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Smart Meetings: It's Time to Rethink How We Meet

Advancements in communications and collaboration technology have been changing the ways in which modern meetings are carried out. Today, we’re witnessing live video feeds, screen sharing, remote dial-ins, and a whole host of other features challenging the meaning of the word “meeting,” with a group of people no longer having to be in the same room in order to meet.
Generally speaking, meeting technology has developed down three unique paths: audio (telephone conferencing), room-based video conferencing, and desk-based audio and telephone conferencing. So far, integration of these three siloes has been limited. It may be possible, for example, to join multi-room video conferences by telephone, but doing so isn’t always easy or intuitive for users.
We have also witnessed competing architectures rise up in recent years, with a conflict between on-premises and cloud-based solutions. Audio conferencing is supported by most enterprise telephony systems, but many organizations also deploy cloud-based services in order to provide dial-in functionality to users around the globe. Conversely, room-based video conferencing has historically been based around on-premises video bridges. Desktop conferencing has become more prevalent in recent years, following the emergence of cloud-based solutions such as those from Zoom, Vidyo, BlueJeans Network, and many more.
Usage Challenges
Historically, audio conferencing has been the easiest meeting technology to use. Most audio conferencing systems use a meeting ID and PIN code, or similar, for access. This is generally easy to operate and allows these meetings to be joined from any fixed or mobile telephone, anywhere in the world.
Conversely, room-based video and desktop conferencing systems can be much harder to use, and this has been cited as an inhibitor to widespread adoption. Video conferencing systems are notoriously difficult to set up and to use. Reports claim that an average of 10 minutes is lost at the start of a typical conference while participants struggle to connect. It’s particularly difficult to join a video conference as a third party, external to the hosting system, as you can often run into guest access issues. The quality of audio and video can also vary.
Desktop conferences tend to function as closed environments that require all participants to use the same desktop or mobile client. While this may not pose a problem for internal communications, it can prove very frustrating for external participants and makes it difficult to use these systems to host meetings with clients, suppliers, partners, and so on.
What Are “Smart Meetings”?
The term “smart meeting” refers to any meeting that utilizes intelligent features in order to improve user experience. A comprehensive range of such features is now available, but a good list of some of the top features include:
  • Immersive experiences, which boast high quality video and audio but come with a high cost and require a bespoke environment
  • One-button joining, whereby a user can join a meeting by pressing a single button, either on a tablet in the room or on a smartphone
  • Touch-joining, whereby a user can join a meeting by presenting a mobile phone against a touchpad in a contactless manner
  • Smart video features, including auto-framing and auto-tracking in order to provide a better view of participants
  • Automatic transcription and translation of meeting audio
  • Wireless content-sharing from smartphones and tablets
  • Automatic recording of audio, video and content
Developing an Effective Smart Meeting Strategy
If you’re considering how smart meetings might be of benefit to your organization, with a little planning, it should be possible to provide a meetings environment that facilitates mobility and modern ways of working in such a way that users understand.
Firstly, identify key requirements and opportunities, as well as any current pain points and examples of poor performance by the incumbent system. Consider the type of meeting experience that is required: audio, video, desktop, or a combination of these.
From here, you can choose your architecture. An on-premises solution will be preferable if most participants will be internal and/or a number of enhanced smart features are required, whereas a cloud-based deployment would be preferable if your organization holds regular meetings with external parties. In this instance, you’d likely want to choose a solution that enables external users to select their own client, rather than forcing them to use yours.
Next, choose your devices, including user devices and room-based systems. Identify your locations -- considering audio, lighting, and noise characteristics -- and consider any reporting metrics that you might need, both to support your solution and to report on usage and benefits.
When implementing your chosen solution, it will be necessary to prepare and provide the relevant user documentation and training. This isn’t just to train users to operate the technology; meeting etiquette and culture are important considerations, too.
The process will be on-going, even after deployment and implementation are complete. Collect user feedback, measure usage, and use your findings to refine and improve the solution.
Why Now?
The bottom-line savings associated with avoiding travel remain, but the environmental impacts of such travel -- particularly flying -- are much more visible. These environmental impacts are important to employers and employees alike; meanwhile, globalization is resulting in an ever-increasing need to meet more often, and with colleagues from all over the world.
This increasing globalization can cause conflicts with environmental concerns, as well as concerns surrounding the social challenges associated with juggling the work/life balance. However, the pervasiveness of social media has led to increased acceptability of real-time, online collaboration, and smart meeting technologies are now bringing this capability to workplace meetings as well. There has never been a better time to take advantage of the opportunities afforded by the advancement in smart meeting technology.
With a little planning, it should be possible to source and implement a smart meetings solution to facilitate mobility and modern ways of working that’s in line with your wider IT or unified communications strategy.
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"SCTC Perspectives" is written by members of the Society of Communications Technology Consultants, an international organization of independent information and communications technology professionals serving clients in all business sectors and government worldwide.