Video-conferencing is defined by the unified communications platform, leaving customers at the mercy of vendors, Mike Halliday explains.
02 December 2019 | Mike Halliday
AV technology continues to develop at a frantic pace and businesses are keen to ensure any investment lasts as long as possible. Future-proofing based on a knowledge of road-mapped solutions and technological trends, and ensuring a good baseline are essential. But this isn't a simple task.
Many think of collaboration in terms of interactive whiteboards, huddle spaces and drop-in cafés but, at its heart, it's simply about people working together.
But what about when face-to-face is not possible? These aesthetic preferences and multipurpose spaces can compromise room performance, which can be detrimental to the conferencing experience.
For example, a room that is all glass could cause problems including reflection, acoustics separation, privacy, microphone pickup, facial recognition and just general distractions - all of which affect concentration.
The user experience
Beyond room performance, two crucial elements are often missed: the VC platform and user experience.
While traditional SIP/H.323-based videoconferencing clings on, UC platforms such as Microsoft Teams, Cisco WebEx Teams, and Google G-Suite have muscled in, jockeying for market dominance.
With solutions adding new features and USPs, VC interoperability is becoming a luxury not a standard.
Typically, additional infrastructure or services such as BlueJeans are often required to bridge calls between platforms, adding complexity and cost.
The user experience is increasingly defined and fully locked down by the vendor, which is therefore consistent regardless of where the system is installed, and updates can be pushed out at any time without fear of breaking any custom code.
Ultimately then, the user experience is defined by the UC platform selection.
Vendor-driven solutions are designed for a particular use case or type/size of meeting space, and stand-alone devices with little or no integration with external systems such as third-party microphones and cameras.
Addressing the challenge
To optimise use of systems, rooms need to be designed to meet the UC device's requirements. This can be successful when agreed on from the outset, provided users work within the system's limitations. But these solutions are rarely viable for high-profile spaces (boardrooms or auditoriums).
Keeping up with change is a problem, particularly when rooms are built and designed around a product with a short lifespan.
There are clear benefits to a single-vendor AV solution - maintenance and support - but the lack of flexibility puts customers at the mercy of a vendor's roadmap - for which hardware and software don't always align.
Vendors such as Microsoft are partnering with third parties to deliver solutions, but they dictate the user interface and the hardware.
It's frustrating to see a manufacturer such as Crestron having successfully flooded the market with its HDBaseT and AV-over-IP solutions, unable to provide native integration with either of these platforms within its Flex range of devices because of Microsoft's hardware requirements.
If we are to see development to the Flex Range, or others like it, it won't be the hardware manufacturers driving this - it will be the software vendors.
Workplace strategy for collaboration
In the short term, we will see companies building rooms and spaces around a UC platform with whatever benefits or limitations it has, reaping the benefits of swift roll-outs and reliable, supportable systems.
AV manufacturers will do their best to push software vendors to allow better integration, although I suspect this won't go too far.
However, technological development continues to outpace workplace strategies and a typical office lease. Companies need to be prepared to adapt their AV solutions to meet the requirements of new ways of working, driven to an extent by software platforms.
Mike Halliday is AV and multimedia director at Cordless