Our second series of business blog posts is a Q+A with Douglas Bolton. Douglas is our AV Consultant and has his own company Douglas Bolton AV. Based in Edinburgh, Douglas has worked with us on many projects over the years and knows The Scotch Whisky Experience inside out!
When we interviewed Douglas he said: “As an independent specialist working in the visitor attraction sector, I relish projects where my client has a clear vision and is determined to achieve the best possible results. Having worked with The Scotch Whisky Experience on several projects over a considerable period, I know that visitors are placed first and foremost. The quality of the visitor experience at The Scotch Whisky Experience is exceptional throughout, and I am very proud to have contributed to the recent enhancements, which really have raised the standard again. And that’s not only my opinion – it’s echoed by thousands more on social media.”
I had previously visited this around 5 years ago last, but they’ve definitely invested further since then in the audio/visuals, and we greatly enjoyed the whole experience.
Tripadvisor review, August 2017
Q1: As the designer of the hardware solutions needed to present the creative concepts of the whisky tour, you worked with a number of different partners, designers and technical companies to bring the project together, many of whom were based in Europe. What would you say was the biggest challenge you faced when working with so many parties to bring a 5-star visitor attraction to the next level?
As I was involved during the concept and early design stages of the project, I had a full understanding of the objectives and aspirations attached to it.
The Scotch Whisky Experience was already offering a superb visitor experience, and we knew we had to achieve the best possible results if we were to improve it. Imparting this message to the contributors who were appointed to deliver the final product was critical, to ensure they paid full attention to every detail and achieved the highest possible standards in every aspect of their work.
The project management around the technical elements of the project were complex and all were interlinked. A change in one area usually resulted in knock-on changes to others. Keeping track of multiple disciplines and deciding how to deal with necessary changes was challenging.
Q2: As you have been so closely involved in all areas of the tour refurbishment since 2009, which area/concept/design is your favourite and why?
Of course, my immediate thought is that the new Sense of Scotland areas are the best but, when I think back on the Barrel Ride, the Retail Area, Amber, The Castlehill Suite and more, I then think that each of them was my favourite at that point in time. It’s a difficult choice. The Barrel Ride was the most technically challenging and gave me most headaches at the design and specification stage, so it feels good knowing it has run reliably for some years now and it still impresses. But then, the video wall in the Retail Area really sets up an ambiance there and has become the go-to selfie backdrop for visitors, so it is also high on my list. And the mirror-vision display in The Castlehill Suite is highly effective……
I suppose what I like best about each and every area is the way it complements the last and the next. None stand alone, and you always know you are within the Scotch Whisky Experience’s venue due to the continuity of design and quality.
Q3: Your system design and specification names products by make and model which are suitable for the project in hand. This must be very time consuming to put together, how do you ensure that the best product and company is chosen?
My role as a technical consultant is very clear to me: I provide knowledge and expertise that my client doesn’t possess, and I represent my client’s best interests with regards to their final objectives.
When I work with The Scotch Whisky Experience, I know that a combination of the highest technical performance, ease of operation, and reliability is required, so these are the highest priorities. And, as with all projects, there is a budget to meet.
My design recognises all of these; products are selected based on how well they meet the criteria and we take into consideration how well each is supported in the UK and locally. For a visitor attraction like the Scotch Whisky Experience, system down-time must be kept to an absolute minimum, so we need to know that a quick and willing response will be gained if there is a problem.
Then we consider system integrators who have the right skills and experience for the type of work we are proposing, and look into their ability to respond with agility during and beyond the delivery phase. This doesn’t necessarily mean they will be Scottish-based, but local resources bring reassurance.
We narrow the potential contractors down to two or three and invite quotations from each. I then appraise their responses from a qualitative point of view, and The Experience checks the commercial status of each. A clear winner usually emerges through this process.
Q4: When project managing a refurbishment in a visitor attraction that is open to the public 364 days of the year, can you name any incidents that just would have been made easier had the building been closed?! / What challenges did you face?
I might need another pad of A4…..!!
It’s always difficult working in a building that is fully operational, and sometimes it is hard for contractors to understand that closure of a visitor attraction, even for a short time can be so damaging to its reputation that remaining operational is paramount despite the premium on cost.
Maintaining a clear division in a venue where the general public roam freely demands constant vigilance to ensure that the work in no way impacts on the visitor experience.
Throw into the mix the unusual access within The Scotch Whisky Experience, which is a legacy from its time as a primary school in an era when boys and girls could not share staircases, and organising access to the specific areas of the building where you are working can become a logistical conundrum.
For this latest phase of development, we decided to avoid moving through the interior of the building as much as possible. To facilitate this, we built a temporary exterior stair and transformed a second floor window into a doorway. This helped a lot, but there were still working constraints due to the requirement for no noise during daytime and evening events, ensuring that no dust and dirt could escape into other areas, the need to switch power supplies off on occasion, and so on.
Q5: What were you most proud of in the project delivery?
The absolute co-ordination between the overall design, operational requirements, media production, the fit-out construction, AV hardware installation, lighting design and more was essential if the vision was to be realised. Through the diligence of all parties, everything came together with very, very few issues. I am proud of our collective commitment to the project, and my ability to get all contractors to do exactly what was required. No-one could go off-piste on this one and it can be a struggle to get experienced and capable contractors to do things that they don’t fully grasp at the outset. This time, everyone played their strongest game and as a team.
“The tour and presentation was very engaging and entertaining. The technology behind the tour was exceptional. Would recommend this tour to all.”
Tripadvisor review, October 2017
Q6: Did you learn anything new from the experience?
I learn lots on every project. Every day’s a school day.
Specifically, on this project, the complexity of delivering multiple foreign languages, plus sign language and foreign language subtitles, all on the same hand-held digital devices was greater than I had anticipated. Although I knew it would be an extensive process, I hadn’t fully considered the added complications introduced by the different technical requirements in each area of the tour, and how this affects the way in which the translations must be delivered. Very involving on several levels.
“The tour is very modern and they use a lot of technology to show you what goes into the production of Scotch.”
Tripadvisor review, December 2017
Q7: What elements of the project did you enjoy the most?
Relative to my direct responsibilities, I think the Sense of Scotland video movie has worked out very well, and that the “Holodrams” add a superbly subtle wow in the Blender’s Sample Room.
More generally, reading on-line predominantly rave reviews from visitors is very fulfilling – sometimes the delivery team can be too close to the detail to see the end result with clarity, so, hearing unsolicited and anonymous praise for our efforts is great.
Well worth it, very well done. Some clever use of technology combined with Scottish humour. Iain was a great guide and certainly knows his Scotch. Tripadvisor review June 2017
Q8: Do you like whisky?!
Oh yes. I take my small part in maintaining the buoyancy of the industry’s home sales quite seriously…