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Huddle rooms: integrator considerations

Previously we looked at the increasing demand for huddle rooms driven by millennials seeking informal collaboration opportunities. Here Ian McMurray reveals the precise makeup of a huddle room compared to other meeting spaces, and considers whether the limited install requirements of huddle rooms presents a threat or opportunity for system integrators.

The requirements and aspirations of the huddle room would, of course, have been challenging to fulfil without appropriate technology – but, as ever, the AV industry has responded with a broad range of offerings designed to facilitate both local and remote collaboration. Many of these are, inevitably, a repurposing of existing solutions designed for more traditional meeting environments – or at least, a logical development of them that makes them more accessible, easier to use and, crucially, more affordable.

At its simplest, a huddle room has at its heart a large, wall-mounted, interactive flat panel display which is the focal point for the gathering. The other essential element in the space is the provision of some way of allowing participants to share on to that large screen what is on their personal screen – whether laptop, tablet or phone.

Among the most recent entrants to the market is NEC Display Solutions, which will launch its InfinityBoard at ISE 2017.

“NEC’s modular InfinityBoard is designed to allow meeting participants to get started immediately with intuitive and easy operation,” says Daniela Dexheimer, product manager at NEC Display Solutions Europe, “while perfectly fulfilling a company’s need for a powerful and scalable workspace.”

The system is offered with a choice of interactive screen sizes, wireless presenting functionality – and can be upgraded to include, for example, videoconferencing facilities.

Recognising the informal, ad hoc nature of the new meeting experience, growing numbers of solutions aimed at the huddle room are portable. A case in point is the RealPresence Trio from Polycom – a long-time player in the videoconferencing market – which is designed to be easily taken from one room to another.

Intuitive operation

Intuitive operation and rapid start-up are key design elements which distinguish huddle room solutions from their boardroom predecessors.

“Often, meetings only become productive after the first 10-15 minutes because the technology does not work properly or it is simply too confusing for employees to manage quickly,” smiles Stijn Ooms, technology director, Crestron EMEA. “That’s why Crestron developed the HD-MD-400-C-E, which can be deployed with minimal installation capability, and absolutely no programming. It was designed with exactly this type of pop-up huddle space in mind.”

Ooms’ reference to “minimal installation capability” may start alarm bells ringing within the integrator community. If huddle room systems are so simple to install, deploy and use that meeting participants can do it themselves – what kind of opportunity do they represent , if any? Marco Landi, president, EMEA at Polycom, for example, notes that “the ideal huddle room system is one that doesn’t require any installation at all”. Others see it a little differently.

“From a technical point of view, huddle rooms are no different,” believes Jonathan Mangnall, VP of sales – EMEA at Harman Enterprise. “After all, these are still technologically complex places, with a range of disparate technologies to integrate and make accessible to many different people, including those who want to bring their own devices into the space. That said: more thought is required as to how users will use the space and integrators have to be careful not to over-complicate, while still allowing the rooms to be part of a wider system. Integration is neither easier nor harder, just a different set of considerations. Once designed, the nature of the spaces mean that they should be quick to deploy and easy to scale.”

Ooms too notes that there is often a requirement to integrate huddle room systems with the broader corporate infrastructure.

“For Crestron, it was vitally important that the HD-MD-400-C-E could be put to work on a larger scale,” he explains, “rather than simply managing the display of information in one room alone. We engineered this product as a networkable solution across a collection of huddle rooms.”

Higher margin

Wolfgang Haunschild, product marketing manager at NEC Display Solutions Europe, also sees the opportunity for integrators to add value.

“The fact that the huddle room delivers more capabilities means that there is, on the one hand, a greater level of effort needed in terms of system integration,” he says. “The room design – furniture and lighting conditions, for instance – needs to be considered to support videoconferencing, plus the correct set-up of the audio equipment to achieve the best acoustic solution.”

“On the other hand,” he continues, “the custom design of huddle rooms provides the opportunity for system integrators to achieve a higher margin compared to a simple meeting room installation. In addition, there is the opportunity to create add-on business with, for instance, audio systems.”

“Although a huddle room is much simpler to install – in terms of cabling, for example – the key is to match the technology with the expectations of the user,” adds Stuart Carter, installation technology manager at UK integrator Saville. “Should it be VC-based? Would it benefit from a more interactive IWB-style screen? Different organisations will require different styles and specifications for the technology which lies at the heart of the zone.”

“Yes,” echoes Brady O Bruce, chief marketing officer at InFocus, “a huddle room is likely to be less complicated from a technology standpoint, at least in terms of the volume of what’s in there. But it doesn’t mean the technology being employed isn’t sophisticated. Largely, however, integrators look for solutions that integrate and work with everything, from any type of device to any type of platform. InFocus spends a lot of time making sure our products are also device-agnostic.”

Magnall is entirely positive about the outlook. “Huddle users may be liberated from the physical constraints of the boardroom, but there are still technical considerations to contend with,” he points out. “By implementing control, automation and conferencing systems in huddle spaces, it’s possible to ensure that the technology is easy to set up, manage and use. AV control and automation systems simplify the operation of AV equipment in huddle spaces, so users and administrators feel comfortable operating the technology and confident that it supports their needs.”