The future of meeting technology

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The future of meeting technology

Meetings are the lifeblood of any organisation – and mSMART-Room-Systems1 CMYK bumaking meetings more efficient is now a major concern for organisations. By focusing on access to people and resources, some argue that today’s solutions still have a way to go to replicate the advantages of face-to-face. UC News shows how technology can supplement face-to-face and ‘virtual meetings, making both more effective.

Technology support for meetings has improved access and presence both locally and remote locations. It has also improved decision support by improving the availability of information and rich media resources to meeting participants. But given the obvious advantages, the adoption of meeting room technology is far from universal.
Why is this? In researching this there is a clear dichotomy between proponents of ‘live’ (or face-to-face) and ‘virtual’ meetings employing video and digital media content, as though they are mutually exclusive options. Defendants of the ‘live’ meeting include the 84% of business executives, interviewed by Forbes Insights, who said that they prefer face-to-face meetings over virtual meetings and who attributed a number of unique values to the traditional meeting format..
The consensus of opinion in the Forbes report was that face-to-face meetings facilitate building stronger, more meaningful relationships (85%); offer the opportunity to ‘read’ another person (77%) and achieve greater social interaction (75%). The question that the study did not ask was: “In circumstances where individuals with specialist knowledge relevant to the meeting content are not available in person, would you rather communicate with them using digital media – or not have their contribution to them at all?”
Defensive approach
And it’s not just the grey-haired and grey-suited that are mounting a defence for the “live” meeting. There are plenty of purveyors of meeting room technology that feel compelled to adopt a defensive position. How many times have you heard it said: “Of course, no one in the video conferencing business is predicting the end of live meeting,” or “Face-to-face meetings provide a vastly richer, more targeted, and more focused learning experience than any virtual meeting.”
The emphasis, even from the supply side of the industry, is on what meeting room and collaborative solutions can’t do rather than what they can do. There is a clear implication that the quality of technology-assisted meetings has not yet reached the level of development required for widespread use.
In fact, as technology forecaster and business strategist Daniel Burrus points out:“Those who believe video will end face-to-face meetings are using ‘either/or’ thinking, which often occurs when dazzling new technologies first appear… Companies that make visual communications work will have the new and the old coexisting by allowing each to do what it does best. It’s not either/or anymore. ‘Both/and’ thinking is the new paradigm.”
Key components
Over the last three or four years we have seen rapid developments in meeting room and network collaboration technology. We have seen the migration of education technology into commercial applications, and the expansion of video communications technologies into voice and data. Today, any discussion of the future of meetings technology is not complete without reference to mobile applications, cloud computing and technologies that enhance the virtual meeting experience.SMART-Room-Systems1 CMYK bum
Developments are well underway. According to Microsoft’s internal studies, it takes on average of 8 to 12 minutes to begin a meeting using display technology in a conventional meeting space. Natalie Harris Briggs, group marketing director at Steljes, says: “The technology already exists that can help some of these problems. Room management systems enable users to instantly see if a room is vacant or not or when it has been booked.”
“They enable users to either book a meeting by physically using the touch sensitive screen located outside of their chosen meeting room or through their Microsoft Outlook calendar. Some room management systems also report room equipment faults such as broken lights, projector malfunction etc. via the room management solution which can then be sent automatically to facilities management for resolution.”
The perception that meeting room technology is the cause of delays and problems is born out of the lack of interoperability between source devices. The rise of the BYOD culture has seen addressed the UC industry address this issue with solutions including Barco ClickShare, Christie Brio and Vision’s Techconnect Select. The challenge for the industry now is to communicate these improvements to the business community at large.
Mobile communications
While there is still a sizeable body of support for the traditional meeting format, meeting and presentation support using mobile technology has been widely embraced. A research study on the future of meetings found that two-thirds of respondents (64%) believed that in the future, “All presentations, videos, etc… (will be) downloaded to my mobile”
Some commentators are concerned about inequality among participants in certain categories of meeting – not everybody has an iPhone or iPad to hand The use of third-party app loaded devices at meetings, rather than participants’ personal mobile devices, provides the opportunity to present a level playing field for attendees who do not have a particular device.
Even so, the future use of mobile apps for meetings requires education. “With “hundreds, if not thousands, of mobile phone applications” emerging for the meetings sector the resources the sector requires has to move beyond lists, or mere fragments of news about the latest, or even the “best” apps out there.” Resource-wise, sometimes it is not a matter of not being able to afford the software, since it may be free, but that the individuals are not even aware that it exists.
Cloud computing
Much the same can be said about cloud computing. The benefits of storing data on a network so it can accessed anywhere are immediately apparent – to those who know and understand. The wide availability of an array of easy-to-use web-based applications can save costs and provide greater data security.
Web-based software is more efficient because it does not require local installation, network configuration or local customisation. All the user need is an Internet connection and a browser.
There are concerns about the security of cloud computing, but of far greater concern is the information gap that exists among small businesses users. Research shows that 49% of small business owners aren’t aware of cloud computing, or don’t think it’s anything to do with them. Once again, education will be needed.
Keep it real
As we look further into the future of meetings, the technology horizon gets a little more fanciful. Here, the objective is to overcome the objections of the ‘virtual’ meeting detractors by enhancing the digital meeting experience. Face-to-face meetings are said to be based on the unique sensory experiences that are necessary for heightened connections.
All five of the senses need to be stimulated for retrievable memories to be created. Critics of ‘virtual’ meetings say that only face-to-face exchanges can do this. A range of technologies under the ‘alternative reality’ umbrella are anticipated to simulate the sensory experience of face-to-face meetings.
These technologies include: projecting holographic images of remote attendees in super high resolution; conducting meetings in virtual environment meetings where participants’ avatars can experience everything from “bumping into fellow participants, holding private conversations in a group setting, having to leave the meeting “room” to take a phone call, and experiencing an aural depth in which crowds become louder the closer one’s avatar gets to them.”
Meeting technologies have advanced considerably in recent years, with device level collaboration and live video streaming to the use of virtual environments – including holographic participants at face-to-face meetings all of which point to what will be possible in the near future. New technological developments will continue to push the boundaries of the traditional meeting in ways yet to be imagined – and the pace of the developments will continue to increase.

New horizons in meeting technology
(Source: Maritz Research)

 

  •  Technology mediated meetings will grow in numbers:
  •  The cost-benefits (ROI) of adopting new meetings technologies will become a major focus.
  •  The costs associated with adopting new technology will decline.
  •  The use of mobile devices and meetings specific applications designed for them will increase – however the use of non-personal electronic devices for participant interaction will have to continue to ensure a level playing field for all meeting participants.
  •  Use of technology to enhance the sensory experience of face-to-face meetings will increase.
  • · Advances in virtual environment meetings technology will seek to narrow the “sensory” experience gap between virtual meetings and face-to-face meetings.
  • · The main technology tool for presentations at meetings will no longer be PowerPoint/ slideshows.
  • · Web-based delivery of meeting content and cloud computing for meeting management will become widespread.
  •  Meetings will utilize technology based on the unique characteristics of participants – learning styles, age groups, and technological usage preferences of participants will inform the decision to use technology for a specific meeting.
  •  Meetings technology education becomes a priority for all members of the sector.
  • Specialisation of educational offers and meeting organisation practices will come to maturity.
  •  The maturing of the practice of meeting design will ensure meetings technology is used effectively to engage participants, deliver content, and realize business objectives in the goals of meetings.

All-in-one through a Prysm

A possible solution to the ad hoc adoption of apps in a meeting context is offered by Prysm’s Cascade series. This is an all-in-one display solution that supports telepresence, content sharing, video and data from personal devices, networks and the cloud. The company explains: “Today’s collaborative decision process is increasingly reliant upon combining data from multiple locations and sources in real time. Cascade collaboration solutions enable users to present, share, reposition, resize, annotate and edit all types of content through on-screen touch, PCs or mobile devices.”
Multiple, simultaneous live inputs can be displayed and interacted with on screen including video, telepresence and web apps. Configurable workspaces allow teams to share the use of a Cascade system with other groups, save their work between sessions and pick up where they left off when they next meet. Proprietary environments, like Microsoft Lync, can be used in conjunction with Cascade, which provides the pixel canvas on which Lync appears as an app.
At the recent InfoComm event, Prysm announced two new Cascade models – a 65-inch and an 85-inch – which will join t he existing 117 and 190-inch models. Prysm says that the new models will enable enterprises to extend their Cascade networks into smaller conference rooms, with exactly the same use case for all installations.
In a boardroom environment, Cascade can be used as a decision support solution, with users able to manipulate content with the unit’s touch interface or from their seats using a mobile device with appropriate apps. Configurable workspaces allow teams to share the use of a Cascade system with other groups, save their work between sessions and pick up where they left off when they next meet. Mirroring of workspaces between Cascade displays allows geographically distributed teams to simultaneously collaborate on all the content on screen. Projects and associated data can be stored locally or in the cloud, so users can access their content from any Cascade system at any time.


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