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Connected to the mobile world, but not to the room?

By Rob Bamforth

Mobile devices provide a mix of connectivity and compute power on the move for most employees, and with the huge upsurge in adoption of tablets and smartphones this personal power can be used anywhere and remotely from other colleagues. However, it is still important in most working environments to get together, share information, make decisions and assign actions - i.e. have meetings.


These might be vital, but too much of a good thing is a problem, plus meeting places in many organisations are in short supply, so meetings need to be effective and efficient.


The spread of digital visual technologies into meeting rooms has kicked out the old overhead projector and in some cases created some fantastically equipped conference room facilities with telepresence and high definition video. But the average meeting space has at best a flat screen monitor (or projector) with a connection for video input and an ethernet connection to the network.


With luck there might be instructions and adaptor cables, but with so many options - presenters expect to use their preferred tablet or smartphone as well as laptops - there will be problems. "Please talk amongst yourselves for a few minutes" is all too often blurted out at the beginning of a meeting or presentation, and across a group of waiting attendees, those few minutes cost dearly.


It should not be like this, and it ought to be possible to easily harness the technology that participants bring to the meeting to make it more engaging, collaborative and ultimately, effective.


First, wireless video connection. Pretty much all potential presentation devices, whether laptop, tablet or smartphone, will have wi-fi, so it makes sense to get rid of all the messing around trying to remember to bring or find cables and adaptors and use wireless instead.


Next, simple, secure sharing. One person presenting is fine at times, but participants need to be engaged in meetings and many will have content to share too. Seamlessly switching between presenters and even having several providing content at the same time would be valuable, so too would ensuring that participants have content made available to them after the meeting.


Finally, the outside world. Making an external connection to remote participants can add further delays to any meeting, often until outside help can be brought in. If remote attendees can connect and share content using the same secure mechanism as participants in the room, the experience is much more conducive to effective working and collaboration.


While these involve audio visual (AV) technology as well as IT, replacing existing expensive AV equipment just to get wireless connectivity or remote conferencing is an unwarranted expense, and not workable if solutions only work with particular AV equipment. Much of the problem is in the IT space - wireless, simple sign on and remote connectivity - and ultimately someone is going to have to make everything work and manage it all.


It will fall to IT to take the management lead, so in order to converge AV with IT, a universal 'hub' option that could be applied in any meeting space, would seem a much better bet. This is the approach Intel has offered with its Unite technology. Initially developed for internal use to help its own meetings go more smoothly, Intel has released the software for device manufacturers to build AV integration hub 'appliances'. Based on Intel's vPro CPU, the ones that have already appeared are sufficiently low cost to be added to an existing meeting space for the cost of a small laptop.


While a powerful processor might seem overkill, it makes the box easy to manage as a regular device on the network and has the capability to go much further, such as adding video conferencing or tools to automate some of the remaining drudgery from meetings, perhaps by audio recording and transcribing for meeting minutes.


Meetings might not be the most enjoyable part of working life, but they perform a vital function in the daily flow of information. High end IT and AV solutions can deliver stunning solutions for some, such as telepresence, at a cost, but simple technology appliances that can remove some of the everyday pain from work should be applicable pretty much anywhere.


For more thoughts on how to use technology to make everyday meetings more effective, check out Quocirca's latest free to download report "Smarter, connected meeting spaces".