No distance at all
Work habits have changed, and AV solutions allow team members to contribute no matter where they are located. And this shift is fuelling a dramatic increase in demand for collaboration tools to bridge the distances.
Attendees at any commercial AV trade show in the past few years would have witnessed the rapid growth of collaborative systems designed to support working remotely.
Indeed, both the recent Integrate and InfoComm expo in Orlando, seem to indicate that there is still a healthy appetite in the market. New players are constantly entering the sector, and existing suppliers are expanding their offerings in an attempt to remain competitive.
So, what’s the big deal with collaboration systems and how do integrators navigate the noisy marketplace?
Lilian Bories is vice-president of marketing for Oblong, “Flexibility is one of the key demands of today’s disparate workforce,” he says.
“Workers want to connect and collaborate with their teams from any number of locations. They want to be productive not only from their office, but also from home, while travelling or on the road.”
Lilian says the notion of working side-by-side on a project has new meaning when team members are widely dispersed. The most effective organisations bring people together based on their ability to contribute to a project rather than on their location.
Global teams need to have seamless access to a shared digital workspace in real time. The best collaboration technology ensures that everyone can contribute simultaneously and productively.
Biamp product manager Zach Snook says more meeting areas – particularly smaller conference rooms and huddle spaces – are being equipped with collaboration tools.
“Technology that was once reserved for the highest-level boardrooms is now expected in group meeting spaces of all sizes throughout an organisation, thus driving a spike in demand.”
Biamp products are distributed in Australia by Jands.
Holger Stoltze is senior director technical sales and marketing for Yamaha Unified Communications, distributed in Australia by Hills.
He believes that an important factor in the growth of collaboration systems is Moore’s Law – the idea that processing power will double every two years.
“PC-based video conferencing made the expensive video codec obsolete,” Holger says
“Now, cost-effective solutions are available for large conference rooms, small conference rooms, huddle rooms, employees’ desks, the home office and even personal use without the need for specialised technology.
“Communications and work culture are also changing, making video conferencing the de facto collaboration standard. Employees expect to communicate with their peers or customers with the press of a button.”
Collaboration solutions are entering an exciting phase with artificial intelligence (AI) becoming a focus.
Midwich APAC commercial director Sean Tobin says the collaborative hardware market has become saturated with AV products all boasting agnostic support for any soft codec service.
“The stars of the show will offer new features including head count in the room, motion detection and facial recognition to help facilities management understand the use of their systems.
“Presence technology will tailor users’ experience from the moment they enter the room to the desired behaviours and voice control for the ultimate in simplified systems.”
Sean says systems catering for IoT enabled sensors that measure temperature and humidity, among other features, will ensure you are embracing the latest technologies.
It appears that collaboration systems have grown in popularity because more people are working, learning and sharing remotely than ever before. Further, video has become the central communication medium of the times.
Panacast, which is available in Australia through avt, says physical environments – in business, education, healthcare or government – are becoming more dispersed. They requires solution that connect people in ways that are affordable and easy to use and maintain.
Pop-up locations need solutions that provide compelling 4K video that puts everyone in the picture and precise audio that can be heard clearly in any environment.
Biamp’s Zach Snook says solutions that make it easy for installers, by adapting to any conference room or creating a seamless hand-off between IT and AV, will stand out in the crowded market.
Imagine hundreds of rooms across an organisation that require collaboration technologies – it shouldn’t take an army of installers.
Likewise, the collaboration system should make it easy for an overworked IT department to remotely maintain and manage every device.
In addition, every user should be able to use the system intuitively and without complex training.
Lilian of Oblong says one of the main stumbling blocks in the past has been user adoption of new technology.
“Businesses today seek flexibility and adaptability, but they don’t want to piece together solutions from a variety of vendors, with different workflows behind each conference room door.
“They expect suppliers to help them achieve simplicity in procurement and consistency in experience by packaging whole solutions rather than discrete components and services.”
Oblong, for example, is tackling this through a partnership with Cisco. The company has established a user experience that will be familiar to any Cisco user, and the Mezzanine solutions now feature on the Cisco global price list.
One important issue is the lifecycle of technology – having to upgrade hardware every few years. This can have huge cost implications for businesses, requiring additional training and causing disruption for workers.
Collaboration solutions that take a software-based approach effectively negate the issue.
“Beyond that, a good solution is one that makes it easy for users to collaborate,” Lilian says.
“User interface is a serious issue – so treat it seriously.”
“The integrator needs to keep in mind the person using the system,” Holger says.
“Whatever technology is selected, the casual user shouldn’t need an IT degree. Anyone must be able to start a meeting quickly and without problems.”
Integrators also need to think about audio, including capture, playback and post-processing.
“It is easy to obsess over video quality, but a call with bad video is simply an audio call and still allows for a meaningful exchange.
“A call with bad audio is a pantomime that’s not just unproductive, it’s unhealthy. There are studies showing that bad audio strains participants and leads to fatigue.”
Zach says integrators should begin by examining what solution will best fit the customer’s needs. The scenario may be an in-room collaboration experience, a BYOD experience or a hybrid approach that offers a platform-agnostic room solution.
More than anything else, the right system should be easy to deploy.
Devio by Biamp, for example, offers easy mounting solutions, the ability to add any speaker offering, single cable installation and connection to the in-room collaboration system and an automated set-up mode that tunes a room for peak performance at the touch of a button.
“Integrators should also be helping their customers select technologies not just around AV specs, but also around workflow optimisation,” Lilian says.
Sean Tobin says it’s important to understand that work habits have changed – it’s no longer a matter of hypotheticals and ‘what ifs’.
“Millennials are not ‘entering’ the workforce,” he says.
“They are already here and they pretty much dominate it. They bring with them an expectation of a wire-free world.”
Integrate 2019, which takes place on 27-29 August at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre, will host lots of content sharing solutions supporting all kinds of devices and operating systems.
The key to these function-rich offerings is the user interface. User training for room systems is a thing of the past, and customers expect the plug-and-play experience of the consumer world.
If you can use the features of products at the show with minimal guidance from a specialist you may be onto a winner.
“It is now about a ‘one size fits all’ solution – hybrid hard-wired and wireless solutions are on the rise,” Sean says.