Cindy Davis: As teams begin to return to the office, what collaboration challenges are you seeing?
Tom Spearman: It’s threefold. While we’re still in the pandemic, we’re being asked by many of our customers, “How do I create a contactless conference room—one where people don’t have to interact with a shared surface to be able to start the technology, dial a telephone number, dial a video call, et cetera?” We’re using different solution sets. Barco ClickShare is certainly one on the forefront. It allows people to walk into a conference room and only have to interact with their notebook PC that they touch all the time. They’re able to launch a call and have a productive video collaboration session.
When everybody moved into their home offices six months ago, they might have been using one collaboration platform that they still used when they were in the office, and then over this period of time people have migrated to other platforms. They’ve become accustomed to using the Zoom interface, but when they return to the office, all of the conference rooms are equipped with some other technology platform. Rather than asking everyone to adapt back to the old standard, instead companies are saying, “Hey, how do we quickly refresh these conference rooms to be consistent with our new platform that we’ve begun using over the past six months?”
The Barco ClickShare Conference gives you the ability to use whatever platform is loaded on your notebook PC, and that has very strong advantages to IT departments, who want to have some flexibility in their design. They may have some of their users who are on one platform, and then there’s a user preference or a line of business preference for a different platform. Being able to quickly pivot in between different platforms is really important to IT departments.
CD: In addition to getting used to a different platform, at-home workers were using myriad personal devices and are expecting to use those back in the office. Does everyone have to ditch their favorite personal device for collaboration?
TS: Within a single organization, they could easily have a mixed environment where they’re using an Apple product or a Windows-driven machine. Plus, you have a whole other set of mobile devices that might be used in an Android-type environment. Having the ability to adapt to all those operating systems is really important. ClickShare does that.
CD: When designing solutions for clients, do manufacturer’s certifications on security like ISO 27001, which specifies the requirements for establishing, implementing, maintaining, and continually improving an information security management system within the context of the organization, matter? How important is this to you in choosing a solution?
TS: When we are hired to implement technology into a corporate environment and it is connected to the customer’s production LAN, there’s an expectation that we are subject matter experts and we know how to architect the system to be consistent with the security protocols that they have in place. It’s definitely a collaboration between us and the IT department, because we have to understand their needs and their protocols in order to be able to adapt to those. But you know, the Barco solution set is very mindful of that in the marketplace, and they’ve got built into their system and their remote monitoring and management platform the ability to conform to most of those security protocols that IT departments have in place.
CD: Sometimes RFPs for videoconference solutions are sent without an understanding of use case needs. What recommendations do you have for the person writing the RFP?
TS: RFPs tend to be more oriented around model numbers and price. When you’re developing an RFP, you want to think about the other things that are more intangible and harder to define. First and foremost is ease of use. The majority of the people using conference rooms are non-technical. They just need to be able to walk into the room and easily invoke a video collaboration session without having to call an IT support person to do it.
The next thing that they need to be mindful of is, “How scalable is the deployment?” If this is going to be something that requires highly technical people to deploy and refresh these rooms as they’re starting to come back to work, then I think that makes it very challenging. The name of the game is agility. Having the ability to spend a few hours or days instead of weeks and months is really important when you’re thinking about deploying a collaboration system in a conference room or in groups of conference rooms.
Flexibility and having the ability to support multiple different platforms are also really important. Who knows where we will be two or three years from now? Having that kind of platform-agnostic solution is really critical for people to think about. Because they aren’t designing these rooms for the here and now; these rooms are going to be used for five, seven, or ten years, and a lot of times it’s the duration of the lease. So, you’ve got to have some adaptability built into it.
You’ve got to ask, “What kind of capabilities are you looking for?” If you’re just checking the box, then there’s lots of low-cost providers of wireless presentation gateways that don’t have the same feature set as a Barco Clickshare or a Barco Clickshare Conference. You know, Barco spends a lot of money on research and development, so they’re a very engineering-centric organization and they build, in my mind, probably the most hardened products in terms of reliability and stability, and then they build in the additional feature sets that allow them to be connected to the network, as well as remotely monitored and managed. It’s a very rich feature set. An organization just has to ask themselves, “Which way am I going to go on this? Am I checking the box, or do I want a more fully featured capability in my conference rooms, and one that’s oriented around customer experience or user experience in the conference room?” Barco has done a really good job of thinking through those details, and making sure that the solution set that they’re putting in place offers a superior customer experience.
The RFP should include something about systems or processes that ensure that they have a good audio experience in addition to their video experience. We’ve all been on those calls where you get this terrible echo coming back at you, and you’re constantly trying to find the person who’s introducing that and get to the mute button to stop it so that you can have a productive meeting.
I say this every time, but you’ve got to think about service and support. It’s not enough to just be able to come in and do a couple of preventative maintenance calls per year. You’ve got to be able to proactively monitor and manage these systems, and you have to be aligned with a partner who has the capability to do that. Barco has done a great job with their remote monitoring and management platform. We’ve built this into our Day-2 support model, and it’s something that tends to be a little bit of a footnote in an RFP. I think it’s really important to think about that element as you’re contemplating the release of an RFP to multiple integration partners.
CD: Cost, and time to install a new solution are often barriers-to-entry. What should AV/IT managers expect with ClickShare?
TS: Technology as a Service, Conference Room as a Service, or AV as a Service—whatever acronym you want to apply to it—has become very relevant in today’s world. People are very interested in being able to shift cost from CapEx to OpEx. There’s a lot of different ways to do that, and some are more aligned with really being able to meet a set of SLAs for a customer. It’s not a three-year lease—that’s been around forever, and that’s not what the model is today. Today, it’s more of a subscription-based service, “Hey, I want to consume this conference room as a service on a fixed, monthly basis with a set of SLAs wrapped around that in terms of—if something doesn’t work, how quickly can you make it start working again?” Diversified created ReFresh, a Technology as a Service offering and has done a great job of building an “AV as a Service” practice and being able to offer that to their customers to respond to the demand for subscription-style consumption.
When it comes to installation, ClickShare is a very fast and efficient system to install, with a limited number of cables. The teams here at Diversified are very familiar with the technology, and the physical installation of the device is a 30-minute process. There is some commissioning that needs to happen and some site preparation that you need to address before you get there, but it’s one of the most efficient ones to be able to deploy; it just depends on what else is going on in the conference room. If it’s a simple huddle room, then it’s very fast and efficient and we can do several in one visit, but if it’s part of more complex spaces, then it gets a little bit more labor-intensive.
CD: How long has Diversified had a relationship with Barco, and why do you spec its products?
TS: Diversified is an almost 30-year-old company, and we’ve had a relationship with Barco for most of that time. My relationship within Diversified goes back about 16 years, and it’s across multiple solution sets. ClickShare and ClickShare Conference are technologies that are used for collaboration in conference rooms, but they’re also a great partner of ours with some of their encoding devices that are used inside healthcare facilities. We also have a great partnership with them in the command and control market. Large utility companies or some of our Department of Defense customers use their video wall technology to be able to monitor large power grids or be able to see what’s happening in a combat theater.
Barco is one of our top-tier suppliers. We have a great partnership with them, and we like to lead with Barco in as many situations as we can. It’s customer-driven, and it’s application-driven, so the performance specs that people put in front of us to say, “Hey, it needs to be able to meet these criteria,” drives our decision making about what manufacturer’s products we use. The engineering quality of the Barco solution sets usually gives us the ability to spec Barco and know that it’s going to meet 99 percent of our customers’ requirements.
You know, the thing that I like about Barco is that they understand the technology really, really well. They put experts in their support organization who can truly solve customers’ problems, and if they need to escalate, they can. We’ve had a great long-term experience with them from a Day-2 support perspective.
CD: Anything else you would like to add?
TS: Something that doesn’t get talked about a lot is that we’re in a people business, and a lot of the decisions that we make about the solutions that we recommend are based on trust. We know the Barco team really well and we know how dedicated they are to solving problems and being one of the best providers they possibly could be. We have that same mentality; whenever we’re going out and working with our customers, we try really hard every day to exceed their expectations of quality, and I think Barco does that in their relationship with us.
Creating Scalable Videoconference Solutions, Q & A with Tom Spearman, Executive Vice President, Diversified is the fourth article of six in the series, BYOM: The New Normal in Today’s Workplace.