There is one place where we cannot deny that AV and IT have already converged. And that place is the meeting room.
One year ago, Michael Frank, Mid-Atlantic regional manager at Biamp Systems, opened Whitlock’s Convergence show in Durham, N.C., with a quote that continues to resonate with integrators and dealers today.
“This is a whole different realm of communication,” he said. “This is AV and IT, and IT owns AV.”
It’s a new year, with new technologies emerging every day. We have seen 4k really step into the spotlight in the commercial market at InfoComm 2014. We’ve seen Microsoft Lync be accepted and integrated into the corporate space, along with countless other collaboration platforms. And yet, we continue to struggle with the ‘effortless meeting.’
I’ve seen it. You’ve seen it. Local employees are sitting in the room, waiting patiently, but employees telecommuting from miles away can’t seem to log in, figure out which number to dial, connect to the right group chat. The race is on to render this pervasive difficulty a distant, albeit painful, memory. But what will it take?
Keep it Simple
You’ve heard this before, but when it comes to the end user experience of a system designed to be practically invisible, this rule couldn’t be more important.
“The technology should just work for your users,” explained Joel Kuhn, director of systems engineering at Polycom.
User experience is critical. We are in a time when almost every meeting across the country utilizes unified communications and collaboration in some way, not to mention the healthcare, education, government, and other vast markets where planning, decision making, and even training happens over a display screen. But what does a good user experience entail?
“It starts with a good design, the right architecture, the right platform, and the right mix of technology,” said Kirk Muffley, Whitlock director of strategic alliances.
‘Mix’ being the operative word. Seamless integration between devices can make all the difference. Whether you pick just one operating system or choose to integrate those that play together, it has to be as simple as possible. The user interface must be intuitive, if not familiar. There must be proactive monitoring and easy, fast support, just in case. And there must be training.
“Anytime you mention integration, the biggest problem I encounter is [that] people don’t know what they don’t know,” said Pat Borka, Microsoft Solutions Architect at Whitlock. “That’s where a good partner comes into play.”
The integrator is responsible for more than the technology and setup. At last year’s Whitlock Convergence show, Michael Frank said, “The biggest headache is what happens when the integrator is gone,” a statement that resonated with integrators and dealers everywhere. Training and support are integral to the user experience, because even if it seems simple to you, it must also come simply to your customer.
… But That Isn’t Everything
Simplicity isn’t everything. John Bailey, Whitlock VP of systems integration, asked Frank, “Do you think ease of use trumps performance?”
“No, I believe they go hand in hand,” Frank responded.
Performance and quality of the platform shouldn’t be forsaken in the interest of simplicity.
For example, 4k is creeping into the commercial market after making a big splash at InfoComm 2014. The decision to go 4k or not can be summed up in one question posed to the Whitlock panelists.
“Is 4k something we need, or is it the industry giving us another innovation and telling us it’s a requirement?”
The answer seems to be yes and no. 4k can be great for large-scale video walls or display screens, but it might not be necessary for unified communication. There are applications for it, however, in this context.
“How do we intelligently fracture one display to show multiple things?” Kuhn asked. “This is how we take advantage of 4k in [unified communication].”
Often times you have a display screen with multiple sub-screens, of people around the world or content being shared. Better image quality can improve display performance in this instance. Image quality is also crucial for training, especially in the healthcare and education markets.
Even if you don’t plan to implement 4k right away, “you better get ready for it,” according to the panelists. Consumers are adopting 4k at a steady pace, and when consumer electronics are 4k, everything will be 4k.
The issue of metrics and data should also not be ignored in the pursuit of simplicity. Data is great for the integrator and end user alike, for building platform intelligence, proactive support, enterprise management, and ROI. In the long run, keeping metrics on each unified communications platform will in turn lend itself to better processes and automation in the future.
“How many of you here have more space than you know what to do with?” asked Jon Ottison, solutions engineer at Crestron Electronics. Zero hands went up in the audience. “I rest my case.”
It’s all about how you use the space you have, he explained. The room should know if there’s a meeting in session or not; it should be able to shut down the projector and turn off the lights when no one is there. “These are the kinds of things we talk about when we talk about managing the enterprise,” he went on. Smart systems are the future of UC.
John Bailey agreed. “I would argue that [data] is becoming a necessity. The Internet of Things is real, and it’s growing. That will have to be managed. If the light switch communicates with the motion detector, what happens when there are 10 things in the room that are all competing? How do we control it? How do we make sure they’re doing what we want them to do? That’s data.”
People are no longer bound by their environment. BYOD is changing the nature of teleconferencing, and the cloud is changing the way we capture and store data. Companies — end users — have options. And unified communication is not meant to shock and awe. Its purpose is to enable companies to do what they do best, without having to think about how.
“It has to be easy, it has to be plug-and-play, and it has to work,” said Frank.
Simple as that.