3 Things You Can Do Right Now to Improve Collaboration in Your Company
Boosting your collaborative capabilities does not have to be a huge investment. To be clear here, I am talking about real time or interactive collaboration which is a combination of 4 different conferencing technologies – audio, web, video and interactive whiteboards (IWB).
A budding franchise business customer (Bud) recently called me in frustration and told me, although he loved Skype, he could no longer use it in his business. Why? In a one hour conference call, he would spend half his time managing the technology in the call and every second counts. The cost of using this popular conferencing technology was a lot more than nothing. Not only did he spend half his meeting time managing the technology but he lost his focus and his credibility with the other meeting participants – his franchisees.
Bud didn’t have a lot of money to invest in an extravagant room system but he needed a better collaborative experience because he was building his franchise business up and needed to hold regular meetings and more importantly, training sessions with his franchisees who were spread out over a large geographical area. Traveling in to a central location was not a practical solution. The franchisees could not justify the time out of the field, nor the investment in travel.
He thought that he needed to upgrade to a higher end video system which could handle multiple locations all tied into a stable, single video call. Although this type of solution would certainly enrich the collaborative experience for all the participants, a room based video system for all the franchisees was out of his budget and would not deliver as rich an experience as was available at a much lower price tag.
I suggested a three pronged approach.
He needed to enrich the audio experience because audio is “table stakes” for any type of collaboration or conferencing experience. If you don’t have audio, you don’t have a conference, no matter how rich the other conferencing technologies are. I recommended a new Polycom star phone for approximately $500 which is capable of analog or IP telephony. This investment will serve him today (analog) and tomorrow, when he switches to IP.
“Now when we talk, we don’t have to time when we talk because the Polycom system handles the voices coming from both sides of conversation without cutting off pieces of the conversation. It is a much more natural audio experience.”
He was thrilled with his investment because the richness of the sound quality of his conferences went way up. And it was little things that made a big difference.
I told him that he should invest in an interactive whiteboard from SMART technologies. The SMART board provides the richest collaborative experience available. When people discover what they can do with this tool they are amazed. And a power user looks like a magician on the board when they are conducting a meeting with it.
During a meeting you can use any application that runs on a PC, annotate and capture the image of the annotations on the application as a whiteboard (or flip chart) page. Websites, PowerPoint, Excel, Visio, PDF, etc. At the end of the meeting, everyone gets an email of the PDF of the pages of the meeting notes – instantly! And the board can be cleared up and ready for the next meeting in seconds by simply hitting the reset button.
These features alone can be worth the investment. And take note, this capability can be used in any meeting – even if there are no remote participants. So how did the SMART technology go over with the franchise company? They love it! But not without going through a bit of a learning curve because he had never heard of or seen a SMART board before I recommended it. Bud took the upfront training, but it wasn’t until he actually started using it and became comfortable with it, did he really start to appreciate his new collaborative tool and the richness it added to their meetings.
Web conferencing or sharing of the desktop. There are numerous offerings out there that are available from free to a WebEx or GoToMeeting price point of about $40-$50 dollars a month. In this case I recommended the SMART Bridgit software because it provides the features required and provides the ability to share the SMART board screens with any PC, Mac, iPad or Android tablet. The Bridgit software is particularly good for interactive training sessions, where there are many participants collaborating.
So none of Bud’s franchisees had to go out and buy new technology. They could use their existing personal technology to actively participate in the meetings being held at Bud’s office. The Bridgit software provides a richer platform for many-to-many collaboration vs the one-to-many collaboration which is the strength of the GoToMeeting and WebEx software.
Bud has taken a major step forward in collaborating with his franchisees. His meetings are now focused on doing business and not managing technology. The experience is richer which allows him to more effectively work with his franchisees and grow their businesses together.
The three quick hitters:
- Upgraded audio experience with a new rich and reliable Polycom SoundStation
- A SMART board to bring the collaborative experience new and enriched capabilities.
- Bridgit conferencing software to allow Bud to share the SMART board with the PCs, iPads, Macs and Android tablets of his franchisees
Bud still wants to add video to the mix in the future and he has some great options open to him:
- For $100 he can add a USB camera to the SMART board and turn on the video if he wants to talk live to the franchisees (this is not an HD experience but does provide video if you only need it in small doses)
- He can use a number of video software products that range from free to under $50/mth per port (HD, adaptive bandwidth, no special network quality of service (QoS) required)
- He can go to a high end room system with a dedicated codec, camera and large screens for video (there are a range of options here as well)
Upgrading your collaborative experience does not have to be expensive and the returns can be huge. Putting in the right tools to support and enhance how you work together with people and increase your velocity of collaboration is paramount.
Getting Rid of the Boardroom Bowling Alley
The usability of video conferencing in a typical boardroom was dramatically enhanced in the last year, with Polycom’s announcement of the Eagle Eye Director II, we’ve gotten more options to address many different challenges such as screen real estate.
Most Video Conferencing Deployments in an Existing Boardroom Are Problematic Because:
- The camera captures the table from approximately the same place as the screen at the front of the room.
- Most (95%+) existing boardrooms are rectangular with a boardroom table (that is also rectangular) and are optimized for in-room meeting participation (rectangle within a rectangle).
- Even though a video conferencing remote allows users to Pan/Tilt/Zoom the camera at people while they are actively speaking, most people don’t use this functionality. In fact, sometimes people even prefer to stop moving the camera around the room because it can disrupt the conversation if it isn’t done smoothly.
So what ends up happening is that the camera is pointed at the room from the front and is ‘zoomed out’ to capture the whole table. And this view never changes.
People on the other end of the video conferencing call therefore see what can be called the ‘Boardroom Bowling Alley’ effect. They can’t really see anyone well enough to appreciate the full richness of a ‘live’ experience, which a Telepresence room provides. But, a Telepresence room comes with a big price tag. And you need a Telepresence room at each location (mirror images of each other) to achieve the Telepresence experience.
Telepresence is a great option but it isn’t widely deployed, not only because of the price, but because people want to use their existing boardrooms for video calls.
The Eagle Eye Director’s Patented Technology Addresses the ‘Boardroom Bowling Alley’ Effect Beautifully!
It uses an array of 7 microphones (mics) in a small stand/shelf with 2 cameras. As people speak in the room, the mics calculate who is talking and they zoom in on that person. If two people are discussing something back and forth, the mics pick this up and seamlessly shift the view from one person to the other. The technology is also sophisticated enough that it compensates for reflections and other distortions of sound waves. It only focuses on the active speaker.
The participants on the far side of the video conference are now immersed in the conversation as if they were in the room. No more ‘Boardroom Bowling Alley’ effect.
Video conferencing is a rapidly growing technology and as a result of these kinds of breakthroughs, it is becoming more accessible and is maturing in richness and usability.