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The AV puzzle: is collaboration working?

Beverley Eggleton, Marketing Manager at Cordless Consultants takes a look at collaborative working and the role of AV.

What are the business requirements for collaborative working in organisations today, and how are these changing? For example: Who needs to collaborate? Where are they located? What do they need to do? What kind of tech are they using and what level of security is needed?

Everyone talks about collaboration. And we are just as guilty as everyone else! It’s a buzzword used in workplace design. But with regards to what the business requirements are for it, there are no commandments to follow, so if that’s what you’re looking for, look away now… 

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again. No two businesses are the same. Some are working to keep people on premise, whilst others are embracing anytime anyplace working. Some are markedly hybrid. Regardless, people need to collaborate and share resources, whether that is with someone on the other side of the building, or with people on the other side of the world.

Within the workplace itself, there continues to be a clear trend towards open plan environments to maximise the use of floor space, allowing people to move around to work where and how they need on different projects and initiatives.  But regardless of the office layout, what is the etiquette for how we use tech – in the workplace and/or remotely? Yes, the ‘office’ can be anywhere, but we often fail to think about the detail behind the customer experience delivered to the people being connected together.  

Video conferencing is still seeing massive growth and being demanded as standard in most meeting areas now. There are some corporates where use of video is outstripping the use of the phone. However in open-plan environments, this presents challenges. How do we control the background conditions (such as noise and lighting) to provide an optimum video experience? Think of the security of video conferencing in general… who can listen in? Do you need to take it as far as room occupancy sensing and facial recognition, with sensors built into microphones and cameras to make sure you are only speaking to who you think you are? Managing the integration of such tech requires clever architectural and IT infrastructure design. 

Collaborative document editing is on the rise too and not only within the same location. Multinationals require people to work on the same document simultaneously across geographies and time zones. Life is complex, so we look to tech to help us, often bringing our own devices in to help and sourcing our own software or apps to help us with “quick fixes” which often only raise more questions than are answered and could even pose a security breach! It’s also important to be security aware when collaborating: think it through - particularly on the back of the GDPR data protection laws. Can collaborative devices be cleared of data held on them after use and thereafter, where is the recorded data stored? 

How do these translate into practice and how are corporates actually using AV for collaboration? 

Use of video in the world is exploding from day to day conferencing through to Video on Demand, live streaming, video capture and video repositories.

An example of video in action today would be live streaming or on demand access of a lecture, event or town hall meeting, that reduces the need for travel and use of corporate resources.   

Video is everywhere and the data captured helps the accuracy of decisions made. Take the FIFA 2018 World Cup. The event used Video Assistant Referee (VAR) technology to help decision making during the tournament. It is reported that the success rate of referees today without VAR is 93 per cent, and with VAR they reach 99 per cent.   

There has been some uptake of collaborative touch screens in the workplace - connecting teams together remotely with video, document editing and interactive screen capabilities, however this trend is still largely in the laps of the early adopters. 

Is collaboration actually working, how effective is it – honestly? If not, why not?

A recent Harvard Business School study actually challenged the effectiveness of open offices, stating that they actually decrease interaction and collaboration among employees. Meanwhile a report just released by the Institute for Continuous Improvement in Public Services found 65% of participants in the UK Public Sector consider collaborative working to have been a success. Interestingly, the same report highlights a lack of shared culture to be the most common threat to the success of collaboration. 

In our view, collaboration can and does work; whilst the likes of video conferencing has been a godsend to connect people together in our busy lives. However… we still see massive integration challenges in many corporates. VC shouldn’t stand alone.  It needs to be part of a Unified Communications strategy that baselines back end infrastructure and systems. ‘Getting it right’ requires a holistic IT strategy and not one led by Senior Execs hankering after the latest fancy tech, that may (or may not, more to the point) be available to service their communication needs. True collaboration is therefore still a long way off for many organisations, but not impossible - if planned and executed appropriately.

Are corporates aware of how effective it is, and – more importantly – where and why it isn't effective?

No, corporates are not aware of how effective collaboration is. But then do we really need to know about and require all the capabilities we think we do? Think of the average number of participants in a video call – say 5 or 6? So why invest in tech that can link up to 50 participants? Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.  

Collaboration (of whatever sophistication) requires investment - and not only in the tech itself. True collaboration needs investment in the culture and ethos of the organisation. That’s a massive step-change that won’t (and can’t) happen overnight. 

Corporates also need to get their research done on how the capabilities of the tech align with their users’ needs and expectations. Take collaborative touch screens for example. Annotating and speaking at the same time can be complex for many users to get to grips with. 

What should they do to make collaboration really effective?

Corporates need to work to understand employee trends and what functionality is lacking from the workplace to make the workforce more efficient (without guesswork). Tech only works well when there is a real need for it. Ask the right questions and you can get the right answers.

Making collaboration work is definitely not just about the technologies. Making tech work is about the back end ease of access to use it and employee understanding of how to use it. And furthermore, do not let the collaborative technologies overtake the design – it should be introduced in harmony with other workplace platforms. 

What are the key enabling technologies for collaboration?

We’ve just said in answer to the previous question that that it is not about the technologies. So the key enabler of collaboration is the business. The success factor is how the business is joined together. A well-executed Unified Communications strategy will join up the most appropriate tech to enhance business performance.    

How can buyers best ascertain which is the right product for them?

Engage a Consultant (like us!) for an independent and unbiased view of the most suitable workplace collaboration solutions on the market and a pragmatic best practice approach to delivering on the requirements. An objective party representing the clients’ best interests can help businesses define and deliver on their needs now, plus build in flexibility for future change.

What are the challenges for resellers/integrators/installers in corporate collaboration?

The challenge for all parties potentially involved in collaboration projects is accessing a bird's-eye and holistic view of the corporate landscape, the marketplace and the lifecycle of any collaboration projects in the picture. Again, ask a Consultant, because we are usually the glue holding things together. :-)

How will the corporate collaboration market develop in future?

It goes without saying that the market will mature as we see more industry standard use cases emerging. Market success depends on timing and when to present things to the market. Solutions don’t have to be new, just needed. As an example take the software codec. When it was introduced, it did not take off to begin with, but now leading collaboration software platforms on the market are actually based on it.

Anyhow, to ponder on more exciting matters, we think that Virtual Reality could help make collaboration a reality. Goldman Sachs Global Investment Research expects virtual reality and augmented reality to have an enterprise and public sector market size of $16.1 billion by 2025.

Imagine a hologram addressing a large crowd - more secure than a celebrity figurehead in person being there. Musicians have for many years been brought back to life through holograms to deliver concerts. In fact, we recently read about how concertgoers were given the chance to have their photo taken next to an augmented reality version of the star, through an app on their phone. Facebook streamed its first VR concert last year – again not new tech, VR concerts have been around for years, but still; if there’s a need, you can bet there’s a tech out there to meet it.

Take conversational computing chat bots and Smart Virtual Personal Assistants. Thought about using those for collaboration purposes such as scheduling meetings and taking notes or setting task reminders? Well, you can.

As for the AV industry as a whole, the future for collaboration certainly looks bright. We look forward to seeing what comes to bear over the next 12 months. 

Imagine our CEO Philip Ross as a hologram... now there’s something that Cordless would like to see! 

To talk to Cordless about collaborative tech in the workplace say

Date: Sat, 09 Feb 2019 12:50:38 +0000 GMT

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