Welcome to the first Meet Your Maker Q&A! Meet Your Maker is a series of behind-the-scenes videos and blogs that explores the amazing people behind Calrec, illustrating the wide range of in-house skillsets we use to design and manufacture our market-leading broadcast technology.
This week we had the pleasure of speaking with one of Calrec’s Product Managers, Gareth Frimston, about the importance of collaborating with customers and never shying away from a challenge!
1. What is your role with Calrec and what does it entail?
I’m a Product Manager. The role is, essentially, to discuss product ideas, document the details and to help guide Calrec through development. Doing that involves things like researching features, writing requirements and discussing them with developers. We also help Sales Managers and Support Engineers with their product enquiries and their feedback.
2. How does the wider broadcast environment influence development?
The wider broadcast environment has a direct influence on product development. As consumer habits evolve, the demands and requirements of broadcasters do too. New types of content like eSports and adapting workflows like remote production bring new challenges that require new solutions. The market pull this creates — combined with the push of improving technology — forms trends toward new solutions that standards bodies and manufacturers like Calrec seek to develop products to provide for.
3. What does Calrec do to keep across upcoming broadcast trends? What are the good sources of information?
There are lots of sources online that can provide a good insight into ongoing and upcoming trends in broadcast and broadcast technology; however, our most valuable sources of information are the people who work with our products and who work in broadcast environments every day. Across the company, we have regular conversations with broadcasters, audio operators, distributors, sales managers and support engineers from all over the world about new requirements, new solutions and new ideas. We also have constant involvement with other solutions providers, other manufacturers, and established industry bodies.
4. Which industry bodies are Calrec an active part of? How does Calrec keep across industry standards (AES, SMPTE, NMOS, AIMS etc.)
Calrec has been around in some form or other for over 50 years so membership of industry bodies and engaging with industry standards is not new to us. We are sustaining member of the Audio Engineering Society and of SMPTE and we are an associate member of AMWA, which is working on NMOS specifications, and the Alliance for IP Media Solutions, better known as AIMS. Membership of these groups is important to keep up with standards, but just as with all broadcast trends, so is regular conversation with our customers.
5. How important are relationships with customers in product development, and how does Calrec build those relationships?
Speaking personally, before I became a Product Manager, I was a Customer Support Engineer. During that time, I was really lucky to work with distributors, engineers and operators all over the world. Really I learned everything I know about broadcast from working closely with them, so I have a great appreciation of how important those relationships are, and I’m not alone; we work from a knowledge base across the company that is built on decades of experience of working closely with our customers. Building those relationships, from my perspective, is really just about good communication. Via email or over a beer, it doesn’t really matter as long as we’re talking to and learning from, each other.
6. How does the Product Management team feed into R&D? What is the relationship and dynamic?
We work closely with all the other teams within the R&D department. Our role as Product Managers is to provide them with product descriptions, requirements and design ideas, and they provide us with all sorts of technical details – anything from materials, component selections and thermal analyses through to system architectures, data models and DSP. We have an incredibly talented group of people and it’s very much a two-way conversation every step of the way.
7. As a manufacturer, how far ahead does Calrec need to plan?
Our customers’ requirements are always changing and keeping up to date with them is essential, so we always have one eye on the trends in broadcast and on the developing technologies that relate to it. Inevitably, it takes time to develop new solutions from ideation to production, so we have to plan well ahead in order to deliver the right products at the right time.
8. How important is dialogue with other manufacturers?
We all serve the same ecosystem so it’s important to keep up-to-date on each other’s capabilities, products and projects. Our customers need equipment and software from different manufacturers to work together seamlessly, so we’re always happy to get in touch with other manufacturers to discuss these things and to collaborate.
9. What are the important considerations when looking at designing new equipment?
There are thousands of considerations to make when designing new equipment and the software to control it, but broadly speaking it’s important to remain focussed on the problems you’re trying to solve and how you’re going to solve them. It’s no good for anyone if we deliver products that don’t solve our customers’ problems.
One constant focus for us, in particular, is usability. We want our products to be flexible so that users can configure them to fit into their specific installations and workflows, but we also want the user interfaces and system behaviours to be as simple and as intuitive as possible. To achieve that balance inherently leads to additional work in the backend of the systems. But we understand that our users need access to the tools we provide without being overwhelmed by complicated user interfaces and without having to jump through too many hoops, so we don’t shy away from that challenge.
10. How does Calrec utilise shared the expertise and broad industry knowledge from the Audiotonix group?
Being part of Audiotonix is great for Calrec. Having the opportunity to share our broader ideas with other industry leaders in the group is useful in terms of additional reassurance. We’ve also benefitted from improvements in procurement and in operations, which, from a product management point of view, helps us to develop more competitive products.