The European Business Magazine caught up with Jean-Pierre Overbeek, the current CEO of BIS|Econocom and the Director of the Gather brand for our latest edition and appeared on our Front Cover.

Its premise is to unite the future-proof competencies of audiovisual, Unified Communications, and Information Technology within the Econocom Group, providing solutions for their customers. Operating in 60-plus countries, Gather have a presence in many leading European cities, includ- ing London, Paris, Brussels, Madrid, Barcelona, and Rotterdam. Gather’s launch echoes Econocom’s commitment to re-think AV, UC, and IT solutions, positioning them- selves to lead the work, retail, travel, and leisure space. Consolidating the expertise of top tier manufacturers — Microsoft, Philips, LG, Cisco , Samsung and SONY to name a few — Gather, as a brand of the Econocom group, conceives, finances, and facilitates Audiovisual, Unified Communications & IT solutions for large firms and public organisations.

With a greater need for complex IT structures, whether through the public and private cloud or on-premise systems, Econocom are empowering clients in facilitating digital transformation and have pledged a commitment to achieve global impact by 2028. Along the way, Econocom pledged to refurbish 1.5 million recycled assets, which are maintained in their repair centres, plus the brand has a top 1% sustainability rating and SBTI validation.

Can you give a summary of Econocom’s newest launch, Gather?

We are considered market leaders in our industry and in the past few years, and during the Pandemic, we have been able to grow our business. And last month, we were able to communicate our new, strategic five-year plan, from Econocom Group to the market. In which it’s stated that, for the audiovisual part, in which BIS|Econocom plays a crucial part, it is one of the strategic initiatives for the coming five years. It’s the idea that Econocom will grow its total business from €2.7 or €2.8 billion, to €4 billion and the ambition is to double the business for audiovisual, UC, and IT solutions. The launch of Gather plays a key role in realising this ambition. The Econocom Group already has business in Europe through different entities , different countries with different solutions. As far as Gather is concerned digital signage is an important one, where we have an excellence centre in Madrid, where we primarily focus on the hospitality and the retail markets. For all our AV, UC and IT solutions, Gather deals with business in France, with subsidiaries in Paris and we have business in the UK, Benelux countries and in Italy.

So, we have coverage already, but the ambition is to grow in different countries throughout Europe. And that’s the reason we introduced the brand name, Gather, it’s not a company, it’s a brand name. And I’ve been asked to coordinate the initiative and grow the Gather business throughout Europe. Why the name Gather for the brand and what is the idea that underpins it? We are in an IT world, which is very technologically driven, but we want to focus on what we are providing with our technology.

And what we are providing is that people can come together; and for centuries people have come together to share ideas and glean energies from one another, gathering around a campfire to share anecdotes and histories. So, the gathering of people is very human-centric, and that’s the brand’s main goal to bring people together and develop relation- ships between them. Of course, we are facilitating that through technology, but it’s very much around the end user of that technology. So, technology is just a tool, and that’s not the goal itself.

Could you talk about Econocom’s five-year plan and provide some context around the Gather initiative?

Econocom has grown its business and is now 50 years old this year, growing the business in three pillars, through the financing of IT. Which means we are able to speed up the process of adopting the latest technology for our customers and provide the prod- uct itself via our distribution entities. The goal of the five year plan is that Econocom has two new initiatives; the first is the audiovisual and col- laboration part and the other one is the refurbishment of technology. We want to be focused on the sustainability of our world and reduce e-waste. With our as-a-service concept, we are gaining control of the entire lifecycle of products, so that’s one of the key things. And on top of that, we want to make sure that we are now focusing more on the synergies we are providing to customers throughout our different silos.

Jean-Pierre Overbeek Gather, the latest brand from Econocom Group is spearheading the workplace revolution with their unique, human-centric approach — placing humans at the heart of technology. We will divest some activities and use that money to focus on the strategic initiative, like audiovisual, UC, and IT solutions and services, enabling us to grow faster than the market, with both organic growth and with acquisitions.

Can you talk about sustainability in the context of Gather? And did you face any challenges along the way?

Econocom was founded with the idea to sell refurbished IT equipment, mainly IBM during that time. That was the start of Econocom 50 years ago. What we are doing right now is when we take the entire lifecycle of products — including our role in financing and advising the right technology, installing and maintaining the right technology, and doing the technology swap, in three to five years’ time, through updating and then upgrading the technology — the entire chain of activities is funded by ourselves, so people don’t have to pay for the ownership of the products, they only have to pay for the usage of the products.

And in that sense, it’s in our interest and the interest of the customer, to have the lifetime as long as possible. And in the interest of the market, in earlier times it has been in the interest of the manufacturer and supplier to have the lifecycle as short as possible, because they wanted to sell as much as possible. But we see a shift towards a more sustainable business model and that’s certainly what we are aiming for, we want to be very sustainable in what we advise and optimise usage with limited outfall.

What we are seeing in the last six or seven years is we really are able to extend the lifecycle management through our fleet management and our approach to technology. And we use the Ellen MacArthur Foundation rules, which involves the re-use of equipment in a secondlife proposition and environmentally friendly destruction of products and parts at the end-of-life stage.

And it goes with several challenges because different countries have different rules on how to maintain products and solutions. So, cross-border there are a few challenges, but we think we are the only ones uniquely positioned to take care of those challenges for our customers. AV, or audiovisual as a service, was introduced by us, and people thought it was a financing solution — it’s not, it’s completely focused on the usership of products, and not so much the ownership. What we see is even the bigger companies and bigger governmental bodies are making use of our methodology, and not just entry level and mid level companies, but also the bigger companies because they are getting rid of the hassle of procurement and maintenance.

Why take a human-centric approach to technology?

That’s one of the main reasons we are in business. We like to do busi- ness with people and provide solutions and the right ideas, together. It’s not as straightforward as we like to do business because we like to make money. The only reason we are able to make a better world is because we all  come up with ideas together and that is the way we like to do business and it’s in our DNA. We only live for a very short period of time so it’s important to do the right thing and combine the right technology for people. And what we see is a lot of businesses in our industry are very much about the products themselves and we need to make sure it’s for the right application. Our solution doesn’t have a one-size-fits all approach and we are very keen on overseeing the process of all our activity, which impacts our clients, and that process is different per industry, per application, per everything.

What is Econocom’s role in funding Green Assets?

Econocom acquired a refurbishment company which is able to either extend the life cycle time or make sure the parts are re-used or broken down in the right way. We are very much focused around reducing e-waste and we are in discussions with our manufacturers because the process starts with our manufacturers. And we are selecting the right manufacturers with a strong focus on the environmental line. For the AV part we are in discussion with 10–15 strategic manufacturers and with each and every one of them we are discussing this. Luckily, the focus on this topic is increasing both on the system integrating side and the manufacturing side.

But it’s not at the level we’d like to see. Furthermore, we see a lot of governmental bodies providing focus on this. And now, we foresee this will be a main driver for a selection of the right solutions and in that sense, we want to be the thought leader, as well. In the Netherlands, we were the first ISO 14001 certified in the AV industry, and that was already 10–15 years ago. And we want to be leading the industry in a sense, not only in sustainability, but also in recognising what the e-waste will be. Any facts or insights in relation to the brand, Gather?

So far, in 2023, our revenue will be around €250 million and the five-year plan is to increase it to €400 million in the coming three to five years, and then the next step would be €500 million, in the B2B environment. Consolidated, we are doing that with 450 people, and we deliver thousands of solutions, and on our website, it’s stated we deliver products to 60 different countries. We have a global alli- ance of partners who are able to ser- vice our end users on our behalf. But the main fact is that with Gather we can support our customers in realising their Audiovisual, UC, and IT needs from A to Z; including financ- ing, interior design, installation, training, adoption, maintenance and even fleet and lifecycle management.

Can you talk about the services you offer to creative sectors?

Yes, we have two, one is we have interior architects in-house, that are able to complete floor plans, because it’s not only about technology but it’s also about the room itself — the acoustics, the lighting, the setup of the room. And the second one is that we are not only delivering the hardware, but we also deliver the content. So, movies, animations, and everything that is shown on a display, both indoor and outdoor, we are able to create any content needed. Last year, we created almost 20,000 movies for our additional signage net- works we have in place, mainly for our retail customers.

We are facilitating brands to communicate with customers, and we are making them the content. On top of this, we have specialists for virtual reality and augmented reality, and we are able to show custom- ers what we are able to do for them in a 2D or 3D version, without glasses and with the right tooling. And that is something we started doing approximately one and a half years ago.

How popular is virtual and augmented reality and do you see this growing in business contexts?

Yes, the forecasts show that the industry will explode, in the positive sense of the word, and again we want to be at the forefront of that industry and it’s very exciting to see what we are already able to do, both online and via tooling. For example, with iPads, so people are able to see what we do, and they have high expectations. On top of that, artificial intelligence will play a big role in our industry, and you want to combine all those tech- nologies for our users. What will AI’s role be in the Gather business, plus finance and wider business contexts? The first steps with AI we see is mainly in the collaboration of what we are doing right now. The bigger manufacturers are investing quite a lot of money to get the right technology in place to optimise voice, for instance, via translation.

You see, for instance, that you are able to walk into a room and speak to our devices, and these devices are instantly recognising you as a participant, and then providing access to the meeting. So, you don’t need to touch anything, and you can just start a meeting. We see quite a lot of artificial intelligence in digital signage solutions, to really tailor the right content to the right group or customers. And for the coming years we are expecting AI to be integrated into a lot of different technologies. So, we feel we are at the starting point, but for the next quarter it will move very fast and that’s some- thing we are preparing for — AI will be leading this industry, for sure.

Do you have any concerns or reservations about AI at this first stage of evolution?

Of course, there are concerns, the biggest one is security, of course. But the manufacturers we are doing business with have their security by design, which are incorporated, and they are leading the industry on the product side. So, we need to trust that this pol- icy is in place and so far, we haven’t had any challenges in our industry, so that’s a good thing. I’m quite sure there will be policies coming from local and national governments, which we need to follow because there are some people having some doubts but let us not go too deep in that sense because we are an AV and digital signage specialist, and AI is added to that.