Previously we outlined the evolution of collaboration technology and the different expectations companies have, we then looked into the opportunities for integrators to add value. We conclude this feature with a look at where today’s demand for collaboration solutions is coming from and where it may be going next, writes Ian McMurray.
“Truly flexible UC solutions actually become woven into the fabric of an organisation,” he continues. “It’s all about building these technologies into workflows, so that they improve mission-critical business processes. That might be adding WebRTC-enabled ‘video chat’ to a website for the purposes of improving customer services engagements, or opening up the recruitment process by allowing anyone to interview by video from wherever they are in the world.”
Edwards warms to the theme. “There’s no real evidence of fragmentation yet, in terms of specific solutions for specific types of use,” he asserts, “and I’m not sure it will go down that route as far as hardware is concerned. A set of hardware components can be combined in many different configurations to provide a unique solution. Having said that, we have never tried to push a single UC approach to all our clients, so in that respect, I suppose we do adopt a fragmented approach to the solutions we propose.”
So: where is today’s demand for collaboration solutions coming from? Baertson sees most demand coming from companies that have already invested substantially in AV – which is hardly surprising. Mawer notes universities and other educational establishments as being very receptive, which is why Kramer was at BETT last month. Hotels, serviced offices, corporate boardrooms and even entertainment venues are also among Kramer’s collaboration customers.
Middleton, however, sees collaboration as addressing a much deeper need in business – and society – as a whole. In the same way that meetings are changing, so too is corporate culture – and the AV industry is supporting that shift.
“Many people assume it’s the millennials driving the demand for collaboration solutions,” he says, “but when you think about the employees that most need flexible and remote working in order to meet both their professional and personal needs, it’s actually primarily more established workers. Those with caring responsibilities, whether for children or parents, want to be able to work these around their careers – so they need to be productive from anywhere. Coupled with this is a shrinking trend for relocation among business leaders; studies indicate that two out of three of the world’s most effective leaders would be unwilling to relocate for a role. They no longer see the need to uproot their families and lives, or to endure excessive commutes – thanks to collaboration solutions. Collaboration, as part of a unified communications strategy, is making it possible for people to balance work and life in way that makes them most effective in both areas.”
It seems that there are many reasons why collaboration will become a significant driver for the AV industry. The question is: where does it go from here?
“We believe that, while there is room for innovation and we are always looking for new ways to make the collaboration experience better, we are at a stage where real-time sharing and collaboration is as close to a face-to-face meeting as it can be,” believes James. “Software solutions have always been ahead of the game. Cloud services, for example, have increasingly excelled at allowing for instant sharing and communications. We see new updates continuously, such as Microsoft’s Office 365, but software tools have generally been at the forefront of collaboration. Hardware, however, has had a bit more of a reputation for difficult set-ups. It’s here that we have seen the most significant improvement in recent years. Collaboration solutions are now easy to install, user friendly and even sleek in design.”
For Mawer too, the important thing is ease of use – but as the beginning of a productivity journey, rather than as an end in itself.
“Users can interact with each other’s devices, have brainstorming sessions, and ensure that they walk away at the end of the meeting with all the information, having expended the least effort,” he says. “The keys to collaboration are functionality and simplicity. If you can make the basics simple, then the user is more receptive to learning the advanced functions, and they get more out of the technology.”
There’s little doubt that, for integrators and manufacturers alike, collaboration offers the potential to create differentiation by adding value – something that Edwards relishes.
“I think, as AV professionals, we need to grab the opportunity these developments present with both hands,” he believes. “In the past, the software applications that our clients used had no real impact on the AV side of things. Now, we can embrace the opportunities that Office 365, MS Lync and Skype for Business and the like present. It gives us the ability to talk to clients about integrated hardware and software solutions based around the collaboration opportunity.”
There is a rather delicious irony that Microsoft, the company that brought us “death by PowerPoint” – the fault, it must be said, of its users rather than the tool itself – has become a key player in reimagining and reinvigorating what meetings could and should be. It’s hard, for those of us who have been around for a while, to comprehend the possibility that anyone might one day start talking about “engagement” and “productivity” in the same breath as they talk about “meetings”. But that, increasingly, is what’s happening – meetings are starting to achieve something, it seems, thanks to the AV industry. Even better, though, is the opportunity that collaboration solutions are providing to imaginative, resourceful manufacturers and integrators to develop new solutions tailored to specific industries, company profiles and use cases.
Everyone’s a winner.