Emerging Trends in Collaboration

InfoComm 2017 previewed multiple trends emerging in the collaboration space which are changing the game for manufacturers, resellers and end-users. David Danto, Director of Emerging Technology, IMCCA takes at look at some of these UC trends and offers a taste of what will be discussed in the UC program at this year’s Integrate.

By David Danto, Director of Emerging Technology, IMCCA

It’s June 13th 2017 – the day before the InfoComm conference opened in a rainy Orlando – and in room W304 at the Orange County Convention Center one couldn’t find a seat.

Why did over 600 people turn out for this day-long seminar on emerging trends in AV and collaboration technology? It’s because the pace of change in these spaces is moving more rapidly now than it ever has in the past. Staying on top of the curves and twists is an urgent part of what collaboration professionals need to do to remain relevant. Most of the professionals in that room knew that if they continued to build rooms and systems the same way they had even a couple of years earlier they’d be using outdated ideas and obsolete technologies. Today’s best practices are vastly different — and the changes are only beginning. At Integrate 2017, the IMCCA will be presenting expanded and updated details on many of these topics. Here is how they were explained At InfoComm 2017.

Margins and Free Services Dropping Away

To understand the driver for much of changes, one has to look at the recent history and economics of collaboration. Ten years ago we were all in the middle of an Immersive Telepresence hype-cycle. Organizations were spending upwards of $500K US us to buy these immersive rooms (and/or high-end integrated systems), and possibly up to an additional $500K US to remediate rooms for their installation. (Of course, if you had followed the advice of my IMCCA articles back then you wouldn’t have fallen into the telepresence hype-cycle and wouldn’t be one of the organizations spending good money after bad removing these systems – but that’s a different point.) With manufacturers selling these very expensive systems there was a lot of profit, and a lot of room to provide free services to supplement their installation. Manufacturers and integrators would provide free or low cost assessments, system designs, and other professional services that were funded by the margins on these sales.

Cut to five years ago, and one finds solutions that were far less expensive than the immersive systems and that could provide the same remote experience. They did this by using smart camera systems that automatically zoomed-in on who was speaking. These modular systems carried price tags of around $50-$60K US. Perhaps these were not as lucrative for the manufacturers as the immersive systems, but they still carried enough margin to provide the supplemental services at low or no cost to end-users.

In today’s world however, many organizations are stressing personal collaboration over room collaboration, and costs for room systems have plummeted to as low as about $2K US for a pretty decent experience.

The cost of collaboration systems has been steadily declining

The economics of this trend has forced a number of changes in the collaboration space.

Firstly, those formerly free design and consulting services are gone. End-user organizations that would like to get design and strategic advice from experienced professionals are going to have to get used to the fact that they will need to pay directly for this expertise. This is proving hard to swallow for many of them. I’ve seen a number of organizations refuse to contract for the needed assessments and design services (because they’ve never had to before) and then make significant, expensive, avoidable mistakes in their collaboration strategy. It will probably take a few failed deployments, poor ROI experiences and/or wasted investments before most organizations realize the value and savings in investing in expert support.

The bigger change though is coming from the large manufacturers and service providers. Realizing that there is little to no profit in selling the now inexpensive systems, the majority of these large companies are switching strategies — stressing a cloud / annuity model for collaboration. Whether we’re talking about Cisco with Webex / Spark, Google with G-Suite, Microsoft with Office365 / Skype for Business or any of the others, the new goal is getting end-user organizations onto a platform via an Enterprise License — where they are paying XX per person per month for everyone in their organization. Just about every new collaboration product and/or service introduced into the market is geared toward funneling end-users into that annuity model to support the recurring revenue.

Cloud services (like WebEx, BlueJeans, Zoom, and others) formerly an anathema to large enterprise end users in the collaboration space, are now widely embraced by most organizations, helping support this fundamental change in economic and consumption model.

To develop a successful strategy that navigates through these changes, organizations must design collaboration ecosystems that stress seamless meeting experiences. This requires a robust interoperability strategy that ties together mobile, desk and room clients, and the selection of services and endpoints that provide powerful management and monitoring tools. These are often not the least expensive options, but the additional extra cost provides an enormous extra value. The Catch-22 here is that organizations really should hire one of those formerly free consultants to help them avoid the mistakes others have made and design the best strategic solution to truly meet their needs.

Smaller Rooms

As the economic models change, so do the approaches to collaboration.

The biggest change is about the biggest rooms — which are no longer the focal point of collaboration. Organizations have realized that the large expensive rooms (that were the typical focus in the past) are not nearly as useful as smaller rooms where small groups of people can meet and collaborate — both with each other and remote colleagues. These spaces are now generally referred to as Huddle Rooms.

Significant change in how organizations approach meeting rooms

At InfoComm I defined them as follows:

– The Huddle Room is a space where small groups of people can go to have meetings away from the noise and activities of today’s typically dense and/or open office environments.

– Depending upon organizational culture these spaces may or may not have walls (Huddle Spaces vs. Huddle Rooms) and may or may not be intended primarily for impromptu meetings.

– The majority of huddle rooms are equipped with basic technology to support collaboration with remote individuals (but this of course is dependent upon how your organization defines “basic.”)

Other than the fact that all these rooms are smaller than past norms, there are few areas of agreement on how to approach them. Some organizations equip them with webcams (meant for desktop PC use) and expect people to use their own BYOD devices for collaboration — often resulting in a poor experience. Other organizations equip them as smaller version of integrated rooms, realizing none of the inherent benefits of scale and simplicity but achieving a superior performance. And of course, there are many versions that lay somewhere between those two extremes.

It is clear that manufacturers are taking these spaces seriously, with many releasing hardware specifically designed and optimized for these rooms. Form factors such as “speakerbar camera/audio systems” (from such firms as Harman, Yamaha and Logitech) and “tabletop hubs” (from such firms as Crestron and Intel/HP) are only applicable for these smaller rooms.

Many new Huddle Room device form-factors emerging

Deciding which are the best options for your organization is again something that can be made much simpler with the support of expert advice. The set-top webcam devices (which I described as Soda-Cracker Videoconferencing in a recent blog) are perhaps the worst choice, but there are honestly trade-offs inherent with each solution.

Smarter Cameras, IWBs, Team Chat

Huddle rooms aren’t the only areas that have seen emerging technology disrupt the norms. Three other emerging trends are shaking-up the collaboration space: Intelligent Cameras, Electronic Interactive Whiteboards, and Team Chat Platforms. Let’s discuss these one at a time.

Smart Cameras:
We are seeing the first generation of cameras come to market that capture large, wide, high-resolution images and then electronically crop, zoom and switch to make automatically correct images.

The new generation of cameras that automatically frame without mechanical PTZ

As products come to market that are inexpensive, require no moving parts, are smart enough to identify the people in the room, and are powerful enough to create high-resolution images of individual speakers/presenters with no user intervention, the world of collaboration systems will completely change. The ability to inexpensively install rooms that produce great experiences at a large scale is here today. We can expect many more camera products with this ability to take-over the space in the near future (again, something I predicted years ago.)

Interactive Electronic Whiteboards:
These devices — which I covered in my recent whitepaper — are also in the middle of a hype-cycle that parallels the immersive systems of ten years ago. Whether you call these devices smart boards, interactive displays, electronic whiteboards, ideation devices, or by the new handle immersive collaboration displays, it’s clear that these touch-enabled large format displays are flooding the AV market. Despite their prevalence, there are serious questions about how frequently these systems will actually be used in enterprise environments. Before diving in to purchase them because “your preferred manufacturer says they’re hot” organizations should fully evaluate their applications and only install these systems where they will likely be used. Regrettably, general purpose conference rooms do not qualify as a great application, as 95% of the time users walk into rooms, sit at the table, and will never get up to use an IWB. Engineering and/or design studios, educational facilities, scrum areas and other teams that already make extensive use of hand-drawn sketches are good candidates for these systems.

There may be ongoing usage charges associated with the newest IWBs

Organizations also have to be aware of the economics behind these systems, as again, manufacturers are using them as incentives to drive users onto their annuity platforms as discussed above. When there is a truly a need to whiteboard, annotate and share real-time designs these new systems are often providing outstanding results. But if there isn’t a need to do so then there isn’t a need to pay for them on an ongoing basis.

Team Chat:
The hottest trend in the UC and collaboration space is around the concept of persistent chat spaces — or Team Chat as most are calling it now. There are literally dozens of services and applications in this space – from the established firms like Cisco (Spark) and Microsoft (Teams) to Silicon Valley start-ups, and everyone in-between.

The many Team Chat offerings available today – Courtesy Nemertes Research

While these services greatly vary, they generally support the idea that conversations and workflows can take place in specific virtual spaces dedicated to a specific project or subject. They are often either mobile first or mobile friendly, and they generally help foster an improved workflow — but only when everyone on a team or in an organization uses them. Providers often brag how using them saves time over using email, but when even a small percentage of team members aren’t using the platform — and you have to use email for them anyway — these platforms wind up costing more time than they save. Once all members of a team have adopted a team chat platform there can be significant improvements in workflow and productivity. Understanding the specific needs of your organization (as they relate to cloud, compliance and security, integration with other apps and/or workflows and others) and identifying a platform that robustly supports them is a good first step. Then, getting all your team members aligned to using the platform — by employing a specifically designed adoption plan — is the critical second step.

Staying On Top Of The Changing Landscape

As a collaboration professional, it is critical to stay on top of emerging trends and emerging technologies. There are many ways to do that. Here’s just a quick list:

• Find five or ten of the thought leaders in the industry and follow them on social media platforms. (Feel free to reach out to me if you need advice on who to follow.)

• Attend industry conferences and network with vendors, clients and peers. (Hopefully we’ll see you at Integrate 2017.)

• Join the IMCCA. The IMCCA is the only non-profit association in the collaboration space. It is “resolved to strengthen and grow the overall Unified Communications and Collaboration industry by providing thought leadership, impartial information and education.” IMCCA membership is free to end-users, and has reasonable dues for manufacturers and service providers. In just the last 60 days (as I write this), the IMCCA developed the entire collaboration track for Integrate and InfoComm (including the sessions I refer to above) and conducted educational and social events all around the world. And unlike other groups, industry professionals never need to pay to be at industry events. Go to IMCCA.org to find out more.

Looking for more content on UC Trends – don’t miss the UC Talks taking place at Integrate 29-31 August. With speakers from Microsoft, InFocus, Polycomm and more tickets won’t last long. See the program here.

About the Author: David Danto

This article was written by David Danto and contains solely his own, personal opinions. David has over three decades of experience providing problem solving leadership and innovation in media and unified communications technologies for various firms in the corporate, broadcasting and academic worlds including AT&T, Bloomberg LP, FNN, Morgan Stanley, NYU, Lehman Brothers and JP Morgan Chase. David is the IMCCA’s Director of Emerging Technology. He can be reached at DDanto@imcca.org and his full bio and other blogs and articles can be seen at Danto.info. Please reach-out to David if you would like to discuss how he can help your organization solve problems, develop a future-proof collaboration strategy for internal use, or if you would like his help developing solid, user-focused go-to-market strategies for your product or service.

About the IMCCA

The Interactive Multimedia & Collaborative Communications Alliance (IMCCA) is a not-for-profit user application and industry focused association with membership comprised of service and product providers, consultants, and users. Members benefit from the understanding and the use of various interactive and collaborative communications technologies in their professional and everyday lives.

For further information please contact Carol Zelkin, IMCCA Executive Director, at +516-818- 8184 or czelkin@imcca.org. Visit the IMCCA web site at www.imcca.org