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Executive Q&A: Improving Hybrid Learning Audio

Xilica James Knight
Xilica COO James Knight (Image credit: Xilica)

SCN: What is your position, and what are your responsibilities?

James Knight: I’m the COO of Xilica (opens in new tab), where I focus on developing long-term strategy that ensures we meet the needs of our customers both today and in the future. As part of this, I define and communicate our brand purpose (opens in new tab) and the core value we offer that differentiates us from other vendors—what we do uniquely that helps solve the problems of our customers and their organizations. With Xilica continuing to evolve and expand, much of my time is also focused on strengthening operational infrastructure and expanding our talent pool to ensure we’re able to scale with our ideas. I’ve been with Xilica since March 2020.

SCN: How has your background prepared you for your role?

JK: Prior to Xilica, I served several large, multi-national businesses in the consumer goods, technology, and hospitality industries as a management consultant, where I focused on repositioning organizations to best meet fast-changing customer needs. Management consulting offers great insight into organizational behavior and the full value chain employed to deliver a great product or service. Working with some complex businesses, you also learn how to balance micro and macro-level demands—the broad organizational transformation initiatives vs. the function-specific challenges that need to be navigated. 

SCN: What new initiatives are we likely to see from your company? 

JK: 2022 is a tremendously exciting year for Xilica as we celebrate two decades of being in business, and we’ll be marking the milestone with the launch of a new technology portfolio that helps further our commitment to our brand purpose. 

SCN: What solutions have you developed as a result of your partnership with Sennheiser? 

JK: Xilica has enjoyed a great relationship with Sennheiser (opens in new tab) over the years in several different areas of our business, and we were delighted to announce our strategic alliance with their Business Communication division last year to help simplify the deployment of audio in the modern collaboration space. Sennheiser’s class-leading TeamConnect Ceiling 2 microphone has rapidly become an industry-standard for beamforming ceiling microphone arrays, and both Sennheiser and Xilica understand that to realize our shared goal of enabling connection between people, we must make systems easy to install. We’ve worked closely with Sennheiser to enhance interoperability between the two portfolios and ensure that system deployment can be turnkey. Together, we offer a robust and pre-validated range of products that can be tailored to modern meeting rooms and teaching spaces.

SCN: What are the specific audio challenges of hybrid learning and meeting environments?

JK: The common goal of hybrid learning and working is to create an atmosphere where everyone has authentic, natural interaction, even when not in the same room. While conferencing audio platforms like Microsoft Teams and Zoom have brought people together, the toolset required to drive authentic interaction was severely lacking. There is the typical problem of poor speech intelligibility, as well as the distraction of people speaking over each other.

[Distance and Hybrid Learning Trends in Higher Ed] (opens in new tab)

There are also challenges to address inside the physical space. Modern conference room designs, while often sleek and inviting, bring new acoustical challenges. There are more reflective surfaces and glass, including floor-to-ceiling windows. These surfaces intensify echo and reverberations that not only hinder speech intelligibility for listeners, but distract speakers as voice echoes back through the microphone. While there are challenges on the video side, including the ability for physical and remote attendees to visually interact with each other, audio presents the most profound challenges in hybrid environments. 

SCN: Where do you see the pro AV industry heading?

JK: AV/IT convergence has been a key topic over the past decade, but those conversations have often focused on the technology that underpins AV products. Recently, we have seen much more end-to-end convergence spanning the full value chain of activities that go into deploying AV technology in a space, right from procurement through to service agreements. Many AV resellers have also adapted their businesses to best position themselves to reap rewards from this ongoing shift, which has been great to see. 

SCN: How can systems contractors better position themselves to profit from products and/or services you have to offer?

JK: Xilica is entirely channel-driven—so we don’t sell direct and 100 percent of our revenue is derived from our partners. Therefore, we’re proud of our industry-leading channel program, Xilica One, which offers a host of compelling benefits to resellers in Pro AV, UC, and datacom looking for a supportive, long-term strategic vendor. Xilica understands that to be a vendor of choice, we must be meaningfully different and profitable to supply. Xilica One helps us hit both goals, so I’d strongly encourage resellers to join and begin enjoying the benefits. 

SCN: What are the short and long-term goals for your company?

JK: We’re very much focused on our purpose of driving authentic interaction, which essentially means to help people connect, communicate, and collaborate in a way that is natural to them. Xilica already has a strong range of audio products for modern meeting and learning spaces, so short term we’ll continue to make these more ubiquitous, simpler to deploy, and more profitable for our resellers. We’ve recently launched our Xilica One Partner Program, which offers resellers compelling benefits to align with Xilica as a long-term strategic partner, and we’ll soon roll out additional elements to this initiative. We are also continuing to focus on building our channel with key strategic alliances and bringing our people closer to our customers through location in major markets.

In the medium and long-term, Xilica is focused on making collaboration a more accessible experience for people everywhere by leveraging the robust technology we have under development, and harnessing the feedback we receive from our strong end-user base and customer advisory board. While I can’t disclose long-term strategic plans, we’re very excited about the coming 12-24 months and beyond, as we launch new products and services for our resellers and end-users that help make connection more seamless.

Mark J. Pescatore
Mark J. Pescatore

Mark J. Pescatore, Ph.D., is the content director of Systems Contractor News. He has been writing about Pro AV industry for more than 20 years. Previously, he spent more than eight years as the editor of Government Video magazine. During his career, he's produced and hosted two podcasts focused on the professional video marketplace, taught more than a dozen college communication courses, co-authored the book Working with HDV, and co-edited two editions of The Guide to Digital Television