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Roundtable: Business Efficiency

Is your business actually efficient?

Our panel of esteemed corporate and conferencing tech leaders uncover how the education and business sectors can streamline their workflows – and point out where they might be falling short

The Panel

Moritz Helmchen Principal, Qvest

Bill Hensley Head of global marketing, RTI

Neil Morrison VP rental & staging, Absen

Trent Slyter National sales director Pro AV, Absen

How has the conferencing market evolved over the past ten years?

Bill Hensley Over the past decade, the conferencing market has undergone a significant transformation, driven by rapid advancements in technology and changing work dynamics.

The traditional model of in-person meetings has gradually given way to hybrid meetings, reflecting the increasing globalisation of businesses and the growing demand for flexible collaboration solutions.

This shift towards hybrid meetings has been propelled by several factors, including the widespread adoption of high-speed internet, the proliferation of mobile devices and the emergence of sophisticated conferencing platforms.

These platforms offer a wide range of features such as video conferencing, screen sharing, real-time messaging and document collaboration – enabling both seamless communication and collaboration among participants in different locations.

Furthermore, the Covid-19 pandemic accelerated the adoption of remote work practices, leading to a surge in demand for conferencing solutions that support remote collaboration.

Organisations across industries have embraced remote and hybrid meeting formats to ensure business continuity and productivity, driving further innovation in the conferencing market.

As a result, we expect hybrid meetings to continue being a dominant trend regarding the conferencing market for the coming years, with continued advancements in technology shaping the way we communicate and collaborate.

Trent Slyter Ten years ago, everyone was using dedicated hardware solutions in specialised VTC (video teleconferencing) rooms that ran over $50-100k. VTC was quite simple and reliable for the end user in those rooms. 

Those dollars bought a level of standardisation, interoperability and compatibility that was quickly lost when the desktop revolution occurred.

The rooms required high-quality equipment for both audio and video, and delivered a level of performance which has taken a long time to equal in the new VTC world.

The main drawback was the cost, which limited the number of people able to access the technology.

With the arrival of web conferencing, we saw the needle swing in the other direction. The public was promised that anyone could jump in a VTC with just a computer. 

The entire experience became poor because of the proliferation of platforms, software and interoperability issues. All the manufacturers were doing what they thought was best, and no one followed any standards or worried about being able to connect to a competitor’s system. 

Companies literally started throwing their VTC rooms in the dumpster, cancelling their service agreements and buying headsets and webcams; it was a big mess.

This was the state we were in when the pandemic started. Fortunately, many lessons were learned through trial by fire.

We are now seeing a strong resurgence in dedicated VTC hardware to provide a good experience in VTC rooms again.

Is the pandemic’s impact on working practices still present?

Neil Morrison Remote work is here to stay.

As more people strive for better work-life balance – coupled with a desire to leave a smaller carbon footprint – remote work availability is often one of the first and most important job-search requirements.

I have conducted many interviews with candidates who list this as the top criterion in evaluating whether they would want to accept a position at our company.

Additionally, as a solution provider, we have seen continued focus in remote workflows in all areas of businesses.

We’ve seen that businesses of all sizes are keenly focused on the inherent value in remote-focused workers.

The value of well-developed onboarding for remote workers – in technology application and communication workflow – has proven to be invaluable for talent recruitment.

Companies are also wanting to ensure that staff engagement and consistent communication are well-managed and analysed for their efficacy.

The net effect on staff retention and job satisfaction are crucial metrics to monitor as remote work becomes a more dominant part of present and future work environments.

Moritz Helmchen Demand remains high, as this technology is also in a regular renewal cycle.

During the pandemic, many companies had to create the infrastructure first and were new customers in this area.

There were often massive supply bottlenecks, which also meant some projects were delayed until after the pandemic.

Nevertheless, even the old customers of conference technology are regularly renewing themselves.

The tech has not stood still and some customers are increasingly focusing on remote working in addition to traditional office life, meaning the desire for new remote collaboration functions remains strong. This is also a consequence of the pandemic.

Bill Hensley The pandemic’s impact on remote work is still palpable. While some organisations have initiated a return-to-office strategy, the landscape remains diverse.

Many companies have adopted hybrid work models, blending in-office and remote workdays to accommodate varying preferences.

This approach acknowledges the newfound flexibility and productivity gains associated with remote work, while also recognising the value of in-person collaboration and social interaction.

Also, the shift to remote work spurred investments in technology infrastructure and digital collaboration tools, which continues to shape work dynamics.

Companies are embracing a flexible approach, allowing employees to choose the method best for them.

As a result, the hybrid mix of in-person and remote/virtual attendees in meetings will persist, reflecting the diverse work arrangements across organisations.

This ongoing evolution underscores the enduring impact of the pandemic on remote work practices and the conferencing landscape.

There are businesses falling short when it comes to their AV set-ups, and how can they improve?

Bill Hensley Businesses often fall short in streamlining their corporate audio-visual set-ups due to several factors.

One common issue is a lack of integration between existing hardware and modern collaboration platforms.

Many companies have invested in hardware that worked well for in-room meetings, but struggle to adapt to hybrid environments where remote collaboration is essential.

Another challenge is the complexity of AV systems, leading to confusion and delays in meetings as participants grapple with technology.

This can result from a lack of standardised processes or training for using AV equipment effectively.

To streamline their approach, businesses can take several steps.

First, they should assess their current infrastructure and identify areas for improvement, such as upgrading outdated hardware or investing in software solutions which integrate seamlessly with collaboration platforms.

Second, companies should prioritise user experience by ensuring AV systems both are intuitive and easy to use.

This could involve training employees on how to utilise the equipment efficiently, while also implementing several standardised procedures for setting up and running meetings effectively.

Additionally, businesses can leverage cloud-based solutions which offer both scalability and flexibility, allowing them to adapt to constantly changing work environments seamlessly.

Trent Slyter I prefer any appliance-based Teams room solutions because they operate on a platform that everyone already knows, providing the highest ease of use and interoperability. 

From your desktop to a large meeting room, the experience can be very similar. 

Teams has so much market share that it is hard to use anything else if you need to communicate outside your immediate organisation. 

Let’s be honest, nearly everyone is using the Microsoft suite of office tools.

Nothing integrates with that as well as Teams; it provides a seamless experience. To use anything else simply takes more time and effort that people do not have these days.

Could you name some of the main trends we are currently seeing in this market?

Moritz Helmchen On the one hand, there are out-of-the-box solutions some manufacturers are increasingly bringing onto the market to simplify entering the world of digital conferencing.

As already mentioned, these solutions are good for a certain group of customers, even if they are not necessarily cheaper than customised solutions.

Another increasingly important trend is AI and automation.

AI-supported functions such as automatic subtitling, speech recognition, transcription and translation are progressively being integrated into conferencing platforms.

Language barriers disappear as the spoken word is immediately translated into the respective language and/or transcribed into the text.

After the meeting, it can then be summarised using certain tools such as Microsoft Copilot and/or questions about the meeting can be put to the AI.

There are many ways to use this technology effectively, even if you have to take data protection requirements into account.

Information security and data protection is certainly a topic currently back in the spotlight, as the security of data and where the data is stored is an important decision criterion for many companies.

More tools are providing integration of security functions, such as end-to-end encryption, access controls and data protection guidelines in conferencing solutions.

Neil Morrison Higher-quality audio is the most dominant trend I’ve seen.

Improvements in room acoustics – coupled with better microphone and speaker integration – vastly improves collaboration for all meeting participants.

There are more smart microphone arrays popping up which feature active noise cancellation, focus enhancements for active speakers and dynamic EQ that greatly improve the intelligibility for remote users.

I appreciate the newer speaker solutions that go far beyond where we were just a few years ago.

Past solutions provided very basic ceiling tile drop-in speakers which were good value, although introduced several intelligibility issues for in-room users.

It’s worth spending a little bit more on microphone speakers when building a new room to ensure a great conference experience.

I am also seeing a few new builds which feature floor-to-ceiling glass walls on two or more sides.

These rooms require extensive acoustic modelling to be an effective communication tool.

Any advice to businesses looking to remodel their conferencing layouts?

Bill Hensley When considering upgrading, it’s essential for businesses to take a comprehensive approach that addresses both current needs and future requirements.

Here are some additional pieces of advice:

Before going ahead with any changes, conduct a thorough assessment of your conferencing requirements.

Identify the specific challenges and pain points you’re facing with your current set-up – this could be poor audio quality, limited scalability or lack of integration with the collaboration tools.

Engage key stakeholders from across your organisation in the planning process.

This includes representatives from AV, IT, HR and other departments which frequently use the conferencing facilities/spaces.

Gathering input from different perspectives will help ensure the remodelled set-up meets the needs of all users.

Design conferencing set-ups with scalability and flexibility in mind.

Anticipate future changes in technology, workforce dynamics and business needs, planning for adaptable solutions which evolve with your organisation over time.

Don’t compromise on the quality of conferencing equipment. Invest in reliable, high-quality AV components which provide clear audio, crisp video and seamless connectivity. This will enhance the overall experience and improve productivity.

Choose conferencing solutions that integrate seamlessly with your existing technology ecosystem.

Search for interoperable platforms which support integration with popular collaboration tools like Microsoft Teams and Zoom, as well as with other hardware and software systems used in your organisation.

Offer training and support to your employees on how to use the new conferencing system effectively.

Neil Morrison Pay close attention to remote participant inclusion and equity.

Most professionals have experienced environments where they feel incredibly disconnected from in-room participants from both an aural and visual perspective.

I would strongly suggest doing mock-ups of rooms before a large-scale rollout.

It’s important to include decision-makers and key personnel as in-room and remote participants in the testing phases.

Pay attention to engagement and functionality for room participants.

I’ve seen several IT leaders or integrators gloss over these details in favour of installing flashy components that look good on paper, but do not foster an inclusive and collaborative environment.

Remote workers – alongside their in-office co-workers – benefit greatly when an organisation considers them equally valuable for company success and growth.

Companies that get this right will attract and retain the best talent, regardless of their preferred work style or environment.

Trent Slyter Everyone’s expectations have risen dramatically from the widespread use of VTC. Cheap, patched together webcams and a laptop are not going to offer the expected experience in a conference room, regardless of size. 

People now expect to be seen and heard without issue; they anticipate connecting and starting meetings in seconds, not minutes. 

They also expect to have video that clearly shows the visual reaction and responses of the far-end participants.  

This is a very reasonable expectation given the current state of technology.  The amazing part is they can outfit five rooms now for what they used to spend on one, and still have high-performance spaces. 

The commoditisation in the VTC world has driven prices down to levels that were never even imagined ten years ago.

Moritz Helmchen Organisations should seek advice from experienced integrators who understand what works, what pitfalls to avoid and how to navigate them effectively.

There are great specialist planners with practical knowledge, but also many specialist planning offices that have little practical experience.

This regularly results in discrepancies and additional orders, as the system tendered does not meet the actual customer requirements.

Relying solely on a ready-made solution can mean the functions provided are no longer sufficient at some point and/or you become dependent on one manufacturer.

This can also lead to problems, as we have seen during the pandemic.

Systems that are open to extensions and grow with the customer enable a much better user experience, because users don’t want the requirement of thinking about how to operate the technology.

Indeed, they want an intuitive operation which is easy to use, allowing them to focus on the content and not the technology.

This roundtable was first published in the Summer 2024 issue of LIVE.


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