What Conferencing Technologies Should be Available in Our Meeting Rooms?
We recently received an honest attempt by an organization to better understand the conferencing technology solutions available in today’s marketplace via a Request For Information (RFI). Interestingly enough, it was a relatively blank canvas asking for:
- Inventive solutions to provide high quality teleconferencing abilities for meetings and
- The ability to offer interactive webinars as an educational tool.
This is a great opportunity for us to educate and share the collaborative solutions the organization has available to them. And in this case, the blank canvas allows us to provide a multitude of solutions.
The Organization and Their Business Problem
The organization currently has meeting rooms across the province that hold over 30 people. Each room is equipped with a poor quality audio solution and they are unable to effectively connect their internal and external stakeholders using these rooms via teleconference today. They would also like to be able to do remote training. Today that can only be done through self-study materials.
The Organization’s Requirements:
- To conduct training remotely using leading edge collaborative technologies
- The only room specification provided is that a round table seats up to 35 people
- They are interested in “teleconferencing,” “webinars” and it would be nice to have distance education
This approach could result in a wide variety of responses.
Will the solutions presented meet their needs? Do they really know what they want and do they know what technology is available?
I think the answer to each of these questions is “No”.
The focus will likely be low cost approaches to upgrade their audio phones in the rooms and offerings such as WebEx or GoToMeeting. But do these solutions really give the organization the high quality teleconferencing experience they are seeking?
The Risk of Using an RFI to Educate
This organization is trying to use a purchasing vehicle to educate themselves on the products available. This method is really a “hit and miss” approach because it depends on who in the marketplace takes the time to educate them on their choices by responding to their RFI. Typically, the best price wins in an RFI unless your proposal stands out for other reasons. To make your proposal stand out, you need to really understand your buyer’s needs.
You also need a buyer who is open to suggestions and has a good understanding of their needs.
But if the organization doesn’t know what they are looking for, how will they know when a really good solution is offered?
Finding a Solution for Connecting People
Using technology to connect people is a common-place activity however the sheer number of options available to do this is absolutely mind-boggling and getting clarity on a solution is difficult to achieve.
At a high level, organizations are looking to connect room systems and individuals together over distance for real-time communication.
3 possible combinations are:
- Room system to Room system(s)
- Room system to Individual(s)
- Individual to Individual(s)
Deciding which of these conferencing technologies are required for connecting over distance is critical in determining the level of collaboration that can be achieved.
The Velocity of Collaboration
Each of these different conferencing technologies brings a different dimension of richness to the collaborative experience. Frost & Sullivan wrote a very insightful whitepaper a few years ago about the “Velocity of Collaboration”. It was a sponsored whitepaper so it had some biases in it but the conceptual model was eye opening. They spoke about 6 different real-time conferencing modalities (if you boil it down there are really only the 4 above – unless you add in virtual world collaboration, which is only used at the fringes).
Never-the-less, the Velocity of Collaboration model is very useful and we have adapted it to consider the four conferencing modalities. Part II of this blog will detail this adapted Velocity of Collaboration model.
Once requirements for user based collaboration capability are determined, you can select the meeting room technologies and the individuals connecting into conferences. This process is critical. It avoids wasted effort and brings a cohesive approach to the technology roadmap your organization requires. By turning the patchwork of technology found in most organizations into a tapestry of technology, you’ve created an enabler to greater collaboration within the organization.
The ET Group has helped many organizations through this process. Please contact us if we can be of assistance to your organization.
Five Common Mistakes in Technology User Adoption
Some organizations readily adopt new technologies and others deploy technology only to have it collect dust. What is the difference between these deployments?
There are five common mistakes that organizations make when they introduce new technology into their workforce and being aware of them will help you avoid making these mistakes yourself.
1. Organizations Fail to Take the End User Needs into Account
Organizations invest in the latest and greatest technology in hopes that it will fulfill an identified gap or create a competitive advantage. What organizations do not take into consideration is who their Users are. They have to ask themselves:
“Do my people and my processes support this new technology?”
Often the answer is no. Why? Because a technology decision was made without assessing their Users requirements.
Today’s IT & AV technologies are a key component of a collaborative ecosystem but do the people who are supposed to be using the technology really know why or how they support the collaborative ecosystem?
If the answer is no, this is where the mismatch occurs. The needs that the technology fulfills have not been matched to the user’s needs and I have seen this happen time and time again.
An easy solution is a User based “Needs Analysis”. This approach helps organizations focus on the needs of employees which will provide valuable information to determine a purpose-based solution. When implementing new technology your strategy and design must take into account the end users.
2. Leaders Do Not Have a Clear Understanding of the Technology’s Capability
Organizational leaders must have first hand knowledge of what the technology is capable of doing and most importantly, be comfortable in using the technology. By attending training sessions, leaders demonstrate that they have a clear understanding of how to use the technology.
I have conducted some training sessions where not one manager or executive attended. Not only do they miss out on learning the benefits of the technology, but they also continue to do what they always have and often fail to adopt new practices. This sends the wrong message to their team.
Change is driven top down so management must be the role models for change. If employees see management using the technology, user adoption of the technology will increase.
3. The Myth: “Once the Technology Has Been Installed, Everyone Will Want to Use It.”
“If we build it, they will come.” Unfortunately, it’s not the case. After installation early adopters tend to be the only ones that will give it a try and the rest will stay anchored to the status quo.
Ignoring the technology all together is a symptom of what I call the “What’s In It For Me (WIIFM) Syndrome”. If there is no perceived value to the employee, why should they learn or adopt using it? Companies spend a lot of time and money marketing their products to their customers. Likewise, organizations should take the time and effort to market, sell and promote to their employees the new technology they’ve invested in to address the WIIFM syndrome.
4. Organizations do not Provide Adequate Support
Executives believe that once employees are trained they will automatically start using the technology. Most executives fail to consider their employees’ learning curve. One training session does not mean people are experts; they need to be supported and guided until they are comfortable and confident using the technology.
I see this time and time again when training employees on SMART Boards. After completing the training, employees are energized to use the boards but that tends to be short lived. Some will try to use the board and forget how to use it. This is common because the average person only retains 30% from one training session. Some will try to perform a certain function and the board doesn’t perform the way it did in training so they get discouraged. Employees may become frustrated and refuse to use the board. Others will become too busy and next thing you know, the initial enthusiasm will be lost and forgotten.
This is how SMART Boards become under utilized and it’s such a shame because SMART boards are one of the most powerful collaborative tools available today.
It takes focused usage and support to transfer knowledge into a skill set and this can be done in numerous ways.
Some Examples of Internal Training Support:
- A company website where employees can go to ask questions or review material that was covered in training
- Follow up training that reviews what was learned and helps take their skill set to the mastery level
- On site experts to support and encourage users as they start to use the technology
Whatever form this support takes, it is important to have a plan and to communicate it with your employees. It also sends a signal that adoption is important to the organization and should be important to them as well.
5. Organizations Are Not Creating User-friendly Policies or Procedures
It’s a shame when I see organizations investing in new technology, only to find out that their current system can’t fully support it. With the continual emergence of new user technology, there is an assumption that the organization’s IT infrastructure has also evolved. Quite often this is not the case. When new technology and organization’s IT infrastructure are not compatible, “work arounds” are developed to tape the solution together. These work arounds can become cumbersome which leads to:
- Procedures that make it difficult to use the new equipment.
- Policies that make employees less inclined to use the technology.
This can all be avoided if IT is part of creating the technology roadmap when new technologies are adopted by an organization. Their knowledge can be a valuable resource.
Processes must be put in place to support the users of the new technologies. Without them users will quickly abandon the new technologies and go back to the way things were before.
Build a Technology Roadmap. support Your Employees Learning and New Technology Adoption Rates Will Follow.
User adoption is a key component in fully attaining the ROI of collaboration technology.
These are only a few suggestions on avoiding the five most common mistakes in technology user adoption. Contact us for more info on how to increase your odds for a successful technology rollout.
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.