I AM CEDIA: Rob Sutherland, Inspired Dwellings

CEDIA | Apr 23, 2020

How did you get interested in the industry?

I got into the AV industry through my wife. After our children were born, Sarah was looking for a new job and an opportunity came up for her and her mother to renovate an apartment near ours. They completed that project and then moved on to a slightly bigger one, and then an even bigger one after that. As the projects got bigger and more elaborate, they needed technology. She'd been talking to an AV company, and I remember thinking that I could do that. After a few more discussions, we decided in 2007 that there was an opportunity to bring my world, which was heavy-duty corporate IT, into residential installs. And this was the start of Inspired Dwellings.

How did you scale up from there?

I started talking to people about it. We had young children, so we spent a lot of time at school talking to parents who lived locally who had an interest in technology. We also spoke to local builders and architects about it. These conversations generated some interest, and our contacts began to grow from here.

My wife's background is in advertising and branding, so we went through a branding exercise — we asked ourselves, “What do we think our vision is about?” We discussed this and came up with a number of things. When we started the business, we thought that we were a B2C company, but actually, what we found out quite quickly, was that it was actually B2B as we were selling our services to architects, contractors, and builders, and they were saying to their clients, “We think Inspired Dwellings can help you with the technology you require in your house.”

What technologies did you first start installing?

We started off with Wi-Fi and multiroom audio and then moved on to simple lighting control systems. At this point, we were based at home, working around the kitchen table. One morning, Sarah came home from taking the kids to school to find seven or eight people sitting around the kitchen table. At that point, we decided that we needed to go and look for an office.

We started off in one office space and then took on two more as time went on, but we found that we were running out of space — mainly storage and workshop space to prebuild racks before going to site — and our landlord knew that he had a premium site and wanted to begin to charge premium rent for it. We decided that it was time to move to bigger premises, so we found a secure industrial unit in a business park, and this is where we are still based today, with a team of 15 people.

Where do you do most of your work?

We mainly work in the U.K., but last year, we completed a large project in the Caribbean. We've also worked on a chalet in the Alps. I think we have the capability to deliver outside of the U.K. when we have the opportunity.

How long have you been a CEDIA member?

We joined CEDIA in 2009, and my involvement with the association grew from here. In 2016 I decided to run for the EMEA board. When the two boards combined to become global, I was part of the EMEA contingent that transitioned onto the new board. I felt that this was a very good step forward, as it’s important for CEDIA to be a global organization, with members in the U.K., Europe, America, Canada, Mexico, Australia, India — the list goes on. 

What roles have you served while being on the board?

I’ve been a board member, treasurer, vice chairman, and now, chairman. Outside of the board, I've also served on various CEDIA committees, including the outreach committee, and that's really how I became involved in CEDIA.

What do you think these experiences have given you?

Being the treasurer has given me a better insight into how CEDIA functions as a worldwide industry association. We need to remember that we are part of a global industry, and we have clients, customers, and manufacturers who work on a global basis, not just in a local territory.

What are your priorities as chairman?

Certainly, for my first year, my number one priority is to make sure that CEDIA delivers on its strategy. We worked very hard in building the strategy, so we now need to deliver on this. 

The pillars of the strategy are education, workforce development, and design build outreach. Can you talk us through these?


Regarding education, CEDIA’s in-person and online industry training and certification offerings will expand in the years ahead. Not only in terms of coursework, but also in terms of the ways that technology integrators can interact with CEDIA and engage in training opportunities. We’ve built a new website and online learning platform. This will provide members with access to our full portfolio of online training courses, no matter where they are in the world. Not only this, but their training pathway will be mapped out and tracked through the website for them. We have also been actively engaged in the revisions of four standards and recommended best practices, and have published six new white papers.

We are also focusing on workforce development. One of the biggest challenges I have with my business in London is the shortage of staff. By talking to other integrators and industry partners in the rest of the world, I know that London is not unique in not having enough qualified good staff. We’re dedicated to raising awareness of our industry as a career opportunity among jobseekers. In the U.K., we’ve worked with the Institute For Apprenticeships and Technical Education to develop the Smart Home Technician apprenticeship standard, while in the U.S., the new CEDIA Electronic Systems Integration Technician Training program provides a comprehensive approach to preparing the next generation of talent. Everything we can do to help develop workforce is really important.

Lastly, the design and build community: Our key route to market is still through architects, designers, developers, and contractors, and ultimately, to end users. We can't deliver our project in isolation, so we have to work with these other professionals. We are continuing to reach out to this audience to raise the profile of CEDIA members. More members are now progressing through the CEDIA Certified Outreach Instructor (COI) program than ever before. In 2019, we launched Designing Home Cinemas and Media Rooms in both the U.S. and EMEA and Cabling for the Integrated Home in EMEA.  We also completed needed revisions and updates on six courses that have been a part of the U.S. COI offerings.

Ultimately, we are an industry association run by industry people, so we need to be visible in serving these interests.


This article originally appeared in the Q2 2020 issue of Communicates, which you can find here.