5 Watch Points for Collaboration

The annual InfoComm show in Orlando took place last week, reportedly drawing more than 40,000 attendees focused on audio and video technologies. Attendees and exhibitors span the gamut of all things video, including commercial video production, processing and distribution, digital signage, and of course, videoconferencing and collaboration. More of a partner/channel focused event than one aimed at end-users, the conference provided insight into how the increasingly pervasive nature of video is continuing to shape the communications market and deliver new opportunities to improve internal and external collaboration.

This year's conference also featured the first ever Emerging Trends day organized by the IMCCA. The day provided insight into the impact of both visual and collaboration technologies, including advanced optics, room system control design, virtual reality, team chat, cloud services, communications platform as a service (CPaaS), and the evolution of managed services.

In participating in the Emerging Trends day and walking the show floor, I saw several trends that are continuing to emerge. In no particular order, they are:

1. Digital Whiteboards / Immersive Group Collaboration systems are everywhere

This market has exploded in the last year, with product introductions from Cisco, Google, InFocus, Polycom, Zoom, and others, coupled with Microsoft's efforts to push its Surface Hub. The market continues to bifurcate between touch-enabled digital boards designed to replace dry-erase white boards for team content sharing and manipulation during meetings, and fully immersive systems from vendors like Bluescape, Nureva, Oblong, and Scalable Display that are designed for teams to develop ideas and manipulate content on a digital canvas measured in feet, or among multiple screens spread across a room. The market is crowded with traditional AV players competing side-by-side against numerous startups for channel partner and end-user customers. Expect consolidation and acquisitions galore over the next year.

2. AV is shifting to the cloud

As I noted in last month's No Jitter post , cloud videoconferencing is rapidly growing with around 80% of organizations Nemertes Research recently studied either using it or planning to use it in the near future. Emerging Trends day organizer David Danto made an impassioned plea to AV distributors and vendors to recognize that the era of high-margin hardware sales is rapidly ending. Vendors I spoke with continue to face the challenge of transitioning their partners from a focus on hardware sales to a focus on solutions selling that includes managed services, customized application development, and application integration, requiring partners to gain application development expertise.

3. The cloud video market continues to heat up

InFocus's launch of a new pricing model for ConX, along with Zoom's continued growth is creating a buyer's market for cloud videoconferencing and meeting services. BlueJeans, Cisco, StarLeaf, and Videxio continue as well to expand their cloud offerings, adding features like endpoint management, enhanced audio, team chat integration, and support for Microsoft Skype for Business interoperability as a means to differentiate themselves in an increasingly crowded market. Buyers of cloud videoconferencing services will benefit from greater choice, features, and price competitiveness.

4. Team interoperability is a growing challenge

In discussions with end-users after my session on team chat, I heard quite a lot of concern that team chat/messaging was becoming a repeat of what we saw years ago in instant messaging -- siloed communications within an enterprise with little ability to extend collaboration to partners, customers, and suppliers. Several individuals I spoke with indicated concern that with multiple team apps being used in their organization, it would create the challenge of teams on different platforms not being able to collaborate, or force teams to use multiple apps for different workgroups, projects, etc. Vendors like Cloud Pipes, NextPlane, and Sameroom (now an 8x8 company), have a real opportunity to join team apps, assuming the team app vendors do not establish their own interoperability efforts.

5. User adoption and awareness trumps all

In several sessions I saw a renewed focus on improving ease of use, enhancing support and training programs, and providing analytics to help customers drive adoption of new collaboration tools. Vendors increasingly realize, especially in a cloud world where licenses are regularly open to adjustment, that making an initial sale isn't enough. They must help their customers realize the benefits of collaboration solutions to demonstrate business value of investments.

Overall, the trends I saw at InfoComm reinforce much of what I saw in March at Enterprise Connect: Continued shift to the cloud, improving opportunities for technology buyers to access emerging technologies without large initial investments, downward pricing pressure on cloud services, and team messaging concerns moving from "should we use this?" to practical implementation and governance considerations.

IT leaders should continue to monitor these trends as they develop their own go-forward collaboration strategies, and they should focus, above all else, in delivering solutions that provide tangible business value to their employees.

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