Breaking down the barriers of time

Things to consider when looking for UC enabled interactive panels

Natalie Harris-Briggs  

‘When you choose your next UC enabled interactive panel for your meeting room, should you choose one that only works with a single platform or back end or one that works with any platform?

That is to say, do you buy a panel that can only log in to one vendor UC solution and only work with vendor proprietary peripherals and applications and only work in a way that the vendor wants you work?

I’ve tried out headsets, webcams and conference speakerphones from several vendors. Every device I have is qualifies or certified to work with Lync or Skype for Business. Given what I do, that makes sense. While all of these vendors have taken the time and effort to make sure that they work well with Skype for Business, that doesn’t mean that they ONLY work with Skype for Business. A USB headset, for instance, will connect to virtually any device with a USB connection and work as a headset, supporting a multitude of platforms. I use some of my headsets for everything from listening to music or watching a movie, to phone calls on my mobile (cell) phone or PC, using any number of apps, including Skype for Business, Skype for Consumer, Facebook Messenger, Google Talk and WhatsApp. And they work fine in every case. And because they are just USB headsets, they will work on pretty much any PBX and with some IP phones that support open USB.

The same can be said with webcams. They are just USB devices and work with any USB PC and some phones to add webcam support.

The point is that all of these devices are multi-platform and sometimes multi-use. The vendors sometimes work with platform vendors to optimize the experience and get certified for at least one, but more than likely multiple platforms from vendors such as Microsoft, Avaya and Cisco. The device doesn’t care what it is used for, it just wants to do what it was designed to do.

Software vs Hardware

In this day and age, the clients/endpoint to access the platforms themselves are increasingly software based, not hardware based. Although you can buy IP phones from all the vendors or 3rd parties to support all the platforms, most also have a soft phone/client. For some, such as Skype for Business, the primary client is an application.

There are many advantages of delivering something as an application vs a hardware device. The single biggest is that an application can continue to evolve beyond the hardware it was originally installed on. For instance, if you started with an application running on Windows XP, on a PC with a Pentium processor and 200Mb RAM, you can continue to run that application on your i7 Windows 10 PC with 32GB of RAM, as long as the vendor evolves the application. In that example, you can see just how much hardware can change over time, even a short amount of time. The features of a hardware device can only be evolved to the point where the hardware limits are reached. Then if you want to continue to use it, you’ll likely have to buy more hardware.

This is the same if you switch platforms. If you start with an Avaya PBX and use Avaya digital phones and then (wisely) switch to Skype for Business, you’ll need new “endpoints” to use Skype for Business. An endpoint is a device used to access the platform. In the case of Skype for Business, the client running on your PC, Mac or smart phone is your endpoint, or one possible endpoint. The common thread here is that the client itself is software.

Endpoints are Subjective

This is a subject in itself, so I won’t get too far into it here. The endpoint a user chooses is personal to the user and to the use case. Some users prefer desk phones as much as some prefer headsets. With headsets, some users need wireless and portable headsets and others are ok with wired. Some environments mandate noise cancelling and others are quiet enough that it isn’t necessary. The important thing here is that the endpoint enabled the user to talk and listen on calls.

Endpoints for meeting rooms are also subjective and depend greatly on the use case.

Each type of meeting space mandates different types of endpoints. However, if you look, all but “on the go” have a large screen. Of those remaining, all but “my stage” has someone standing at the screen.

What is the large screen for?

This is a good question and the answer is where I get to the point. The screen is most commonly used for presenting. Everyone has been into a meeting room with a large screen on a wall. When you need to show a presentation from your laptop, you’re given a cable to plug in to connect you to the screen. As you present the slide deck, the attendees can look at the screen as a visual representation of what you’re saying as you talk.

This can work equally well if you want to bring in remote attendees. Of course, this means that you would have scheduled or started an ad-hoc meeting on your platform (Skype for Business) and you and the remote attendees all “dial” into the meeting. From the meeting, you can present the same content to in-room and remote attendees.

If you want to stand by the screen and address the room as well as present, you only need the ability to advance through the slide deck.

Let’s get interactive

When you move beyond presenting a pre-prepared deck, things start to get interesting. I’ve been in rooms where there is a screen for the presentation and a whiteboard for, Er… whiteboarding. This is fine for the in-room audience, but not for remote attendees. In Skype for Business, you can present a whiteboard from within the app. This is ok if you’re at your laptop but not when you’re standing by the screen. I say it is ok, but have you tried to draw a diagram with a mouse or touchpad? Even if you have a touch screen and a pen to draw on the screen, you’re still sitting at your laptop, while the audience is staring at the screen.

What about collaboration?

Collaboration isn’t a new concept and nor is collaboration in a meeting space. The only thing that’s changed is the way people collaborate. Meeting room collaboration is where multiple users stand in a meeting room and work on the same thing. Everyone in the meeting has a voice and something to contribute. I’ve seen this in different forms, from post-it notes stuck on the wall, to flip charts or whiteboards and even an entire wall coated in special paint to turn it into a huge dry erase whiteboard. Again, this is fine for people in the room, not for those that aren’t.

Meeting room collaboration technology

What if you need a solution that does all of this? You won’t be surprised to hear that there are solutions for this. As with phones, some vendors have put together some solutions that are designed to work with their platforms.

If you look at platform specific solutions, Microsoft has the Surface Hub for Skype for Business, Cisco has the Spark Board for Spark and Google has the Jamboard for their G-Suite. In addition to the Surface Hub, there is a 3rd party device for Skype for Business from Smart based on the Skype Room System technology.

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