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Why collaboration stations are taking over from boardroom conferencing systems

SMART Technologies recently introduced three new families of professional interactive displays designed to improve collaboration and teamwork. Ahead of the launch, Technology Reseller spoke to SMART Technologies Global Business Development Manager Frazer Couzens about key workplace trends and how the company’s new line-up of all-in-one displays meets growing demand for seamless collaboration throughout an organisation, from the huddle room to the executive boardroom.

Couzens started out by explaining how changes in office design and working practices, notably the popularity of home working, had transformed the workplace, leading to more shared space, more meeting places and more sophisticated conferencing tools.

“In the 2000s, if you went into a sky-rise office block in London, about 20% of the total floorplan would have been allotted to shared space – the cafeteria, common seating areas and meeting spaces – and 80% would have been a sea of cubicles in which employees had assigned spaces. Cut to now and the design of new office space has over rotated towards shared spaces, with hotelling instead of assigned seating and so forth,” he said.

Professional Interactive Display

This trend, claims Couzens, has also changed the types of meeting we have, with AV (and AV spend) no longer restricted to the boardroom but democratised and spread throughout the workplace to support a variety of interactions – informal and formal, ad hoc and planned.

“There are two major areas where people are spending a lot of money on interactive audio-visual technology: the huddle room, a room with doors where you can connect and conduct conference room-type meetings; and open zones, which might not have doors but do have the ability to convene and connect people,” he said.

Both types of space are likely to be used for collaborative team-working and will therefore require a different technological set-up to traditional conferencing rooms that are better suited to more formal, one-way engagements.

“A conferencing room is really designed for conversing. Typically, it would include a passive monitor – a projector or flat screen; it would have a modern speaker/microphone in middle of the table or a soundbar on the wall. There would be the ability to plug in a laptop and share content to the screen and maybe some sort of control device that would let you change sources; and it would probably allow you to do a conference, perhaps in a Microsoft Teams room or Zoom Room.”

Couzens adds that while there is still a place in organisations for ‘conversing’, this presentation style is at the smaller end of the collaboration spectrum, good for HR interviews or financial review meetings but not for true digital collaboration.

Interact and contribute
“At SMART, we believe collaboration requires two key ingredients to be effective. The first is the ability to interact rather than passively participate in a meeting; and the second is the ability to contribute. The big challenge around current web conferences or UCC meetings is that where one person shares everyone must follow, so they often end up more like a broadcast than collaborative working. True collaboration democratises who can contribute and how they can contribute; it gives everyone the ability to work on something together and to contribute to material,” explained Couzens.

He argues that as a result huddle rooms and open zones require integrated ‘collaboration stations’ rather than traditional conferencing solutions that might be made up of disparate pieces put together by an AV specialist, with attendant complications around warranties, management and support.

Interactive Display

“As a minimum, a huddle room requires the ability to do some conferencing – ad hoc and scheduled – so it needs to be audio- and video-enabled. Secondly, it will need a display of some sort to visualise that web conference/meeting, as well as your content – you are three times more likely to share content in a web conference meeting than you are to share video. Content is king in these meetings, so the ability to do wired or wireless presentation from the device you have with you, to share your device to the screen is crucial, whether that’s a corporate laptop or mobile phone or tablet. Wireless present is now included in more than 80% of quotations for new rooms. The last piece is an interactive whiteboard that lets you write and mark up content.”

Enhanced collaboration
SMART’s new devices provide everything you might need for a state-of-the-art modern collaboration station, including innovative touch technology, an open conferencing architecture and environmental sensors for monitoring meeting room conditions, all neatly integrated to remove complexity from the procurement, management and support of devices deployed throughout an organisation.

“For the first time, we have revamped our whole line-up,” explained Couzens. “We have all-new SMART Board displays in three different families. For business and government, we have the MX Pro series – this is our everyday solution; we have a new product called the 6000S Pro series for power users; and we have the 7000R Pro series, our aspiration product, offering precision and high performance for use cases like engineering, design, healthcare.”

The new range includes important features and functions, including SMART TeamWorks software and SMART Remote Management, that, according to Couzens, can unlock true digital collaboration within and between organisations.

“If you buy a Teams Room or a Zoom Room you have the benefit of tight integration with your web conferencing platform. The challenge is that it becomes a platform island that can only do calling within that category of product. If you have a Zoom Room it will do Zoom Room calls, but what if you have to make a conference call on an alternative platform? And what if it is not a conference call at all, but a local meeting? The dirty secret of conferencing systems is that roughly 40-50% of meetings are actually local presentations that don’t have a remote participant. If you invest in a system that’s like a platform island, will it be versatile enough to support all the different types of meeting you do across your organisation?” he said.

“SMART has created new software for SMART Board displays, SMART TeamWorks, that allows you to join more than nine different web conferencing platforms with one tap. At 9am you can do a Webex call, at 10am you can do a GoToMeeting call, at 11am you can do a Microsoft Teams call and so on.”

Couzens claims that SMART TeamWorks functionality, notably its wireless present capability, means that you can also do more once you are in a conference, describing the extra functionality as a ‘massive step-change’.

“With SMART TeamWorks we can do native Airplay, Google Cast and Miracast touch back. That means you can share all modern devices (four years old or newer); you can walk in the room and share wirelessly without the need for any software or app on your device. That’s a massive step-change. No dongles, no extra boxes – it’s just included in your solution. What’s even more powerful is it will actually share to the far end, so people who join the conference call remotely can also see what’s happening.

“The third thing SMART TeamWorks gives you is a built-in multiway whiteboard – what we call a connected canvas. What this does is let all participants regardless of device join the whiteboard and have the same right to share, so they can contribute material to that canvas whether they are at home, on the go or in the room itself. Most digital whiteboards out there are only one-way – you can share it out but other participants can only watch what you are doing. This product allows all participants to interact with that content. You could add comments, add material, add videos, even erase – it’s a true multi-way experience for all participants on the call.”

SMART Remote Management
Another important addition to the Pro series is SMART Remote Management software.

“SMART Remote Management software gives you the ability to report on all our IoT sensors, so you get more intelligent context of what is happening in the room. Comparing data from proximity sensors with booked meetings lets you identify whether you have a problem with zombie meetings – where people book meetings and don’t show up – or squatting,” said Couzens.

“Not only can we report on what’s happening, we can also give you a dashboard for proactive monitoring of the system. The ability to administer systems remotely means you can really deploy SMART Board displays at scale. Finally, if there is a problem, we also provide a full SMART Assure Warranty on everything that is included: you get spare parts and free, two-way shipping with one phone call.”

To find out more about SMART Technologies’ new product range and the opportunities for channel partners, please visit

www.smarttech.com.

As a service
For channel partners, the combination of intelligent devices, remote management and more affordable price points offers a compelling ‘as a service’ proposition for all spaces, not just the executive wing of a building.

“Let me be clear, as a service within AV has existed for a very long time, like 20 years,” said Couzens. “What’s different about this new wave is that the underlying intelligence is unprecedented. It lets you offer a way more proactive, tighter solution than ever before and we will be looking for ‘as a service’ partners that can extend this value proposition further.”

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2018