InfoComm 2018: 5 Key Takeaways for UC Buyers

Last week's InfoComm conference featured sensory overload as vendors across the gamut of the audio-visual industry showed their wares to thousands of attendees. This year I had the opportunity to sit in on the Interactive Multimedia & Collaborative Communications Alliance's annual emerging trends day, moderate a session on UC metrics, and meet with a number of vendors. Here a five key takeaways from the event:

  1. AI, AI, AI, and MORE AI! -- As we saw earlier this year at Enterprise Connect, collaboration vendors are rapidly enhancing their products with artificial intelligence to improve usability, allow new functionality, and enable buyers to better understand adoption patterns and benefits. Several speakers who participated in the emerging trends day discussed using AI to allow videoconferencing systems to recognize human figures, enabling meeting organizers to take attendance or administrators to better understand room utilization.

    For example, with data from video cameras showing that three people typically use a room designed for 10 or that eight to 10 attendees often cram into a room designed for five, facilities managers and workplace architects could better design meeting spaces to align with demonstrable need. AI built into cameras also could better frame room images, allowing for a more natural conversation among videoconference participants.

    Beyond video, other discussed use cases for AI involve smart assistants that can listen for action items in meetings and add them to a task or project management application. AI could suggest relevant files to open based on what it learned about similar meetings. It could determine that people critical to a project weren't invited to a meeting, and it could transcribe meetings in real-time, even in multiple languages.

  2. Audio Is Still Kind of Important -- Another area of differentiation is the audio component of videoconference systems. At InfoComm, Dolby demonstrated its noise cancellation and spacial capabilities in partnership with BlueJeans and Highfive. Logitech showed its new Rally system, which uses directional microphones and front-of-room speakers to reduce background noise and improve audio quality. As high definition and even 4K video become more common, ensuring high-quality audio for in-room, remote desktop, and mobile participants is one area in which vendors look to gain competitive advantage.
  3. Digital Whiteboards Were Everywhere -- By my current count, more than 25 vendors now offer digital whiteboard solutions aimed at easing the way teams share, manipulate, and annotate content both in meeting rooms and when working remotely. However, our research shows that use cases for such boards largely remain limited to groups needing a common canvas for ideation, integrating information from multiple sources (e.g., for control rooms or incident response), or other collaborative tasks requiring multiple individuals being able to work on a common piece of content. Integration of digital whiteboards into team spaces enables saving, continuing, and revisiting content at any time. Other vendors, such as Highfive (with Dolby), demonstrated the ability for their room cameras to capture and share content on plain old traditional whiteboards, enabling remote participants to see the contents of the board even if they aren't able to manipulate or annotate it themselves.
  4. Metrics Matter -- On my panel, representatives of Altia Systems, AVI-SPL, Crestron, GBH Communications (now SKC Communications), Plantronics, and Vyopta and I discussed how UC success metrics are rapidly changing from IT-focused measurements of success (e.g., number of trouble tickets, video quality, MOS, etc.) to more user-centric measurements such as user satisfaction, productivity gains, and utilization rates. IT buyers' increasing desire to understand the business value of their collaboration investments is driving these changes. While many IT leaders I speak with tell me they believe that incorporating videoconferencing into meetings improves collaboration, they want to be able to demonstrate those improvements via quantifiable metrics like shorter project times, quicker meetings, improved sales, and better customer responsiveness. Here, as we discussed in our panel, AI (did I mention AI?) can play an increasingly important role in analyzing data from multiple sources to assess results of video deployments.
  5. Giving Users Interoperability and Flexibility -- Announcements and/or demonstrations from BlueJeans, Crestron, Google, Logitech, Microsoft, Pexip, Polycom, QSC, Videxio, ZiipRoom, Zoom, and many others highlighted the growing ability of collaboration buyers to choose solutions that best fit their needs and provide maximum flexibility to their workers. Examples include ZiipRoom's controller and mobile app that easily enables room systems to connect to any meeting service such as BlueJeans, GoToMeeting, Skype for Business, Webex, or Zoom. Partnering with Google, both Pexip and Videxio demonstrated the ability to incorporate existing room systems into Google's Hangouts Meet conferencing app, a capability already provided by Pexip for Microsoft meeting apps, and natively by vendors like BlueJeans, Cisco, and Zoom. In their booths, meeting service providers often intermixed voice and video devices from vendors like Logitech, Polycom, and Yealink to highlight the growing choices available to collaboration buyers. Of course, this requires a bit more effort to determine which of the variety of possible solutions is the best fit for a given scenario.

For buyers of collaboration technology, the one constant is change. AI, emerging collaboration platforms, and increased buyer choice will enable greater customization of collaborative workspaces to meet specific needs, but will also require more due diligence to evaluate solutions and approaches. Perhaps AI will eventually help there as well!

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