According to Exeter-based Carousel Industries of North America Inc., improving capabilities of conference rooms is a main priority for 2020 for organizations of all sizes, from Fortune 500 companies to small businesses. Companies are looking for ways to better connect with colleagues and clients in other locations but also want to know how to factor meeting-room technology into newly built spaces.
Carousel Industries Chief Technology Officer Jason Viera says meetings no longer require people to all be in the same room. With more open-concept offices, he says huddle rooms, which are essentially mini-conference rooms for video chats and conference calls, are becoming more common (some even have biometric fingerprint-recognition for more security).
PBN: We thought it was interesting that architectural design trends can produce a technology need. Can you explain huddle rooms and how they came into being?
VIERA: Scaled-down huddle rooms support smaller ad-hoc, theoretically more-productive meetings, but I think the tie between technology and architectural design is the other way around. Rather than being driven by workspace-design trends, advances in technology have been the real trigger point. They’ve facilitated new approaches to our physical space, with a cost-optimized and reduced audio and video footprint. Today’s anywhere, anytime meetings really do happen anywhere. With modern conferencing solutions, participants don’t even need to be on the same continent, let alone in the same meeting room.
PBN: What are some virtual-conferencing solutions that can help increase productivity, and what do they offer?
VIERA: Solutions such as Cisco Webex, Microsoft Teams and Zoom facilitate real-time collaboration via [a] myriad of device types from literally anywhere in the world. From audio and video conferencing to screen sharing, there is a strong return on investment with increased productivity, and in many cases reduced travel costs.
Speech recognition and voice synthesis support notetaking and transcription. Automatic noise detection can key in on unrelated sounds, then isolate and remove them from the audio in the conference. Smartboards and virtual whiteboards allow in-person and remote attendees to collaborate in real time. Each of these technologies helps everyone benefit from the shared collaborative experience. However, simplicity is priority No. 1, and if you can’t drive up end-user adoption, then the rest of the bells and whistles are all for naught.
PBN: We would imagine that industries that require high security are a bit more limited in conferencing software they use. Do they have ample solutions, or is this still an area in need of more development?
VIERA: The leaders in the conferencing space have done an excellent job of adhering to more-stringent security requirements such as FedRAMP, a U.S. government standardized approach for security in cloud offerings. However, a major challenge in this space is the lack of security expertise among many of the traditional audio-visual integrators that install and configure these solutions for end-customers.
A select segment of providers sell security solutions and services, and better understand the potential risks in this space. These top-tier partners offer hardened video solutions that deliver excellent functionality and ease of use without sacrificing security.
PBN: What is available to work teams in terms of sharing visuals while collaborating remotely?
VIERA: The aforementioned business-grade conferencing platforms can easily manage the visual component and allow team-sharing functions during and after meetings. The bigger obstacle is in blending attendees on multiple platforms into one, seamless meeting across physical and virtual spaces in an easy-to-consume manner.
Some big players, such as Microsoft and Cisco, recognized the need to facilitate collaboration outside of their respective platforms and have come together to solve the problem. You can now launch a Microsoft Teams meeting from a Cisco endpoint, for example. Over time, I expect we’ll see even better video integration across the major providers. It’s a big leap forward from where we were just five years ago.
PBN: What could be next in terms of conferencing?
VIERA: While holographic videoconferencing may be the long-term gold standard, many organizations still struggle with basic conferencing. So much technology is already in place, but utilization is low because it isn’t always very intuitive. Just launching a meeting can be frustrating.
Improvements, such as allowing users to join a meeting with a single press of a button with in-room systems, or, better yet, a system that listens for voice commands to start a meeting, [need] to become more pervasive. Today, we lose efficiency when users have to worry about things [such as] muting their microphone so everyone doesn’t hear their dog barking, or boosting the video image if they’re connecting from a poorly lit hotel room. Looking ahead, the priority should be simplicity and usability. The technology will continue to improve. With advances around background-noise suppression, improved lighting control and similar refinements, more of these baseline issues will be addressed.
Susan Shalhoub is a PBN contributing writer.
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