When International SOS Assistance – South Africa moved to new premises in Midrand late last year, they turned to Mitech Solutions to provide an integrated AV over IP solution. AV Integration took the opportunity to talk with Tom Crosswell and Rodger Reeks of Mitech Solutions and Brenda Theunissen of International SOS Assistance – South Africa about the project.

International SOS Assistance – South Africa

International SOS Assistance opened its Johannesburg office in 1993. Twenty-five years later, the company is home to a 24-hour assistance centre and is the regional head office for sub-Saharan Africa.

International SOS Assistance – South Africa coordinates over 670 medical evacuations a year, extending as far as Europe, Middle East, Ascension Island, Maldives, Diego Garcia, and West, East and Central Africa. The company’s air ambulance service is the only Commission on Accreditation of Medical Transport Services (CAMTS) accredited service outside of the North Americas and one of two providers on the African continent to hold the EURAMI accreditation.

The company operates a 24-hour assistance centre, equipped with sophisticated telecommunication systems and state-of-the-art medical transport facilities to deliver medical assistance, evacuation and speciality services throughout South Africa and sub-Saharan Africa. The International SOS Assistance – South Africa team responds to calls from clients for medical, roadside, and legal assistance, and dispatches services is through its network of over 5,000 service providers across the country.

Provision of these services is highly dependent on staff members having access to a wide range of information, including incoming call rates, flight schedules and international news, which is displayed on LED screens in the assistance centre. A solid AV solution is, therefore, a cornerstone of business operations for International SOS Assistance – SA.


Moving into the future

In the last quarter of 2017, International SOS Assistance – SA decided to move their head office to a new business park in Midrand, Gauteng. Brenda Theunissen of International SOS Assistance – South Africa served as project manager for the relocation and had the task of finding the right AV integrator for the project, one who would be able to fulfil the organisation’s unique AV needs within the allocated budget. “When we decided to move offices, it was the perfect opportunity to update our AV infrastructure,” Theunissen points out.

Theunissen adds that , International SOS Assistance – SA wanted to be able to expand on the AV systems within the building in the future, and therefore needed a scalable solution that was flexible enough to grow with the organisation.

Theunissen states that she received a number of quotes, however many of the options presented simply did not fit the budget or time frame that she was allocated. She then approached Mitech Solutions for help.

“When we started consulting with Brenda about an AV installation for International SOS Assistance – South Africa in the latter part of last year, we immediately realised that the company would benefit enormously from an AV over IP solution,” explains Crosswell. “Mitech Solutions has deployed a number of installations in the corporate environment that required similar solutions, and we felt that we had the experience and the right products to meet their needs, within budget,” states Crosswell.

Crosswell and the installation team from Mitech Solutions specified and deployed a comprehensive AV over IP solution for International SOS Assistance – South Africa in six weeks, which has resulted in an IP based, integrated, building-wide AV solution which includes video, audio, room scheduling and monitoring and management functionality.

We wanted a solution that would be user-friendly because in the past, we constantly had to rely on assistance from the IT department to get things to work, which is far from ideal Theunissen explains

Delivering AV over IP

When considering the best solution to provide International SOS Assistance – South Africa with a comprehensive, fully integrated AV over IP solution for their new premises, Mitech Solutions turned to Peripheral Vision to supply Gefen’s range of products to create the backbone of the system.

Gefen AV over IP products enables scalable multi-source, multi-input audio/video distribution systems with HDMI, DisplayPort, DVI, VGA, and Digital/Analogue Audio. The AV format can be automatically converted to the desired output type. The signal can be extended throughout the IP network and can be accompanied by Bi-directional IR, RS-232, and USB for KVM over IP applications.

The technology uses a standard 1-Gig managed Ethernet switch to create a scalable and expandable custom KVM and video matrix, which can accommodate a large number of sender and receiver units. Gefen’s AV over IP products run on standard network infrastructure, enabling virtually limitless distribution and matrix switching combinations, and allows International SOS Assistance – South Africa to share and access all of the displays and workstations over its existing local area network.

Crosswell specified the Gefen EXT-HD2IRS-LAN-TX and RX for the installation. These senders and receivers extend HDMI, RS-232, and bi-directional IR over a gigabit local area network. Resolutions up to 1080p full HD and 1920 x 1200 (WUXGA), HDCP, Deep Colour, 7.1 channel High Bit Rate digital audio, and Lip-Sync pass-through are supported. Using the Gefen Syner-G™ software, the sender and receiver units can be easily located on a network and configured to unique IP addresses to allow the connection of multiple senders and receivers to the same network. Multiple receiver units can simultaneously connect to any Gefen AV over IP sender unit within the network to create a virtual crosspoint matrix.

With Gefen’s AV over IP solution, IR control can be extended from sender to receiver and from receiver to sender, allowing remote control of source units and displays. The IR input ports on the sender and receiver units can accommodate both the Gefen powered IR extender EXT-RMT-EXTIRN and electrical IR from automation control devices. RS-232 serial control can also be extended between each sender and receiver unit. The built-in web server interface makes control, set-up, and configuration simple and intuitive. When using multiple senders and receivers as a virtual matrix, one can connect to any of the senders within the network, by accessing the web interface of each receiver unit via a web browser on a mobile device or computer, or by using the Gefen KVM/Video over IP Keyboard Switching Controller software. Adding the EXT-CU-LAN matrix controller hardware further simplifies IP configuration, firmware updates, system configuration and end-user control.

“When we first started to consult with International SOS Assistance – South Africa at their old offices, we realised that the company had advanced AV needs, but their existing system was outdated and very room-centric. Once we had completed the installation at their new premises, the company had a virtual matrix throughout the building, enabling the company to perform all of their functions with the support of fully integrated state-of-the-art audio, video and control infrastructure,” Crosswell points out.


Delivering a controlled solution

For the audio components on the installation, Crosswell turned to QSC’s Q-SYS, which not only delivers audio control but rather an integrated audio, video and control solution.

Q-SYS is a software-based platform built around an open IT-friendly ecosystem that leverages the power of Intel processing, the robustness and mission-critical reliability of a Linux operating system, and the interoperability of IEEE networking standards. This IT-centric layered approach allows QSC to easily migrate the Q-SYS Platform to other Intel platforms as they introduce new, faster chipsets, and to other off-the-shelf hardware. Furthermore, its usage of IT standard protocols makes the Q-SYS Platform highly extensible for future IT functions and platforms.

A single Q-SYS Core processor, such as the Q-SYS Core 110f processor, can handle nearly any small installation, including local inputs and outputs, audio and control processing, conference camera routing, endpoint bridging, advanced echo cancellation processing and EQ. Large enterprises can deploy audio, video and control processing from the data centre, with the next-generation Q-SYS Enterprise Core processors. This paradigm allows IT to centralise all processing, control and monitoring of every piece of technology in the entire building while offering full redundancy on nearly every Q-SYS component.

“We have made impressive inroads with Q-SYS in the corporate AV space in recent years,” states Crosswell. “Q-SYS has emerged from the audio world to develop a DSP system that functions like an Intel computer rather than a dedicated DSP, allowing greater flexibility and scalability. QSC then expanded their product offering to include cameras, USB audio devices and touch panels which turns an audio solution into a control solution,” he points out.

QSC offers a family of touchscreen controllers for the Q-SYS Platform.  These network capacitive PoE touch screens display fully customisable user control interface (UCI), which can be designed with the Q-SYS UCI Editor within the Q-SYS Designer Software.  One can drag and drop any control Q-SYS element from a Q-SYS design schematic into UCI Editor and easily deploy a custom design to the touch screen, without any programming experience.  UCI Editor allows the import of room diagrams, corporate logos or other graphical elements in all major graphics file formats, which provided International SOS Assistance – South Africa with a fully customised solution for their meeting rooms and executive boardroom.

“We appreciate the fact that all of the rooms work on the same principle, and with a simple touch of a button on the touch panels, anyone can book a room, start a presentation and close a meeting without having to call a technician for help,” states Theunissen.

Delivering the results

With very little lead time, Mitech Solutions has delivered on International SOS Assistance – South Africa’s brief for an affordable, user-friendly and scalable AV over IP solution throughout the office space, including meeting rooms, executive boardroom and in the mission-critical assistance centre.

Crosswell points out that, as in many cases, the role of AV management falls to the IT department at International SOS Assistance – South Africa. “We understand that the convergence of AV and IT is a rapidly expanding trend. However, many IT managers feel out of their depth when it comes to managing a company’s AV requirements. In an effort to make the management of AV systems as easy as possible for the IT team at International SOS Assistance – South Africa, we custom designed a desk-top based control interface that allows the IT team to manage all of the rooms and feeds using one platform,” Crosswell explains.

“The new AV infrastructure at the International SOS Assistance – South Africa head office is a perfect fit for our needs. I could not have asked for more from Tom and his team,” Theunissen concludes.

Meet the integrator: Mitech Solutions

Mitech Solutions, situated in Johannesburg, has delivered projects for a variety of high profile clients in the corporate, education, houses of worship and retail markets over the past three years. The company designs and installs state-of-the-art AV solutions that encompass professional audio, video, lighting, AV control, traditional and cloud video conferencing, studio and soundproofing, among other services.

Operations director at Mitech Solutions, Rodger Reeks explains that Mitech Solutions aims to deliver end to end, turnkey AV solutions for a wide range of end users across multiple vertical markets. “The Mitech Solutions team is extremely agile by design and we are equipped to deliver bespoke AV solutions in virtually any environment,” he states.

Company director, Tom Crosswell concurs, explaining that Mitech Solutions is unique in that the company is structured to be solution driven and customer-centric. “Our primary objective is to understand a client’s needs and deliver a solution to service those needs within budget,” Crosswell states. Central to the company’s ability to deliver on this goal is their extremely agile, multidisciplinary team. “Mitech Solutions has invested in some amazing young talent, and we have been able to train and up-skill our staff over the years to ensure that they can deliver on every aspect of an installation, including audio, video, networking, integration and everything in between,” Reeks points out.

In addition to the company’s reputation for getting the job done on time and within budget, Mitech Solutions is uniquely positioned to deploy holistic solutions across vertical markets. “Unlike many of our competitors, we have the capacity and knowledge to install a lighting rig in a performance space or a meeting room solution in another,” Crosswell points out. “This is particularly important for small to medium-sized enterprises and organisations, where AV needs do not fall strictly within the corporate or entertainment technology brackets. A church may need a PA, lighting rig and a broadcast solution as well as a video conferencing solution for overflow rooms. A school hall may include a presentation solution, video conferencing capabilities, but also host the school play. Mitech Solutions can deploy integrated AV solutions that perform all of these functions, which means that the client only has to deal with one contractor and one maintenance contact, throughout the lifecycle of the installation,” he concludes.