AV Technology: How is AV/IT convergence playing out in your facility?
Ron Tam: AV/IT convergence is indeed here, but I think it has some significant teething pains. Many solutions in the AV marketplace aren't truly converged despite claims that these systems can be remotely managed and configured. The end devices are typically, non-native IP speakers, and even if they are, a proprietary AV management application is required to collect detailed alarm and telemetry information—standard information that is readily available in the IT world.
The trouble is, most IT departments have an existing network management and trouble ticketing system and the AV management applications don't feed into these established systems. This leaves the IT team with yet another disconnected management interface to deal with. Perhaps with the impending Internet of Things (IoT) explosion, AV staples like serial interface controlled commercial presentation displays will catch up with their consumer-grade cousins that, for years, enjoyed built-in network and Wi-Fi. Then we'll have something to chew on.
What AV/IT problems have you solved recently?
Ron Tam: One of the ongoing challenges (and great opportunities) that our cross-functional teams have been facing is how to make our existing collaboration technology more useful and productive in this age of the highly mobile workforce. It is a total "rethink" of how we use technology in the workplace because location is no longer a consistent factor.
We have been evaluating various collaboration technologies to be part of a "next-generation" toolset. Before recommending any new technology, proper consideration is exercised against all other tools in use, so that the user experience is not compromised. The key is to create a truly unified and seamlessly integrated toolset that is user location independent, supports Bring Your Own Devices (BYOD) and is highly reliable—anywhere, any device, any time.
What types of new tech or products do you want to learn more about?
Ron Tam: We are seeing a lot of innovative products that are potential disruptors to the marketplace. Some products I've been keeping an eye on are those that shrink the footprint of the traditional AV control unit/network while making them more web accessible and manageable. These are great first steps to realizing full AV/IT convergence.
With "smarter" endpoints, a more proactive approach can be taken to managing Quality of Experience (QoE) across AV systems and the collaboration services that they represent.
What AV/IT do you hope to buy in the near future?
Ron Tam: In the short-term, we are looking at solutions that will help bring the collaboration room experience to our mobile workforce. Specifically, I'm evaluating tools that can extend the white-boarding experience, verbatim, outside the conference room to participants that are on the road or working from home.
There is something about being in the same room with your team members and sketching out a technical design, a process flow or a clarifying picture on a whiteboard in real-time—this kind of collaboration is fast, easy and most importantly, saves time.
Where are tech manufacturers getting it wrong or missing opportunities?
Ron Tam: I think a lot of the technology manufacturers tend to focus on adding iterative features to their product portfolios rather than introducing revolutionary offerings. In today's technology world, change happens at such a blistering pace that you can easily find yourself stuck down an outmoded path and unable to readjust. With the wave of BYOD cresting and an increasingly mobile workforce, the traditional fixed conference room (and its constituent technologies) ceases to have the same relevance as it once did.
What is the biggest obstacle to collaboration?
Ron Tam: I believe that a negative user experience can bring successful and enduring collaboration to a grinding halt. Collaboration is very much a mindset, which with the right toolset can become a cultural norm. However, if a collaboration tool is too difficult and confusing to use or addresses only part of a user's needs, users will either boycott the tool, use it as a last resort or find an alternative solution on their own. None of these outcomes are particularly palatable especially after investing significant monetary and human resources into a new collaboration tool.
If we get the user experience right, people will flock to the new tool and the detractors will follow suit. I'm being facetious, but aren't iPhones kind of popular because of their ease of use?
What are your collaboration strategies?
Ron Tam: Our collaboration strategy is a holistic one—anywhere, any device, any time. In its scope are the common five pillar tools of integrated voice, video, conferencing, IM and presence. But the strategy goes a couple steps further where the overall user experience is made paramount. After all, if the tools aren't easy to use or don't work well together, collaboration falls apart.
By adopting this strategy, we pull into closer focus the underlying sub-technologies that support the five pillar tools. For example, can the AV technology being used in traditional conference rooms translate well to a virtual meeting? Can IM and presence information available in every collaboration client be utilized in the traditional conference room for better collaboration?