These days, it seems like there is a ‘new normal’ every six months! Regardless of the current situation, the future of work is clearly here! This future promises us a new ‘digital revolution’ and is within our grasp: remote and hybrid workforce, flexibility, adaptability, efficiency – all within the digital environment. But before we get to realize these promises, IT organizations, in particular, must suffer through numerous problems: sophisticated technology, complexity, lack of interoperability, and integration headaches.
Remote and hybrid meetings are an essential part of our business lives now. There is no going back. Recent US stats indicate that on average 37% of employee time is spent in meetings, with some busy professionals attending over 120 meetings per month. If we can make virtual meetings stick and gain long-term value and productivity, there are enormous benefits to be had for any organization.
Part of building the future work environment, therefore, is creating a state-of-the-art conference room system with effective audio-visual capability. That doesn’t mean you have to invest in complex and expensive technologies. You must create a space that facilitates effective interaction and collaboration. Collaboration during hybrid and remote meetings must be simple, seamless, and intuitive for both on-site and remote users. Poorly implemented technology is doomed to collect the proverbial dust and sit in the corner without generating a return on capital.
There are many challenges in building a state-of-the-art conference room. Should you take a piecemeal DIY approach versus an out-of-the-box solution? What should you look for and what should you avoid?
The Challenges with Conference Room Technologies
When you consider the hybrid meeting workspace you must navigate through a dizzying array of technology. Everything from flat panel displays, projectors, and interactive whiteboards to wireless dongles. HDMI capture cards, microphones, speakers, and webcams also need to be installed and managed. Wireless connectivity standards such as Airplay, Chromecast, and Miracast must be combined with HDMI input and sometimes control systems such as Crestron or similar products in an attempt to tie various technologies together.
Getting disparate hardware to play well together is just the tip of the iceberg. Once you navigate all these technologies and standards you are faced with the challenge – how do you ensure that every participant in a hybrid meeting, whether in-person or remote, share the same experience? How do these technologies play together? The remote meeting revolution doesn’t mean that you can just rely on your existing tools anymore as many are not designed for sharing ideas, brainstorming, or resolving conflicts, which are often critical functions for any team. For that, you need to use advanced products that make your teams feel like they are there in the same room.
The “DIY” Hybrid Meeting Solution
Do It Yourself — DIY — is a popular solution used by many all around the world. But should a hybrid room solution have to be DIY? There may be a few advantages to this method, as you get to pick and choose the best components, the vendors, and tailor the solution to your needs. You may also perceive an opportunity to reduce costs by negotiating directly with the vendors.
But there are potential pitfalls to this method. Support and configuration management must be considered when deploying a DIY solution across any organization. One of the major issues related to support is power and cable management. Connecting an interactive flat panel to speakers, cameras, microphones, computers, and the various peripherals such as card readers and office booking systems can create the need for multiple power points and a cabling nightmare. In addition to this, drivers and software updates for every peripheral device must be updated consistently. There is also no guarantee that the software packages and hardware devices play well together. Why is the default speaker changing all the time? Which video input do I need to switch to in this room to mirror my laptop versus connecting on a video conference call? Who changed the cable in the back of the display? Why is this Conference room configuration not consistent across the enterprise? There’s a danger that such problems can far outweigh any benefits.
- Opportunity to select the best vendors and tailor the solution to needs
- Ability to negotiate directly with various vendors; a perception of cost savings
- Flexibility of choice
- Difficulty supporting disparate technology components
- Deployment and management can be difficult across the organization
- Cable and power management can become tricky, even with a small number of components
- Costs are hard to control as negotiating with each vendor might not be possible
- Lack of centralized support – finger-pointing when any component is perceived not to work
The “Pseudo Solution”
There are several options for an out-of-the-box conference room hardware solution. These products integrate several key components such as cameras, speakers, and computers into one box. Many hardware manufacturers offer these ‘conference room appliances’ as a simple solution with one plug to connect. This strategy can greatly simplify the acquisition of hardware and standardize deployment and support across the organization when compared to the DIY strategy. These solutions are also very open-ended and allow you to install any software application you choose as they are just blank hardware devices.
But is this the ideal solution? At the end of the day, users don’t care about which hardware and peripherals are installed in the conference room. They care about getting work done and need to understand and be trained on the workflows that are possible with the hardware installed. This means that the software and user data integration is more critical than the hardware appliance. Many IT departments struggle with a number of different applications such as video conferencing, calendar management, user applications (browsers, MS Office, PDF viewers) integrated into launchers and other ‘interfaces’ that try, often with moderate success, to simplify the user experience.
There are several problems with this strategy. Most importantly, what is the ideal hybrid meeting workflow look like? Simple one-click to launch meeting devices is not good enough! People need more than glorified TVs to show camera images for memorable meetings. They need to be able to present effectively and elevate every member of the meeting and make them feel connected. In addition, other problems related to data access and security must also be considered. How does one start a meeting and close a session easily? How is user authentication, security, and access to data managed across multiple application frameworks? How do I lock down this PC such that the OS is not exposed in a public environment? Often, these difficult to resolve problems can reduce user adoption. An ideal solution must seamlessly integrate the software and hardware strategy together in a seamless user experience.
- Integrate common components, less hassle than DIY
- Hardware integration simplifies deployment and support across organizations
- One vendor simplifies the acquisition and standardizes training
- No single software that defines the workflow
- Typically, a complex and clunky user experience
- Need to deal with various hardware and software vendors for support
- Lack of interoperability between the various software portions
Existing Integrated Solutions
Of late, several manufacturers are also offering complete solutions that integrate hardware and some software together. Microsoft, Google, and Cisco are a few of the complete solution providers in this market segment. Not only do these companies offer a complete out-of-the-box, single plug appliance – but they also offer a few different software products that attempt to solve the problems mentioned above. Users can log in to an authenticated environment, access data, and start video conferencing calls to communicate with remote participants.
Surprisingly, even these solutions seem to be missing the mark. Organizations are discovering that these devices are simply becoming glorified video conferencing endpoints, where users are leveraging them to start a video call and use the integrated video and audio equipment. Given the high cost of these appliances, there is an expectation that they should perform more tasks than simply facilitating a conference call connection and marking up on a whiteboard. At the end of the day, these simple tasks can be easily performed using any laptop connected to a display or a projector at a fraction of the cost. In addition, many of these solutions are very restrictive on data access and force organizations to migrate everything to their proprietary cloud infrastructure and do not allow for interoperability outside it. For example, the MS HUB requires Office 365 and OneDrive integration as it will not access anything on the local enterprise domain, local network, or other cloud infrastructures. Many of the solutions don’t also comply with your existing domain, user rights, and user authentication methodologies, which can severely disrupt how users can access their data. How do you access enterprise and cloud data easily? With a need to access your existing data warehouses and cloud storage, you may have to reconfigure the way you do business. Can the device leverage your existing Active Directory and user authentication methodologies seamlessly? If there is a need for the device to work completely on the enterprise network only, and not connect to the Internet, you may have major problems. No solution should require you to dramatically change the way you do business.
- A simple user experience for connecting to video conference calls
- Some software integrated
- One vendor simplifies the acquisition and standardizes training and support
- Does not facilitate complex workflows
- Often restrictive access to data focused on a single cloud/network infrastructure
- No ability to integrate with existing network resources and user authentication methodologies
- Inability to interoperate with other hardware in the conference room
The Ideal Solution for Hybrid Meetings & Presentations
So, what if we had the opportunity for a completely clean-sheet design that solves all the issues described above? What should such a product look like?
Firstly, it should be a completely integrated hardware solution that provides a simple out-of-the-box conference room solution with a single power cord. Cameras, microphones, speakers, interactive displays, computers, and other peripherals should be pre-configured such that deployment, training, and support across your organization is easy and consistent. All of the hardware devices and peripherals should also be seamlessly integrated with the software without the need for any user configuration.
Next, the software should operate on a standard operating system that would allow the IT department to configure the image, load policies, and ensure the security of the device. The device should also leverage existing network and user authentication infrastructures, connect to your Active Directory and allow users to gain access to network resources. Accessing your data should never be complicated – use your existing enterprise network resources or cloud service, provider. Your data, your way.
Finally, the device should dramatically improve the workflow of your remote teams and not just be a glorified video conferencing appliance. The device should integrate all your requirements into one simple user interface that is intuitive and easy to learn. It also should leverage your existing conference room equipment such that projectors, secondary displays, conference phone systems, wired and wireless screen projection technologies, and other hardware devices can be managed and accessed as well.
These requirements are the foundations of the Reactiv rBoard strategy. The rBoard is a fully integrated conference room appliance that allows for a level of flexibility not found in any other conference room solution.
Leading-edge GPU based PC integrated for lightning-fast user experience and responsiveness
Touch screen technology that delivers a “pen-on-paper” writing experience, with automatic finger/eraser/touch discrimination
Fully integrated peripherals such as cameras, speakers, microphones, motion sensors, and other devices that simplify support and deployment
Simple IT management
Runs on standard Windows 10 PRO – your image or our image
Allows IT to install all standard anti-virus, security, and authentication tools, and additional services without restrictions
Active Directory and Microsoft domain compliance for user and data rights management
Allows users to log in and access the local, enterprise network, and cloud data infrastructure without restrictions
Multiple Connectivity options
Wireless connectivity built-in: AirPlay, Miracast, Chromecast seamlessly integrated into the system
Video capture ports allow HDMI inputs from wired sources giving unlimited flexibility
Ability to connect, and ‘throw content’ to, three additional displays in-room
Integrated ‘wireless keyboard’ – allows any user in the room to use their laptop or mobile device to type on the IWB and send links
Integrated ‘file drop’ – allows any user in the room to send/receive any file (up to 1GB) directly from their personal devices