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Key Themes and Takeaways from Enterprise Connect Virtual

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Enterprise Connect Virtual took a look at Communications and Collaboration in 2024. Throughout the two-day event – from the vendor-sponsored sessions to analyst panels to customer interviews – these three themes were apparent:
 
  • The continuing role of video
  • The hybrid workplace and workforce
  • The emergence of artificial intelligence (AI)
 
More importantly, we saw how these individual themes are merging, as AI-enabled video capabilities will be used to optimize the hybrid work experience and the new collaborative workplace.
 
Video Usage Skyrockets
The video explosion was evident and discussed at length. One of the most informative sessions featured Eugene Pitts, executive director, JP MorganChase, discussing the financial services company’s use of video. Pitts noted that JP MorganChase went from 25 million videoconferencing minutes in 2013 to 3.5 billion (that’s billion with a B!) video minutes in 2020. Early on, the company recognized the value of video communications and wanted to make these tools available to everyone, not just executives. While finding early success with its premises-based video system, JP MorganChase realized it needed more resiliency and capacity, and began investigating cloud solutions in 2018. According to Pitts, premises-based solutions are no match to cloud services when it comes to adding features quickly. Additionally, he noted that AI and live transcription require large compute capabilities that were too hard to support with a premises-based solution, propelling the move to a fully cloud-based service.
 
Pitts also highlighted the importance of having a video-first culture in the company, noting that employees not using video were missing out on important elements of the meeting experience.
 
What stood out for me was Pitts’ exhortation for organizations to “spend more time with asynchronous video communications such as YouTube and TikTok.” He suggested that rather than sending an email to a colleague, send a quick video message instead. These videos can capture emotional context, and the content can be recorded and distributed “securely, and easily,” he said. Pitts envisions video messaging will soon replace email, and I couldn’t agree more. Just as email replaced phone calls, and instant messages replaced emails (to some degree), I also expect to see video messaging, or short video clips recorded on phones, tablets, and computers, becoming the primary mechanism for sharing information, asking questions, and interacting asynchronously. In addition to conveying information through a visual medium, video messaging overcomes time zone differences, varying work schedules, and so on. Of course, this will also open up a whole new can of worms. As a session participant noted during the session Q&A chat, enterprise TikTok or video messages will need to be discoverable and archived, creating new challenges for organizations.
 
It’s a Hybrid World
If the term “new normal” was the main buzzword of 2020, then “hybrid” is its successor in 2021. It’s clear that for the next few years, the new workplace will be a hybrid mix of virtual and remote work, combined with people physically in the office or at their workplaces. We’ve all heard the examples of companies moving to hybrid work models. For example, Salesforce is shifting to a mostly hybrid work model post-pandemic, with more than 65% of employees coming into the office only one to three days a week. Many other companies are figuring out ways to keep the best of both worlds (in-office and remote) without losing the advantages of in-person collaboration.
 
I predict that for office workers and businesses where it’s possible (e.g.; jobs that don’t require a physical presence) one-third of employees will continue to work from home, one-third will work from home part of the time, and one-third will work in the office full-time. As part of the new hybrid workforce, we’ll also see rotating schedules of days in and out of the office. Case in point—Google will be trialing a flexible workweek where employees would be expected to spend three “collaboration days” in the office and work from home the rest of the time. Other organizations also plan on implementing collaboration or creativity days where alternating departments or teams will be in the workplace on certain days. This concept will provide not only the in-person social interactions we all crave but can lead to better collaboration and spontaneous out-of-the-box thinking.
 
The return to the office and the move to the hybrid workplace in the coming months won’t be without challenges. The solution – according to several Enterprise Connect presenters – is AI-enhanced video meetings.
 
AI to Enhance Remote and Hybrid Meetings
Several sessions drilled into the challenges of having remote and in-person meeting attendees, and how AI can “democratize” meetings while improving the experience for in-person and remote attendees.
 
As Dave Shull, Poly CEO, noted, one of the main challenges facing enterprise leaders is how to create an equitable work experience for office workers and those who continue with remote work. Shull naturally pointed to Poly’s video device line, the Studio P Series, intended to address these challenges.
 
Harry Moseley, Zoom’s CIO, cited Gartner statistics, predicting that remote work will reduce in-person meetings from 60% today to 25% or less by 2024, adding that 74% of companies plan to permanently shift to more remote work. Tools such as Zoom’s Smart Gallery (below) level the playing field by using AI to create a gallery-view of in-room participants, giving everyone an equal voice.
 

Zoom Smart Gallery View

 
 
Zoom Smart Gallery View
In a panel session moderated by KelCor’s Brent Kelly titled “How AI is Transforming Communications,” Keith Griffin, CIO of Intelligence and Analytics, Cisco, noted that Cisco has a “strong vision” of how AI will empower remote workers. That includes leveraging AI running inside devices, along with techniques for removing background noise, while enhancing the quality of the speech during meetings. We’re already seeing the use of AI for noise suppression as a key use case from many vendors, helping to block out or reduce extraneous noise such as barking dogs, lawnmowers, etc.
 
In that same session, Ilya Bukshteyn, GM of Microsoft Teams Devices, mentioned that the hybrid way of working, in which some people are remote and others are on-premises, would be the way forward, but there is still a lot of work to be done to improve the experience. Bukshteyn’s team is driving AI in audio and video in meetings to create more equal experiences between people in meeting rooms and those working at home.
 
In his keynote, Jared Spataro, Microsoft CVP, discussed how joining a meeting as a remote user has typically been more isolating than being in the actual room, but that’s now changing, and those workers physically in the conference or meeting room can be at a disadvantage. For example, while desktop meeting participants can see the names of other meeting participants associated with their videos on the screen, this is harder to do for multiple participants in a meeting room.
 
Spataro addressed these challenges, also highlighting how video-enabled meeting rooms providing various screen layouts and views improve participants’ view of shared content and online remote attendees. For example, meeting room cameras can automatically frame attendees and follow the active speaker as they move around the room. Using speech recognition technology, new intelligent speaker devices for Microsoft Teams Rooms (available for private preview later in 2021) will provide speaker-attributed transcripts for individuals in the room to identify and differentiate speaker voices in a room and provide speaker name and profile picture next to the transcript.
 
Bringing All Themes Together
Combining AI and video meetings will help improve the meeting experience for workers returning to the office and those remaining at home. From highlighting and summarizing key meeting moments, assigning and following up on tasks, reducing extraneous noise and disruptions, identifying speakers in conference rooms, monitoring video room occupancy and usage, AI will be the key to solving many of today’s meeting experience challenges.
 
As evidenced from many of the Enterprise Connect virtual sessions, the future workplace will be very different, and organizations will have to carefully consider how to best move forward while engaging workers regardless of their location. As the tools and technologies that help smooth the transition to the hybrid workplace continue to be developed and enhanced, organizations will have to carefully evaluate and identify which ones to deploy, and how to ensure a successful work-from-anywhere future.

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This post is written on behalf of BCStrategies, an industry resource for enterprises, vendors, system integrators, and anyone interested in the growing business communications arena. A supplier of objective information on business communications, BCStrategies is supported by an alliance of leading communication industry advisors, analysts, and consultants who have worked in the various segments of the dynamic business communications market.

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