With apologies to Star Trek’s Tomorrow is Yesterday, this coming September I will be celebrating my thirty-sixth year working in media technology industries. For nearly all of that time I have been reading about and chatting with others about the amazing future technology will bring us. Those conversations would often delve into the world of science fiction – things like how cool having a Star Trek Communicator or Tricorder would be; how amazing space travel would be; how holograms and transporters would change the way we work. As is often the case with future visions, one rarely stops to realize when we’ve passed landmarks - because our imaginations always tend to point us further into the future. Lately however, it has been difficult for me to not recognize just how far we’ve come along. Maybe that’s because of how long I’ve been involved in the industry, or maybe it’s because I see how different my sons’ lives are from mine at their age – but whatever the reason, the “ah-ha moments” have been frequent lately. Here are just a few of them.
Forget BYOD, there’s no need to bring anything anywhere – For the last few years enterprise IT managers have been struggling to deal with employees bringing their personal devices into the office and expecting them to work. Consumerization is in full force, with people expecting their office environments to function just fine with their smartphones and other devices. Well, forget all that – some information workers have begun to stop bringing anything to the office – including themselves - and just stay at home or work from wherever they are. We are at the first point in human history when our homes are better equipped, better connected and more functional than most office environments. This may be because offices have compliance and security regulations that are perceived to be overly restrictive, or because enterprises just haven’t found a way to continually modernize as quickly as individuals. But whatever the reason, it is a stunning realization to stop and think about. For anything that an employee wants to do that is not supported or permitted by his or her organization there are a half dozen solutions just an app-store and/or a click away. In fact, it’s entirely likely that old-school, siloed enterprise environments will just never catch-up again. People can connect just about any device they have to just about any service they can think of from just about anywhere they happen to be. How can any organization’s IT department still operating out of divisional silos possibly catch-up to that standard? The only way organizations will be able to keep pace will be to embrace new concepts and consumption models and to let actual user’s needs dictate priorities.
In addition, despite the poor management examples at Yahoo and HP, organizations are finally grasping the tremendous savings that telecommuters bring. Videoconferencing saving airline travel costs has always been something of a sales myth – if you really had to fly from NY to London next week you are going to make that trip regardless of any telepresence you have available. However, the two hours you spend commuting from the suburbs to the city and back every day - five days a week, 50 or so weeks a year - that is the low hanging fruit here. Individuals save the commuting costs and effort, organizations save on the unneeded real-estate, electricity, HVAC, IP ports, etc., and the environment deals with less CO2. Additionally, studies show that the majority of those 500 hours returned to productivity usually are spent in the benefit of the organization.
Forget Videoconference Rooms, every room is a meeting room with technology- I was recently working with a team designing a new, multi-floor office space. They planned to put an IP telephone and a “starfish” speakerphone in every conference room, but only install videoconferencing in one room per floor. I asked the client’s team why that was the plan. Their first answer was because it was the architect’s recommendation. My response was that we should explore the actual thinking behind the plan – why just phones in the rooms and not videoconferencing. Naturally the reasons they came up with were the cost and complexity of video. Continuing to peel the onion I explained that their typical technology compliment for every room – the phones and an LCD display - would cost this firm about $2K US per room to purchase. That is now equivalent to the cost of an entry level videoconferencing system which could be set (in their infrastructure) to handle the audio calls too.
So the idea of cost being a barrier was debunked. I went on to show how the next reason – complexity – was also a now dead stereotype. I pulled out my iPhone and showed the team the new Cisco Proximity app. All anyone has to do is take out their smartphone and start the app. It pairs with the closest video system automatically and lets anyone dial a call from their address book. (As I mentioned in a previous Top 10 Disruptors newsletter, expect to see more firms deploying interface solutions very similar to this.) The idea that videoconferencing has to be difficult is also no longer true. Ultimately, the team realized that there really weren’t reasons not to equip every room. The architect didn’t like that very much, but regrettably any professional trade that wants to keep designing and/or selling yesterday’s solutions because that’s all they know will be left behind. The client, however, was ecstatic. They left the meeting knowing that they had planned a facility that they could take into the future, not one that was locked into the past.
Forget Rooms, effective collaboration takes place from anywhere – Remember that Star Trek Communicator and Tricorder I mentioned above, and how they were used by the Enterprise crew to communicate and collaborate? Well not everyone has realized it, but those tools are here now. They may not look like what we saw on TV, but if you examine it based on function, we’ve already achieved everything we saw. The Tricorder scanned all of the things around it, providing information on its surroundings. We have that today in our smartphones. They connect to public sensor networks to show us such things as approaching storms, and private sensors to show us things like our blood pressure. Oh yeah, and they’re also phones and videoconference units too. As for the Star Trek Com badge, it allowed people to communicate with colleagues using voice commands and at the same time tracked where the wearer was located. We have that today in advanced headsets (like the Plantronics Voyager Legend.) These units can respond to voice commands and speak to us to tell us who is trying to contact us. It knows if we’re wearing it or if we’re not and it knows how close or far away we are from our desks or terminals. The next generation of this device also knows what you’re looking at, if you’ve fallen-down, if you’re nodding yes or no and a whole bunch of other amazing things. Equipped with these two tools (and a decent wireless connection) I can collaborate with colleagues from anywhere I happen to be as effectively as I could have from any videoconference room of the 1990s. Sometimes I may need a bigger screen (like a tablet or wall-mounted display) and sometimes I may need a better camera (because webcams like those used in some products are inappropriate for rooms) but those really just become accessory issues. Sure, I’d rather have the call from my home office desk or one of the video equipped rooms I mentioned above, but when I can’t be at either place I can still communicate and collaborate effectively. The most important point though is that this communication can take place regardless of the brand or type of endpoint the party I’m calling is using. When an organization plans and installs an appropriate communications ecosystem, everything just works with everything else – straight out of science fiction into reality.
Is any or all of this news to you? If so I suggest that you’re not working with the right ICT (Information and Communications Technology) partner. Organizations have to stop looking for “vendors” or “VARs” or "AV Integrators" to “buy” communications technology from. Effective unified communications is not something you can buy – it’s an outcome that happens when detailed planning takes place. This planning has to include end-user input and an adoption plan from day one. That effort leads to correct decisions about things like infrastructure, endpoints, services and consumption models - each customized to meet the specific and unique needs of an organization. When approached correctly (and with the right partners) the world of simple, affordable, any-to-any communication and collaboration just works.
The science fiction of simple communication that Star Trek showed us is here today. If you’re not experiencing it within your organization then find a partner that can make the promise of tomorrow your reality of today. I know of at least one...
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This article was written by David Danto and contains solely his own, personal opinions. David has over three decades of experience providing problem solving leadership and innovation in media and unified communications technologies for various firms in the corporate, broadcasting and academic worlds including AT&T, Bloomberg LP, FNN, Morgan Stanley, NYU, Lehman Brothers and JP Morgan Chase. He now works with Dimension Data as their Principal Consultant for the collaboration, multimedia, video and AV disciplines. He is also the IMCCA’s Director of Emerging Technology. David can be reached at David.Danto@Dimensiondata.com or DDanto@imcca.org and his full bio and other blogs and articles can be seen at Danto.info. Please reach-out to David if you would like to discuss how he can help your organization solve problems, develop a future-proof collaboration strategy for internal use, or if you would like his help developing solid, user-focused go-to-market strategies for your collaboration product or service.
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Article originally published on LinkedIn.