InfoComm: Are you an AV Person or an IT Person?
Probably both at this show, whether you know it or not
I was in Vegas for InfoComm for a whirlwind 24 hours – with my Unified Communications lenses shaping my vision. PexIP and Acano were key points of interest for me at the show, the new kids on the block promising the holy grail of excellent User Experience (UX) and open interoperability. They succeeded to varying degrees, but were both short on end user success stories and measures. I visited with SMART and was satisfied that they continue to advance their distributed collaboration experiences via their Lync Room Systems and solutions like Bridit and Meeting Pro. I was quite impressed with the new SMART kapp board – a simple solutions for sharing white board drawings with remote employees.
There was a huge space reserved for UC&C solutions at the event, and it was bustling and busy with buyers and vendors alike. I saw many old contacts from across the UC&C space, and almost every one of them were looking for help from the traditional AV resellers in configuring workspaces, while the AV guys were generally saying they needed help with all this "software stuff." The truth is both groups are more silo-ed on both sides of the street than either of them realizes, they just need to convince their customers of that to start winning more deals.
Thursday I sat on a panel, "State of Collaboration Tools Lunch and Learn: What do we have, what do we need, how is it working?" This was part of IMCCA's conference within a conference about Unified Communications and Collaboration, which attracted approximately 1,400 registrants. The members of the panel included end users, service providers and vendors (specifically, representatives of Cisco, Polycom, Acano, Tata Communications, AOL, and Sabre), who joined me on stage for a discussion of the UC market. Dave Danto led us through a discussion of some UC trends and issues, Including:
• Does this stuff really work? – Answers varied from: The collaboration tools always work and the technology provides a solution that is better than being there in person (Polycom and Cisco); to: So long as you are willing to put up with poor audio/connectivity/UX/interoperability, then the solutions are fine. One panelist said that Skype works for them despite being "available only about 50% of the time users ask for it.
• What do we need? – I posited that this was a dangerous question because it oversimplified the solution of trying to understand the personalities, processes and desired outcomes of various collaboration scenarios in an effort to create a one-size-fits-all solution. Collaboration solutions to drive innovation at Boeing, Proctor & Gamble, or Home Depot are very different. While I drew chuckles for calling the question dangerous, the notion of context floated through the rest of the conversation about how to optimize solutions. Sabre pointed out that they were looking for seamless and simple ways to connect their employees – and their customers – to more rapidly achieve business results.
• Is interoperability still an issue? – In short, yes. There was a great deal of discussion about what to do about it. Standards will play a role late in the game, although generally long after the pain has become acute. Inter-vendor discussions and joint development is nirvana, but this was not seen as generally realistic. Tata and Acano are able to act as middle men - they can provide transcoding, bridging, protocol conversion, and connectivity that hides the ugly interop warts.
• Is hardware dead? – No, there is a place and a time for hardware. While some moved quickly to the endpoints and said a simple app running on a Smart TV is all I need and that specialized hardware is dead, the vendors recognized the need for specialized HW and chips to do the computationally heavy job of transcoding at scale.
• What about the future? – Factors mentioned here included:
o Accounting for the context of collaboration activities
o Enabling smooth inter-vendor interoperability
o Enabling training-free solutions to free information workers to collaborate across firewalls and borders
o Fighting for more rapid adoption of standards, virtualized and cloud-based resources
o Linking to corporate success factors
In my opinion, it was a prediction of more of the same – driving toward the vision that fast-paced, distributed mobile teams can interact humanly and naturally – because we still have a long way to go.