI Asia: How would you explain the purpose of the two companies coming together, from such distant geographies, and continents?

APOSTOLIS & TALAL: PANOU S.A. had been exploring the opportunities landscapes to expand its market cap, and in early 2012, the management felt it was time they expanded their operations beyond Europe. It was around the same time that Lumatron Qatar W.L.L. – who had been one of the major suppliers in Qatar for lighting solutions – was looking to expand to other market segments, especially in Lighting Control and Home Automation systems. It was a matching of minds, at the right time. The whole idea was that PANOU S.A. would bring to place its rich know-how and experience for ELV Integrated Systems, and Lumatron Qatar W.L.L. would provide the knowledge of local market and clientele. It all gelled well and they got going, successfully since then.

SI Asia: What particular synergies did the union of two bring to the combined entity? How did they help the cause of Panoutron?

APOSTOLIS & TALAL: The most essential synergy is the international expertise of PANOU got strengthened with effective penetration through the local market reach capabilities of Lumatron, and vice-versa. It provided a proper mix to have successful startup. It showed almost immediate results by being awarded small and big projects so as to grow fast within four years of operation.

SI Asia: Panoutron’s operational ambit is too huge and wide. What exactly is the core competence of the company?

APOSTOLIS & TALAL: PANOUTRON is essentially a Low Voltage Systems Integration company. We structured our operations and selected our key personnel in a way that we will serve our customers and projects in the best possible way as regards with ELV systems design, installation, training and after-sales support. While that stays as the core competency area, it is accompanied by other allied activities.

SI Asia: How much does core competency area account in the company’s overall business?

APOSTOLIS & TALAL: Our Systems Integration activity accounts for almost 95 per cent of our overall business.

SI Asia: Panoutron is relatively young, compared to those operating in Qatar for decades. What strengths helps it stand and make good with the competition?

APOSTOLIS & TALAL: Even if PANOUTRON is young in the Qatari market, it carries vast experience and know-how from people working with us for long time, with credible industry expertise. As it is, like mentioned above, the company’s technology competence is powered by international expertise of long standing, and local presence is supported by strong local company. Because of the long history in this market sector, via PANOU S.A. Greece, we have established long-term business relationships with major manufacturers, which allow us to offer high quality, reliable solutions and services at best price. Our strength is the deep knowledge and the expertise of our personnel in the systems we install. We schedule periodic trainings for all of our personnel in all systems from different manufacturers that we supply and install. That renders them to be up-to-date with the existing technology and systems, and informed about future trends. In addition, we are having our personnel certified by InfoComm for AVT and CTS. All these measures ensure that our market approach is professional as well as competent to meet the customers’ requirements.

SI Asia: How has those strengths impacted the Qatari AVSI market? Please explain…

APOSTOLIS & TALAL: The Qatari AVSI market was, in general, lacking professionally skilled and experienced Systems Integrators. Very few SI companies were able, and had the required skill sets to complete an AV project properly. This was the gap we exactly wanted to bridge by bringing in our trusted expertise and competence. We endeavoured to bring to place those skills and work culture that we have been internationally known for- high quality install work, as per the delivery schedule and within the expected cost. All that has translated into our strong footprint and contributed to the way projects are handled in the market- in terms of deliverables and work culture. Evidently, our position today is based on those credentials and strengths.

SI Asia: Would you please do a snapshot SWOT of the industry?

APOSTOLIS & TALAL: Strengths: evolving technology trends/tenets, growing market, users getting familiar with technology, which contributes to increasing awareness about the need for technology deployment and the benefits that it brings.

Weaknesses: limited access to qualified and skilled human talent; lack of professionalism; lack of after-sales support culture. All these contribute to dampen the growth dynamism.

Opportunities: Tremendous space and scope to grow. Plenitude of large-scale projects creating huge opportunity for a variety of AV technologies to be taken.

Threats: Bad SI companies with bad installations (or skills) which result in people growing apprehensive about new technology and the use of it; operation of AV systems from unqualified personnel.

SI Asia: Given all that, how would you characterize Qatari AV industry in comparison with other regional markets such as UAE, Saudi, and Kuwait etc.

APOSTOLIS & TALAL: There are many positives to take, and vouch for. For instance, technology adoption- Qatar is more dynamically growing, moving faster than last few years, and fast catching up with advanced markets like the UAE. Like maintained earlier, the market offers a multitude of medium and large scale projects – thanks to the huge infrastructural thrust all over, due to several factors in public and private segment – meaning opportunity for diverse forms and levels of audio-visual systems to be taken. This, in a way, is unique, and a step forward when compared to other GCC countries.

There are concerns of course. As cited already, lack of trained or skilled human talent availability is one. We are trying to improve the situation in our own right – given our strengths from international presence – by hiring skilled professionals from Europe, UAE, Saudi and Kuwait, and elsewhere. While professionalism in business is also sometimes a concern, on a comparative note, it is not lower than other countries in the region. Having said that, this is an area that requires plenty of action still, and we have been putting our might to improve this.

SI Asia: How about the technology understanding among the End User community?

APOSTOLIS & TALAL: As everywhere in the world, Qatar market too does have End Users who are driven by technology; they are keen on using it in their everyday environment, especially the young generation, and there is also that section of End Users that do not understand technology; they tend to desist/resist using it. Probably, a thought here to comprehend! When technology is simple and used to serve the End User needs, and not make their life difficult, it is much easier to be absorbed.

SI Asia: What technology/solution do you think is driving the Qatar AV industry?

APOSTOLIS & TALAL: Qatar’s AV industry is moving into unified IT and AV technology solutions, i.e. in videoconferencing, audio and video sharing, collaboration, virtual reality, etc.

SI Asia: How do you look at Qatar industry as a technology-driven market, or price driven?

APOSTOLIS & TALAL: It is both. The industry displays a tendency as looking to get the best technology and solutions at the best possible price. We believe it the best approach too. Not going just for the heck of technology boast, or by sheer price, and compromising on essentials of the requirement.

SI Asia: What, according to you, has been the biggest thing that happened to Qatar AV industry in recent times? Please explain…

APOSTOLIS & TALAL: The biggest thing that has happened to Qatar AV industry over the last few years has been the shift from analog to digital. There has been a paradigm shift in signal and communication distribution for AV systems. This created a lot of new opportunities in the market along with new capabilities and features provided to the End Users.

(SI Asia thanks both Apostolis Koulosousas and Talal Wehbe for sharing their valuable time and inputs)

Find the Interview at  (pg 56-58)

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